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SG-MY VTL: Is This Goodbye to COVID-19 Renovation Delays?

The short answer: Maybe.

(This article was written before the Ministry of Health's announcement on 22 Dec 2021 that new VTL ticket sales will be temporarily suspended.)

Singapore’s homeowners have faced renovation delays since the COVID-19 pandemic hit our shores. A key contributing factor, among others, was the sudden closure of Singapore-Malaysia (SG-MY) borders back in March 2020.

With the SG-MY Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) now open, could this possibly signal the end of renovation delays locally?

Anchorvale Lane by Zenith Arc
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We spoke to three interior designers Jordan (Zenith Arc), Kelly (D’Phenomenal) and Yiyi (Editor Interior) to find out how the situation on the ground has changed since the pandemic began and – more importantly – whether Singapore homeowners can expect the return of shorter renovation timelines.

How SG-MY border closures affected renovations in Singapore initially

It’s no secret that Singapore renovation firms rely heavily on skilled labour from Malaysia. “About 70% of carpentry, plumbing and electrical works are done by workers from Malaysia, and many of them used to commute across the causeway daily,” says Jordan.

And with a significant portion of this labour force leaving Singapore following the sealing of borders in March last year, local renovation firms abruptly found themselves facing an acute manpower shortage that contributed to renovation delays.

“[Before the pandemic] we were able to book carpentry services with just 2 weeks’ notice; now we have to prearrange 4 weeks in advance,” adds Yiyi.

Le Quest by Editor Interior
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The tightening of borders early in the pandemic also put a squeeze on the supply of building materials entering Singapore, further exacerbating renovation delays.

But some renovation firms were less affected than others. “We’ve always been using both local and overseas suppliers for materials. When the borders closed, it was easy for us to turn to the local suppliers whom we’ve been working with all along,” Kelly points out.

How the situation has evolved since the pandemic hit

The Quartz by D'Phenomenal
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“It took us a while to settle work arrangements and resume projects after the Circuit Breaker. The rules also changed a few times as the situation evolved, so it was hard to give clients exact timelines during the pre-planning phase,” Kelly notes.

Northshore Drive by D'Phenomenal
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All three designers express that renovation delays haven’t improved or worsened much since. At the time of writing, BTO flat renovations typically take 8-10 weeks (up from 6-7 weeks pre-COVID), while resale flat renovations take anywhere between 8-16 weeks (the pre-COVID average being 7-8 weeks), depending on the scale of the project.

“We can finish projects in the slated time by planning early (especially during the peak period from October to February), but things aren’t as flexible as they used to be before COVID,” Yiyi tells us.

Le Quest by Editor Interior
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In addition to the shortage of skilled manpower and materials from Malaysia, other factors, such as testing and quarantine costs as well as accommodation, have also resulted in higher overheads for Singapore renovation firms.

How long renovations will take with the SG-MY VTL now open

The designers we spoke to believe that the SG-MY VTL is likely to shave 1-2 weeks off renovation timelines – but they caveat that it’s still too soon to say for sure.

For one, VTL quotas are currently limited. And while the VTL will ease labour shortages slightly, Jordan points out there are still COVID-19 measures that renovation firms are required to adhere to.

“There’s a limit to how many workers we can have on-site. And if a worker tests positive or has been quarantined due to close contact, all other workers present on the same day will also have to be quarantined or tested daily,” he shares.

Punggol Drive by Zenith Arc
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On the ground, other factors independent of the VTL can also lead to renovation delays.

For instance, renovations may be put on hold when neighbours complain to town councils or MCSTs about noise levels – a challenge seldom encountered back when working in offices was the norm. “While we understand how noise from drilling and hacking may affect neighbours’ virtual meetings, these complaints stretch out the renovation process and prolong their frustration,” Kelly explains.

What else needs to change before we can revert to pre-COVID renovation timelines

Strata by Editor Interior
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Even with the SG-MY VTL now open, the designers we spoke to don’t think a return to pre-COVID renovation timelines is likely anytime soon – especially with new virus variants coming into the picture.

However, Yiyi feels that the opposite outcome is possible if restrictions are eased further. “For example, if more workers are allowed to enter Singapore via the VTL, or if more workers can be on-site, I think we could go back [to pre-COVID timelines].”

Interior designers’ advice to homeowners frustrated with renovation delays

Oasis @ Elias by Zenith Arc
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So, given the need for (even) further easing of COVID-19 restrictions on-site and between borders, what can you do for a smoother renovation journey?

Here’s a list of pointers that Jordan, Kelly, and Yiyi shared:

  1. Focus on quality, workmanship matters more than how quickly the job gets done.

  2. Work with a designer you can trust – price matters, but not as much as chemistry, professionalism, and industry experience.

  3. Capitalise on longer wait times, which can be an opportunity to put even more thought into your home’s new look.

  4. Have sufficient buffer time for your move-in date, at least two weeks, in the event of delays.

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