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COVID construction: How to build a house when half the country is locked down


Construction is an essential activity, but the pandemic has hampered supply chains and workers, increasing timelines and raising costs.

Despite border closures and half the country being locked down, Australians are still building homes. It's just slower, more difficult and potentially more expensive.

"Some of our builders who've been in the industry 20 years say they've never ever seen it like this," said building broker Kerri-Ann Hooper, who runs Carnelian Projects.

Housing Industry Association industry policy chief executive Kristin Brookfield told Finder that many builders often have "less than 12 hours notice that they need to stop work due to a lockdown." This makes it hard for builders to leave a building site in a state that can be left safely unattended for days or weeks.

And border closures make it harder for anyone building a house along the New South Wales/Queensland border, where workers "moving freely across the border is business as usual" in non-COVID times.

Pandemic restrictions are inevitable, given the spread of COVID-19. Industry experts say that anyone looking to build their own home shouldn't despair but instead be prepared.

Hooper tells her clients to factor in longer completion times because fewer workers are allowed on building sites. Delays in sourcing construction materials are also a major factor in slowing down construction.

"We've got shutdowns in Western Sydney where a lot of suppliers are. Things like gyprock supplies are very slow getting out. The border shutdowns with Queensland have affected things like kitchens and vanities coming through."

Hooper said that these delays can add a month onto the timeline of a house construction.

Houzz ANZ Managing Director Tony Been told Finder that while many projects "are currently weathering some delays", many builders and renovators have "adapted to the new environment by offering virtual consultations, sharing mood boards or 3D floor plans remotely so they can meet clients safely and build rapport from a distance."

"Builders and their customers have to focus on regular communication," said Brookfield. "Home owners need to be patient and recognise that this is a unique situation and as big a problem for the builder as it is for them."

While delays and rising costs are the norm, Hooper advises anyone looking to build a house to do their research before signing a contract with a builder. "There are genuine price rises. But be wary of being pushed into a contract with the pressure of future price rises."

Hooper recommends first home buyers consider a fixed price contract so they don't get hit with surprise costs.

Both the number of construction loans for new houses and the total value of those loans has fallen in recent months. But construction activity is still much higher than it was 12 months ago.

"Some of this demand was driven by government incentives such as the HomeBuilder scheme earlier on," said Been. "Along with homeowners taking advantage of flexible work arrangements which may require their homes 'working harder', and a reprioritisation of where their money is spent, so many builders are being kept busy."

Looking to enter the property market and want some extra help? Sign up for Finder's free first home buyer e-course.

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