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More complaints lodged against renovation contractors each year

Industry observers link the trend to poorly-qualified interior designers and contractors who rush work.

SINGAPORE: Gripes about errant renovation contractors have risen in recent years, despite efforts to boost professionalism in the trade.

The number of complaints against home renovation contractors climbed to 1,779 last year, figures from the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) showed, a 16 per cent increase from 1,532 the year before and a 35.5 per cent jump from 1,313 in 2010.

Industry observers TODAY spoke to linked the rising trend to poorly-qualified interior designers and contractors who rush work, leading to subpar quality. They noted that there are few barriers of entry for interior designers and sub-contractors to enter the industry.

Mr Dominic Ong, the co-owner of a design and renovation firm, said he has encountered many inexperienced interior designers. “They call themselves designers, but are in fact salespeople. They don’t have good knowledge and their main objective is to close deals,” he said.

An owner of a design firm who declined to be named agreed. “Any Tom, Dick and Harry can join to be a designer. They will go through a crash course and then go ahead and meet clients,” he said. Problems arise when they do not know how to implement what they have drawn.

Another issue, he said, are the limitations faced by sub-contractors. Labour shortages have made it hard for them to hire skilled workers, so many contractors just “grab” whoever they can get, even if they are substandard, he added.

CASE executive director Seah Seng Choon said strong demand for services may also lead some to cut corners by speeding up work. Others may also have trouble meeting completion dates.

Mr Shawn Ng, project director of interior design firm Visual Dreams, noted that most sub-contractors are Malaysian. “With the foreign worker levy being so high, they are facing problems coming in and many have gone back to Malaysia to run their businesses,” he said.

NO LICENSING REQUIREMENT

Industry players say there is no official licensing requirement for home renovation contractors or sub-contractors. The Building and Construction Authority licenses builders and regulates building work to ensure the safety of buildings, but not renovation contractors, as their work does not impact building safety.

The Housing and Development Board has a list of registered renovation contractors that home owners must engage to renovate their flats. It also has two-day training courses for registered renovation contractors, said its spokesman.

Members of the Singapore Renovation Contractors and Material Suppliers Association (RCMA) have to abide by the Singapore Renovation and Decoration Code of Practice. CASE also has 21 renovation contractors accredited under its CaseTrust scheme.

Mr James Ho, 43, an electrician, said whether one lands a good sub-contractor depends on luck as there are many who are not experienced enough.

But Mr Tan Chim Hoon, chairman of the RCMA, begged to differ. Estimating that only 20 per cent of the complaints are legitimate, he said customers these days often demand more than what was initially agreed upon.

“And when it cannot be done, they don’t want to pay you and they complain,” he said.

Mr Paul Soh, who installs air-conditioning, agreed. “Customers will ask a lot of questions and insist on changing what was agreed. Or they want to bargain (on) the price again,” he said.

AVOIDING MISUNDERSTANDINGS

Mr Seah said home owners should ensure their contracts with contractors have all the necessary details before work commences and they should get regular updates on progress.

Contractors should also ensure that all requests are put in writing so there is no misunderstanding.

“Consumers are advised to obtain different quotations before committing to a service package so they will be less vulnerable to misrepresentation, overcharging and pressure sales tactics,” he said.

“The contract agreement should also reflect clear itemised billing and listing of products and services. Payment for services should be rendered progressively and not paid in full up front.”

To curb unreasonable requests from customers, Mr Tan said he is in discussions with CASE to work out an arrangement such that when a complaint is received, the RCMA, together with the contractor and the client, will visit the home to assess who is at fault and make recommendations. He hopes to implement it by this year.

There are a few black sheep in the industry, he said, so consumers have to do their research before signing on the dotted line.

“Some are lazy and don’t check, so they let some errant contractors take advantage of that. In the end, it gives the rest of us who do good work a bad name,” he added.

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