SINGAPORE: Consumers are spending more on renovating or furnishing their homes in recent years, with many paying a large deposit or full upfront payment, leaving them vulnerable to disputes with contractors, said the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE).
In a press release on Tuesday (Aug 29), the consumer watchdog said it is "concerned" with the increase in spending on renovation packages. In the first seven months of this year, consumers have spent S$8,420,000 in total contract value for such packages, with an average value of S$11,711 per contract signed.
By comparison, consumers spent S$14,260,000 for the whole of 2016, with an average value of S$11,237, figures by CASE showed.
The concern stems from consumers potentially running into disputes with contractors due to multiple delays or unsatisfactory renovation works or encountering those whose operations cease and become uncontactable after payment, it said.
The renovation contractor industry has been in CASE's top 10 list of industries with the highest number of complaints for the past decade, and it was ranked fourth in 2016 with a total of 1,269 complaints lodged with the organisation. The top nature of complaint for the industry is failure to honour an agreement, followed by unsatisfactory services, it added.
CASE’s education committee chairman Linus Ng said: “We suspect the number of complaints we have is only a fraction. It's the tip of the iceberg. That is bad enough because for this particular industry, the entry barrier is relatively low. There are many smaller players out there, and a lot of these smaller players are probably doing a lot of dubious practices which could harm consumers."
In light of this, CASE said it has contacted the Singapore Renovation Contractors and Material Suppliers Association (RCMA) to look into how they can improve standards and better protect consumers in this industry.
It pointed to an initiative last year, when the CaseTrust-RCMA joint accreditation scheme for renovation businesses was launched. With this, consumers' deposits are protected against business closure by way of a deposit performance bond. There are currently 30 accredited businesses, and they can be found on the CaseTrust website.
Dr Sky Tan, RCMA president, said: “The most important (thing) is to let the public and consumers know what is the so-called points they have to take note of when they engage a renovation contractor. So ... don't just go for pricing. You have to do research."
The consumer watchdog said that for this year, it is focusing on consumer education, and will organise an educational fair on Sep 2 when homeowners can learn what to look out for when renovating or furnishing their homes. It has also invited the Building and Construction Authority, Housing and Development Board, RCMA and SPRING Singapore to offer their expertise and knowledge at this event, according to the press release.
(Additional reporting by Calvin Hui)