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How to avoid a renovation nightmare: Tips from home owners and experts

How to avoid a renovation nightmare: Tips from home owners and experts

A view of a living room after renovation was completed. (Photo: Ms Choo)

SINGAPORE: Complaints about delays, shady practices and shoddy workmanship have plagued the renovation sector for years.

Some bad eggs have hit the headlines again in recent weeks, including a contractor who cheated more than 100 home owners of $247,400.

On Wednesday, watchdogs slapped three contractors with a warning after 21 complaints had been lodged against them.

CNA took a deep dive into why such issues remain rife in the industry. In the process, experts and home owners shared their best tips on how to avoid a renovation nightmare. 

1. Look for accredited companies

For a start, the Consumer Association of Singapore recommends patronising CaseTrust accredited renovation contractors, who must protect a customer's deposit paid through the purchase of a deposit performance bond.

This bond safeguards deposits against instances of business closure, winding up and/or liquidation before the renovation is completed.

There are about 160 renovation firms that currently carry the CaseTrust mark.

Even better if they are members of professional bodies such as the Renovation Contractors & Material Suppliers Association (RCMA) or the Society of Interior Designers Singapore (SIDS), said experts.

2. Check reviews and do your research

Home owners stressed the importance of looking at a company’s track record. 

One home owner, who only wanted to be known as Ms Choo, said her biggest mistake was not doing more research. “Back then they didn’t have many reviews, but I just felt it should be okay - how wrong could it go?”

She ended up getting poor workmanship, more than three months of delays, and a soured working relationship with the project manager.

Another home owner who had a bad experience, Mr Syafiq, recommended looking for reviews on more than one channel.

“On Facebook, they had 4.9 stars … But if you search on Google, there were multiple negative reviews. That was our mistake that we only relied on Facebook.”

Another red flag was that the firm did not feature photos of their actual work on their page, and only displayed 3D drawings, he said.

Besides checking online forums, you can even ask the renovation firm to link you up with current clients to find out more about how the process has been, said Mr Choo Chee Kwang, founder of renovation firm Azcendant.

“If possible, if the interior designer (ID) is so good, ask: 'Can I pop up to the place under renovation, find out how things are being done?'”

3. Get three to five quotes

Experts recommended getting three to five quotes to get a ballpark figure of how much the work will cost.

RCMA’s assistant secretary Michael Ong also suggested getting quotes from different types of companies, such as a large firm, a smaller set-up and even a two-man company. 

Azcendant’s Mr Choo added: “If you meet someone who says everything (you want) can be done, and it’s still the lowest cost, confirm something is wrong.”

You should also try to get familiar with the prices of certain things, such as tiles, to know if the mark-up you’re being charged is excessive, said home owner Mr Syafiq.

“Do a lot of research to learn about the process. Or even doing it yourself would be best because the experience is a good learning point.”

4. Cheapest is not always best

In the same vein, you should not opt for a firm just because it gives the cheapest quote.

This is because quotes will differ based on each firms’ approach of including or excluding certain things, said Design4Space founder Richard Yea.

"If the price difference is so big, there must be something wrong."

RCMA's Mr Ong added: “It’s also highly possible that they use a cheap material, then ask you to do a top-up."

He also said: “I dare to say there is no free lunch. Whatever is a freebie has also been worked into the cost of the package.”

For example, if providing a kitchen cabinet costs S$4,000, some firms may offer a free air conditioning unit - but then sell the package at S$6,000.

5. Never pay full sums upfront

Avoid paying large sums upfront, and ask for instalments to be pegged to deliverables instead.

For deposits, you should also try to negotiate for it to be as low as possible, said CASE.

RCMA's Mr Ong said: “When you want to engage a service, you pay a small deposit like 10 per cent.

"You see someone going down to do work, you pay the next 10 to 20 per cent, you see more work, then the next instalment comes. This is so even if the company closes down, (consumers) don't take on too much loss.”

6. Make sure everything is in black and white

Protect yourself by nailing down agreements in black and white.

“When sales-designers start talking to clients, they will definitely say nice things to entice clients to come onboard, throw in a lot of freebies, do this, do that, though they're not written in the contract.

“When work starts, all verbal agreements get thrown out the window,” said Mr Ong, adding that these will not hold in a court of law.

A written contract will protect your interest, said CASE, encouraging consumers to use its model agreement on home renovation. The contract should reflect clear itemised billing and listing of products and services.

Home owners should also document outstanding renovation defects by taking photos, and ensure these defects are fully rectified before making full payment.

"The photos can also be used as supporting evidence in case of disputes."

Homeowners should also be clear on the termination clauses.

7. Start looking early, be decisive and upfront about your needs

With timelines dragging out due to a labour crunch, Design4Space’s Mr Yea said home owners should not leave renovation to the last minute.

“My recommendation is to start searching for an ID four months before collecting your keys.”

It is also good to be decisive about what you want, as this will avoid delays.

When meeting a designer, Azcendant’s Mr Choo advised consumers to find pictures of themes they like, which will help the designer visualise what they want.

This will also help them provide a more realistic quote, and better avoid future instances where costs have to be revised due to additional items.

Home owners should also be clear on what they expect to be done, how it should be done and whether their budget will be enough for this.

Finding a good renovation contractor also comes down to whether you have "chemistry" with them - and whether you feel you can trust them, said the experts.

"When the client speaks to the designer, you can feel more or less whether this designer is genuine or not. You meet an all yes man, I don't think it's good to go," said Mr Choo.

Source: CNA/cl

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