Home renovations can be tricky, but knowing what to do can help Singaporeans save money.
So you’ve finally got the keys to your first home, with a great sigh of relief that all the tiresome paperwork is done and you can look forward to moving in. Hold on to that thought, because in most cases, you’ll have to do some renovation to the place.
Given the amount of uncertainty and hassle that can come with the process, it’s not surprising most people aren’t jumping with joy when confronted with the prospect of renovating their homes. Here’s what to expect, so you can at least go in with your eyes open, be ready to tackle it head on — and save a little money.
Renovation is More Expensive Than You Think
“How much should I set aside for my renovation?” is a common question for first-time homeowners. In general terms, BTO owners who are not looking to do an extensive job should set aside about S$20,000.
The figure goes steadily upwards for resale flats, especially if you’re looking to give an old unit a serious makeover. It’s not surprising to read stories of people who renovate their resale units at prices between S$60,000 and S$80,000 – or even more.
Hacking of tiles and laying new ones, breaking a bedroom wall for a bigger space and carpentry are some of the major work items that will add significant costs to your quotation.
And after all is said and done, you’ll also need to buy furniture and appliances (at least the basics like a sofa, bed, fridge, washing machine, etc), which means adding on about S$10,000 on top of what you’ll already be spending for renovation works.
Start Planning Early
Start planning for your renovation in the months leading up to you getting your keys – that way, you won’t waste any time. Read widely on the subject, eyeball your floor plan, and do up moodboards of interior designs.
If your design incorporates a large amount of tiles, you should also start browsing tile shops for the tiles you like, and what you should be paying for them. (Most interior designers or contractors will quote you expensive tiles that cost up to S$3 per square foot).
Things can move fast once you’re ready to sign on an Interior Designer (ID) or contractor. Knowledge is power, and being armed with all kinds of information will put you in better stead when you’re negotiating your reno contract.
Tile or vinyl flooring? Solid nyatoh or classic doors? If you know the terminology, you’re less likely to be overwhelmed. This also means you can be precise and request a detailed line-by-line breakdown of all the costs, which will also mitigate the issue of hidden costs.
People are very generous with information and their own experiences on reno forums, so wade right in and start asking questions.
Hidden Costs Are Everywhere
You may have done extensive research and combed through every line of your quotation before committing to an ID or contractor. That’s good, but you should still expect hidden costs, because unless you’ve had experience renovating many homes – and most of us don’t – you can’t foresee everything.
Take for example, aircon trunking – the great bugbear of design-oriented HDB owners everywhere.
You won’t be thinking about the trunking (which connects the indoor aircon units to the outdoor unit outside your flat) until you’re at the stage when you’re planning the route in detail, and you realise how unsightly it’s going to look.
So you end up wanting to conceal it by boxing it up or constructing a false beam. Oh hello, hidden costs, there you are…
Be prepared to set aside a minimum of five per cent on top of your quotation to cover hidden costs – and be disciplined about what is nice to have and what is essential that you need to spend on.
How You Can Save Money
Despite all these, saving money on renovation is still possible – if you know how to go about it.
Everyone knows costs are lowered when you cut out the middleman, and this is true for windows, grilles and doors. Your ID or contractor needs to sub out such work to a specialised manufacturer anyway, so what they quote you for these items has been marked up.
You can save significant dollars when you approach these manufacturers directly, only it involves a little more hassle and you need to do some coordinating of your own – but it’s nothing the average person can’t handle. Many of these manufacturers have a Facebook page, and you can always find more information on reno forums.
Carpentry, one of the most expensive areas in renovation, is another area you can save on. Do you really need upper kitchen cabinets? Why not buy a ready-made TV console, rather than having one made from scratch?
Should You Go With an ID or Contractor?
The eternal question of whether to get an ID or contractor is still as relevant today. In short, if you’re a hands-on type who wants to be involved in the transformation of your home and have a fairly good sense of colour coordination, proportion and style, pick a contractor. If for you, design is best left to the experts, then go for an ID.
Though not always the case, contractors are often about function over form (you might baffle your contractor when you insist on design details like stainless steel floor traps over the standard white PVC ones for the bathroom – true story), but will build to your specifications.
On the other hand, IDs have an innate understanding of aesthetics, though your home may end up bearing their personal stamp more than yours.
Whoever you pick, you need to be comfortable with this person, because you’ll be working with them for at least eight to 10 weeks.
You should speak to a minimum of three companies to get a sense of the market rate. It’s a must to ask them to show you homes they’ve recently done so you can see workmanship, and the breakdown for the quotation should be as detailed as possible.
Last but not least, never pay in full at one go, as the industry standard is for payment to be made in stages.
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By Alexa Fang
Alexa is a pop-culture vulture. She lives to read, write and travel, and decided long ago that life is stranger than fiction. When she’s having croissant, she thinks in French. “31 Rue Cambon” is her favourite address, and she believes that money one enjoyed spending is never money wasted.