If you bought your first home, congratulations! You’ve wiped out your CPF and depleted your life savings, and now you’re the proud owner of… an empty home. The next step in this bank-breaking journey is renovation, another costly endeavour but one that’s necessary in order to make your house actually liveable.
The question is, which ID firm should you hire so you don’t get scammed? To get you started, here are 5 companies that are CaseTrust-accredited and have done really swee designs in HDB flats.
P.S. I’m biased towards Scandinavian interior designs and minimalist interior designs, so I chose projects that feature lots of white, wood and natural light. If you’re into other styles – like eclectic, industrial or even vintage – you can do your own “shopping” around for inspiration on Qanvast.
P.P.S. I also realise that you should pay little heed to the published prices online. I’m not saying that these companies are scamming you, but the low prices are usually just marketing gimmicks. The most accurate way is to send your floor plan over for a quotation.
Interior design company: Starry Homestead
Project: Sumang Lane / HDB / $35,000
Interior design company: Weiken.com
Project: Joo Seng Road / HDB / $40,000
Design 4 Space
Interior design company: Design 4 Space
Project: Senja Road / HDB / $53,000
Interior design company: Urban Habitat
Project: Yishun Ave 4 / HDB / $60,000
Vegas Interior Design
Interior design company: Vegas Interior Design
Project: Clementi / HDB / $69,000
Renovation scams are real… so how do you not get scammed?
From one new homeowner to another, do your due diligence. I’m in a gazillon Facebook groups and every day I see posts that start with “Help! Has anyone worked with (insert name) contractor / ID company before?” Spoiler alert: The story almost always ends with the business winding up and/or running away with the poor homeowner’s money.
If you’re already broke from buying the house, it’s going to hurt so much more if you kena scam by your ID firm. So how to not fall prey to renovation scams? The following red flags suggest you’re about to get chopped:
Super low prices – If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. The renovation market is super saturated, so prices are pretty competitive. If a company offers you unbelievable discounts, it may be because their cost price is zero (they have no plans to do any work).
Non GST-registered companies – I heard from my interior designer friend that many customers are attracted to quotations with no GST. No one wants to pay the government 7% more when costs are already so high. But if your ID firm is not GST-registered, it means one of two bad things. Either it’s so new that it hasn’t hit $1million in revenue (hard to believe since renovations cost a freaking bomb…), or it’s a fake company, i.e. you’re going to get scammed.
Down payments above 50% – Usually homeowners pay about 20% of the total bill for the first deposit. If you look through reports of previous scam cases, you’d realise that the scam companies typically ask for big upfront down payments. Should the interior design firm or contractor ask for a 50% deposit, RUN.
Once the company you’re reviewing has cleared the first stage, the next step to take is to check that it’s a CaseTrust-accredited company.
What exactly does CaseTrust accreditation mean?
If assurance is what you want, you should be looking for CaseTrust-accredited interior design firms and/or contractors.
Nothing is 100% risk-free, but CaseTrust does the policy checks and workmanship assessments to weed out the explicitly dodgy businesses.
In 2014, the Singapore Renovation Contractors and Material Suppliers Association (RCMA) and CaseTrust released a joint accreditation scheme which basically ensures the listed renovation companies purchase a deposit performance bond to protect consumers’ deposits against “closure, winding up and/or liquidation”.
Accredited businesses must also adopt the CaseTrust Standard Renovation Contract, which is fair and transparent for both the renovation company and homeowner.
If the company is not a member of the Singapore Renovation Contractors and Material Suppliers Association (RCMA), they can simply be listed under the CaseTrust Accreditation for Renovation Businesses scheme, which is similar.
Is it safe to hire an HDB-registered contractor?
If you choose to not hire an interior design firm, you can save a lot of money by hiring a contractor and overseeing the project yourself.
A lot of people believe that they’re safe from scams if they engage a contractor that’s registered with HDB.
That’s not true. While the chances of them running away with your money is arguably slimmer, the fact that they’re HDB-registered is by no means a safety net.
If the contractor is “HDB-registered”, all it means is that they are aware of the HDB renovation guidelines and will reject non-compliant jobs (like maybe hacking a wall that you’re not allowed to). It doesn’t mean that they’re “better” or “safer”. (In fact, HDB makes it clear on their site that “HDB does not endorse nor guarantee the quality of their works.”)
That said, being on the list is better than not being on the list.
Also, there are no interior design firms in the Directory of Renovation Contractors (DRC) because they only list contractors (i.e. the actual companies that do the flooring, electricity, etc). Interior design firms usually pass these tasks to sub-contractors, so they won’t be listed.
A few additional tips that might come in useful…
Tip 1: If you really want to work with a particular company but they’re not on CaseTrust, check if your selected contractor/ID is registered with ACRA. There’s still a risk even if it’s a registered business though.
Tip 2: After engaging your contractor and/or interior designer, you should request to view current projects that they’re working on (other peoples’ homes) so you know they’re actually carrying out works.
Tip 3: If you engage your contractor/ID during the defect-check stage, you can ask them to help you with defect checking for free.
Do you have any tips for renovation contractors or interior designers in Singapore? Share them with us in the comments below!
In-article images by Design 4 Space, Weiken.com, Urban Habitat, Starry Homestead and Vegas Interior.