The most expensive thing you can buy in Singapore is probably your home. Given that kind of investment, we can appreciate why you’d want to make your home as good looking as possible. But, oh boy, doing a home renovation in Singapore is going to cost you an arm and a leg.
To help you see how much you need to spend, where all the money goes, and how you can keep the budget low, here’s our guide to renovating costs in Singapore.
- How much does a home renovation cost?
- Renovation options – contractor, ID, or design & build?
- How to find a legit renovation company in Singapore
- What can & can’t be done for a typical BTO renovation?
- How much does each aspect of renovation cost?
- Financing your renovation – what are your loan options?
How much does a home renovation cost?
Obviously, you need a ballpark figure to know how much you should set aside.
But the question is a tough one to answer, because there are so many variables. The ultimate cost of renovation depends on the type of home, its age, its condition, the company you choose to do the renovations, how much work you want done, the type of materials you pick.
The type of housing often determines how much work needs to be done. Private condominiums and executive condominiums often come with some interior fittings e.g. kitchen cabinets and flooring already done. It takes a lot less work to do up a brand new BTO as compared to a resale flat (which has stuff that needs to be torn down).
To give you a rough idea, we’ll give you the range for renovation costs for a 4-room HDB flat (approx. 90 square metres), probably the most common public housing type/size.
Packages go for as low as $4,888. But renovation costs have been known to go up to $110,000.
According to Qanvast, a web portal and app for homeowners to find interior designers and furnishings, the average HDB renovation cost is $53,000. If you want to get an estimate for your own home, try Qanvast’s Renovation Calculator.
Renovation options – contractor, ID, or design & build?
As we’ve said, the range of costs is wide. To know where your budget sits within the spectrum, you need to know what you want. The first decision you have to make is: do you want a contractor, an interior designer or a design-and-build company?
Contractors (think Phua Chu Kang) handle the heavy lifting when it comes to home renovations, but you will need to do the designing, conceptualising and project management.
They do all the construction work, like putting up and breaking down walls, doing up false ceilings, installing flooring, electrical wiring, piping, bathroom fittings and carpentry (e.g. making cabinets).
Since the contractor needs to be managed and given specific instructions, this option is suitable for people who know exactly what they want design-wise, including the more technical specifications. It’s also good for simple and straightforward renovation work.
Many people who go with contractors are seasoned homeowners who have done renovations before and know how to manage the project on their own. If you’re not experienced, this can be harder than you think.
It’s also a time-consuming project and you will have to take time off from work to be around to manage things.
But if you have time and are confident about being in charge, going contractor-only is a good way to manage your budget. Typically they charge based on the cost of construction materials.
The interior designer (commonly abbreviated as “ID” in Singapore) is a person or firm you hire on top of the contractor to help conceptualise, design, source furniture and manage the entire project.
For the absolutely clueless, hiring an ID is a good idea, especially if you value design but would rather leave it to actual experts.
You can rock up to an ID firm with just a faint idea of what you want. Their job is to help you create the look of your home, advise on style and provide 3D designs that you approve. They also do the legwork when it come to sourcing for furniture, furnishings and fittings to complete the look.
Hiring an ID is also good for those who don’t want to (or don’t have time to) manage the renovation and all the practicalities that go with it. The ID will coordinate with your contractor and manage the renovation project.
Of course the drawback is that you’ll have to pay more. IDs typically charge consultancy fees and fees on top of the materials. Read this article to find out more about the pros, cons and costs of hiring an ID.
Design and build
Somewhere in between the two options above is the design-and-build option. This is sort of a level up from the contractor where they’ll do the construction work expected of a contractor, but include the design and project management as part of the package.
However, don’t expect them to turn your 4-room flat into a Banyan Tree resort. Design-and-build companies are more proficient in the construction aspect than the design one.
For practical homeowners who are managing their budget and not willing to splurge on the level of service and design provided by an ID firm, this is a viable option. It’s good for those who know what they want, but don’t have the time to actively manage the renovation project.
Similar to contractors, you’ll pay a rate that’s based on the cost of the materials. No need to pay consultancy fees as the design is thrown in for free.
How to find a legit renovation company in Singapore
Before you rush out and look for a company to engage, beware of renovation scams as there are loads of people waiting to make a quick buck off gullible homeowners.
Apart from checking references and not falling for too-good-to-be-true deals, make sure that the company is a legitimate one. For contractors, HDB has a list of approved vendors, while for IDs you can check if they’re CaseTrust accredited.
HDB registered contractors
If you’re renovating an HDB flat, you can only hire a contractor listed under the Registered Renovation Contractors’ Scheme (RRCS).
That’s because, as we all know, the government has a billion rules and regulations around renovating public housing.
HDB approved contractors know all these requirements and will turn down non-compliant jobs. Anything that doesn’t comply with HDB’s rules has to restored to its original condition, which is a total waste of time and effort.
Here’s just a few accredited contractors we found and their quotations:
|Contractor||Price range for 4-room flat|
|Home Renovation||$7,300 (basic) to $17,800|
|Courts Design Studio||From $10,838|
|3D Innovations||$12,288 to $19,888|
By the way, HDB is also pretty strict about other kinds of work that can be done on your flat, from plumbing to window installation. Refer to this site for a list of HDB licensed personnel.
CaseTrust accredited interior designers
HDB doesn’t have a list of interior designers as they don’t do any renovation work, so this is where many renovation scams happen – the ID firm takes your deposit and disappears.
Protect yourself by engaging only CaseTrust-accredited ID firms. The accreditation scheme requires companies to protect their customer’s deposit payment through the purchase of a deposit performance bond. In case the company folds before the work is done, you don’t lose your deposit.
Companies under this scheme also need to have cost transparency, accountability and good business practices. Policies on fees and refunds, and dispute resolution methods have to be properly documented as well.
Here’s a sample of prices from a few accredited IDs:
|Interior design firm||Price range for 4-room flat|
|Edgeline Planners Pte Ltd||From $12,000|
|Renozone Interior Design House||From $12,388|
|Starry Homestead Pte Ltd||From $18,000|
|9 Creation Pte Ltd||From $20,000|
Price comparison websites
Even when you choose only from those with accreditations, the list can still be very long. Thankfully, there are plenty of one-stop platforms you can turn to get free quotes and compare prices. (You should still cross-reference against the HDB and CaseTrust lists, however.)
Qanvast: Website and mobile app that connects you with over 100 interior designers and product merchants. There’s also a “Qanvast Guarantee” which, if you work with a designer through the platform, supposedly covers up to 50% of the contract value or a maximum of $50,000, whichever is lower.
HomeRenoGuru.sg: Another platform that connects homeowners with interior designers and lets you get free quotes. It has 500 interior designers and 25,000 design photos for you to choose from.
What’s great about the site is that it allows you to search by design, prices or designers. To help you know what your budget can get you, each company featured gives you: the price of their standard packages, the items included in the packages, and the cost of their best work pictured.
Renodots: Interior designers, contractors, renovation packages, home renovation tips, lifestyle ideas, decor and furnishing, free renovation quotes – this renovation portal has them all.
Renopedia: This is another renovation platform that categorises its designers by style – industrial, Scandinavian, modern, etc.
What can & can’t be done for a typical BTO renovation?
As mentioned, HDB has a lot of rules and regulations for public housing. If you’ve gotten yourself a brand new BTO, here are some considerations to bear in mind when renovating.
Replacing the front door
If you want to replace your front door, you can, but just make sure the new door is fire-rated. Most HDB front doors are designed to contain smoke and fire within the unit so they don’t spread to staircases or life lobbies.
When you change the door, you need to change the hinges, lock-set and knob as well and all these have to be compatible with one another. This goes for the digital lock you may want to install, too.
Bathroom floor and walls
Far be it for us to stand in the way of a man and his spa-inspired bathroom.
But note that there’s a 3-year restriction period on renovation work on the floors and walls of your new BTO bathroom. That’s because they are coated with a waterproof membrane to prevent water from seeping to the unit below. If you choose to disregard the restriction and there’s seepage, you have to bear the cost of fixing the damage to your neighbour’s home.
Your alternatives are to tile over the existing flooring ($3.50 to $15 per square foot), or lay a slip-resistant laminate (cheaper at $2.80 to $4.50 psf).
Type of flooring
It is now compulsory to use pre-packed cement screed on dry areas – walls and floors of bedrooms and living room – in the new BTOs. This gives a better finish, but also costs more than regular cement.
Always dreamed of having an open-concept home? Bear in mind that wall removal is subject to HDB approval.
That’s because some walls, columns, beams and slabs are load-bearing and cannot be removed, moved or altered. Just look at your floor plan. They are usually shaded in solid black or grey. Other walls, though not load-bearing, hide important wiring and piping and cannot be tampered with.
To play it safe, make sure to submit all plans to HDB for approval before any hacking begins. Arches added between walls and even openings created through walls are subject to similar scrutiny.
One piece of good news is that BTOs now come with open kitchens. Previously, you had the option of putting a wall dividing the kitchen from the living room at extra cost. Now, you don’t have to do it and this will save you some money.
You feel the urge to cover up the exposed pipes in your bathroom or kitchen. As much of an eyesore as they are, pipes cannot be permanently concealed. In case of clogs, HDB must be able to access the pipes to investigate.
They aren’t the prettiest and you’ll be tempted to do something about them. But here’s what you CAN’T do to the shelter:
- Cover or remove the notice pasted on the door
- Modify or remove the door
- Lay tiles, spray wall finishing such as cement sand finishing or put wall plaster on the interior walls
- Lay tiles or skirting over its existing floor tiles
- Hack on the external walls of the shelter to mount panels or lay tiles
- Install anything that requires power tools on the interior walls
Windows and grills
Your new BTO will already have windows and grills fixed. If they don’t match your interior decor style, you might want to replace them.
Again, there are restrictions. You absolutely cannot remove or tamper with the safety railings or grills installed by HDB. You can replace the windows, but full height, ¾ height or bay windows are all not allowed.
For windows facing the common corridor, you cannot install windows that open outwards. And for balconies with a sliding door, the door is there because windows are not allowed, so don’t even think about touching it.
Oh, and finally… HDB has something to say about the timing of your renovation, too. No matter how quiet, you cannot do renovation work:
- Before 9am and after 6pm on weekdays and Saturdays
- On Sundays and public holidays
- For more than three months from date of the HDB permit
For noisy renovation work, you can only do it when your neighbours are at work – from 9am to 5pm on weekdays only (except the eve of major public holidays).
How much does each aspect of renovation cost?
At the end of the day, the real budget buster is how much work you want done. The estimates here are for a new, 4-room HDB flat. From this, you can have a good guess what renovating other home types might cost.
|Procedure||Expected costs for 4-room HDB flat|
|Hacking a wall||$2,000 to $5,000|
|Replacing demolished wall||$2,000 to $4,000|
|False ceiling & partitions||$200 to $8,200|
|Masonry (cement-related construction after hacking is done)||$700 to $48,800 (see notes below)|
|Wall finishing||$15 to $120 per square metre (see notes below)|
|Floor finishing||$22 to $113 per square metre (see notes below)|
|Carpentry (built-in cabinets, shelves)||$900 – $77,500 (see notes below)|
|Plumbing||$200 to $5,300|
|Bathroom fittings (basics only – sink, tap, toilet bowl, shower)||$4,000 to $8,000|
|Windows & grills||$500 to $10,800|
|Electrical & lighting fixtures||$300 to $6,500 (depending on no. of points and level of concealment needed)|
|Painting walls||$700 to $2,800 (depending on no. of walls)|
|Hidden costs (e.g. cleaning, debris removal)||$500 to $1,000|
As you can see, there’s a huge range of prices because the amount of labour and cost of materials for each item can be very diverse.
The 3 biggest considerations that affect costs the most are: amount of reconfiguration (hacking, rebuilding and masonry), type of finishes (wall & floor finishing) and carpentry (mainly affecting the kitchen).
Amount of reconfiguration
Obviously, the more you mess with the original layout of the home, the more work it entails and the more it will cost you. Hacking/demolishing and rebuilding are a lot of work and require a lot of raw material.
An important cost to consider is also masonry, i.e. whatever construction comes after your hacking is done, plus tiling and bases for cabinets. Basically, if it involves cement, it’s masonry.
The more hacking and reconfiguration you do, the more masonry needs to be done. That’s why the price range of masonry is enormous.
Type of finishes (wall & floor)
This is the other item on your renovation checklist that makes costs astronomical.
Finishes include plastering, skim coating, painting and tiling work. In wet areas like the bathroom and kitchen, waterproofing is needed as well. Wall finishes tend to cost more because it involves working at height. These affect the labour costs.
The type of finish you choose also matters, because the price of materials varies greatly. What types of flooring and wall tiles you pick need to be separately factored into your budget.
Here’s a list of common flooring materials and how much they cost:
|Flooring material||Material cost per square foot|
|Laminate||$2.80 to $4.50|
|Ceramic||$3 to $15|
|Cement screed||$5 to $10|
|Vinyl||$6 to $7.50|
|Parquet||$7 to $14|
|Marble||$10 to $15|
|Granite||$10 to $20|
Carpentry (especially kitchen)
Carpentry refers to any sort of built-in cabinets and shelving, which probably looks nicer than a bunch of Billy bookcases.
But think carefully about how many cabinets or shelves you want built in. It can quickly inflate costs and make changing the configuration of the room in the future difficult. Many of these can be bought as standalone items instead.
The one exception is the kitchen, where most of the carpentry is mandatory. Costs also add up because of the type of materials used.
|Kitchen cabinet material||Material cost per cabinet|
|Laminate||$75 to $90|
|Veneer||$80 to $180|
|Wood||$150 to $180|
Apart from cabinets, you also have to think about the countertops. There are some practical considerations you need to consider, such as how heat-resistant the material is, how easy or difficult it is to maintain (and of course how nice it looks).
|Countertop material||Material cost per foot run|
|Laminate||$8 to $20|
|Solid surface||$55 to $70|
|Wood||$20 to $150|
|Ceramic tiles||$30 to $80|
|Granite||$55 to $175|
|Stainless steel||$80 to $125|
|Engineered quartz||$90 to $105|
Don’t forget you still need to furnish your home…
Renovation merely covers the structural aspects of your home. What you put inside to decorate it, how you dress each room are separate considerations.
For furniture, furnishings, appliances, lighting, home entertainment systems, decorations, curtains or blinds, you should budget at least $20,000 more.
Here’s our guide to buying furniture in Singapore and the best shops to go to depending on your home decor style.
Financing your renovation – what are your loan options?
Yeah, you’re probably feeling broke just reading this article. If you don’t have a spare $50,000 to $100,000 lying around to do up your new home, you will most likely have to go for a renovation loan.
Reno loan or personal loan?
Whatever you do, don’t go for a personal loan. The interest rates for those are invariably higher (12% to 15%, as compared to less than 5% for a reno loan). That’s because the bank has no idea what you’re going to do with that money, and it’s riskier for them to lend money to you then.
With a renovation loan, the bank knows what you’re doing with that money. In fact, you don’t even see the cash because the bank just foots your contractor’s bill.
Rest rate or flat interest rate?
Home renovation loan interest rates are “rest rates”. This allows you to pay an interest on the outstanding balance of your loan which means that, as time goes on, you end up paying less interest.
If offered a flat rate, refuse it. Flat rate means you’re charged the same interest rate every month, regardless of how much you’ve repaid. You’ll end up paying more than rest rate loans.
How much can you borrow?
You can borrow up to 6 months of your monthly income or $30,000, whichever is higher. There’s usually also a minimum loan sum of either $5,000 or $10,000. Loan tenures are generally capped at five years.
What can you use the renovation loan for?
Unfortunately, you can’t use your reno loan for a shopping spree at Scanteak or Harvey Norman. The money goes straight to your contractor. You can’t cash it out and use it to buy appliances or furniture. So, keep your loan amount as small as possible.
By the way, if you already have an existing loan with the bank, they’re likely to give you a 0.5% to 1% discount on your renovation loan. When the amount is as large as a few tens of thousands, every bit helps.
For lots more info, read our ultimate guide to renovation loans in Singapore.
Have you ever renovated your home? Did the cost of it surprise you? Tell us about it in the comments.
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