5 Cost Cutting Renovation Methods (That Don’t Actually Work)

renovation singapore

Ryan Ong



Some of you have heard these dubious renovation tactics. Maybe online, or by a friend of a friend. Or maybe a “contractor” suggested them, because he learned all about them when getting his $12.99 online Interior Design degree. Well here’s a heads-up: These methods either don’t work, or end up costing even more. If you ever hear a contractor suggest these, run for the door immediately. Don’t even trust their free coffee.

1. The Outdoor / Indoor Paint Method

There are two kinds paint used on houses: Indoor and outdoor.

Outdoor paint has a different binder (what makes it stick to the wall) and additives from indoor paint. These make outdoor paint more resistant to Singapore’s heat and humidity. For this extras, you’re paying around $8 – $12 more per gallon.

Some people try to cut costs by using only indoor paint, even for the exterior. Shady, “cut rate” painters might also use the same method. What happens then?

I asked retired contractor Alwin Khoo, who’d been in the industry for 17 years:

Indoor paint is not meant for exteriors. After a few months, the paint will change colour. When you see the house from outside, you will see there are ‘patches’ that are darker or brighter. You wait a few months more, you will see cracks and peeling.

Then you got to repaint your whole house again. In the end, you still end up buying the outdoor paint. Might as well you don’t waste money.”

Alwin says you can check the paint being used; it’s clearly labeled on the can.



2. Substitute Tiles


Cracked floor tiles
This is a floor design that’s free to install. And about $7,000 to remove.


Those tiles you wanted cost the equivalent of a small planet. But hey, here’s an alternative: Knock-offs or imitation tiles. They’re made of the same material, and you’ll shave 20% – 30% off the price. What could go wrong?

Tiles can be made of the same material but still be inferior,” Alwin says, “the most common mistake is terracotta. A lot of people think terracotta tiles are all the same, so they just choose the cheapest.

But cheaper terracotta tiles are low density tiles. They are more porous and fragile. You drop something, or you slam down your chair too hard, it’s gone. The tiles crack.”

Alwin says this is also true of many other materials: “Marble, granite, and so forth. There are different grades. The best advice is, don’t try to cut cost with substitutes.

If you choose cheap tiles, you cannot correct the mistake later. Unless you are willing to order another set of new tiles, break the old ones, install the new ones, and so on. You can end up wasting a few thousand dollars. This sort of thing, better don’t cut corners.”

I repeat: If you order and install the cheap tiles, there is no undo button. Think about it.


3. Rely on the Lowest Bidder


Prisoner from alcatraz psycho ward
I’ll start work as soon as the jail’s filled out my release form.


After you get quotes, what’s the first thing you do? If you say “compare price,” you’re half-right.

You should filter out the ones above budget. But amongst the remaining options, pick based on quality, not price. Remember: The lower the quote, the more hair-raising the methods involved. Alwin says:

If they are unqualified or cutting corners, they will end up costing you more money. You must base the decision on work samples. You can see pictures, read reviews, and so forth.

But the best way is to pick a contractor recommended by relatives or friends. Go and see the work the contractor did with your own eyes. If it’s good, then nevermind if it’s a bit more expensive. You get what you pay for.”

If it’s the renovation loan that’s troubling you, try using renovation loan comparison sites like MoneySmart. The site’s specialists might be able to help you out. Or follow us on Facebook, and we’ll update you when we spot good deals.


4. Low Cost Furniture Sets


Lego chair
Lego is basically IKEA on hard mode.


There’s no problem with using cheap or second-hand furniture. As single pieces. If they break, well, there’s always the karang guni man. Get another work desk or whatever.

But you want to be careful when buying substitute furniture sets.

The problem is it’s a set,” Alwin says, “If you buy a low quality imitation and one piece breaks, you got to throw out the whole set. Unless you don’t mind mismatched furniture, but it’s damn ugly.

If you want a cheaper alternative to a particular set, ask if the contractor can build one for you. You may not save as much. But you know it’s not a cheap import. And if it breaks, the contractor can replace the specific piece. No need to get a whole new set.”


5. Play Human Resource Manager


Goat in toilet
About that staff budget…come meet your plumber.


Most home owners rely on the contractor to hire whoever’s needed. And you’d think everyone has the good sense to leave it at that. But no: There’s a myth going around that you need to observe the payroll.

There’s a conspiracy theory that contractors hire useless extras (e.g. their drinking buddies), who don’t do anything. They just ass around all day. This abundance of useless staff causes the contractor to go over-budget, but you’re the one paying up the bill.

So some home owners quiz the contractor on exactly who’s being hired. They also demand petty justifications: “Why do we need two electricians? Why this plumber? Why not a cheaper painter?” etc. Alwin says this happened even in his day. It drives him nuts:

You want to disturb, disturb us about the materials. Not about who we need to hire.

Interfering like this will slow down the work. And the longer we are in the house and paying workers, the more the owner ends up paying. So because they don’t trust us, they actually cause us to go over budget. Self-fulfilling prophecy.”


Image Credits:
justinbaeder, out of ideas, kevin dooley, perhapstoopink, YoTuT

What cost cutting methods have you tried? Comment and tell us how it went!

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.