Why Contractor Complaints are On the Rise in Singapore (And How to Protect Your Renovation)

Ryan Ong



What follows a surge in property sales? Crappy contractors, that’s what. The two go hand-in-hand, like modesty outrages and New Year Countdowns. So if you’re renovating your property, I’d advise you to get paranoid around now. Because every Tom, Dick and Harry’s claiming to be a more qualified contractor, where “more qualified” = Read one copy of Home & Garden. Here’s why, and what you can do to protect yourself:

The Surge in Contractor Complaints

This problem started as far back as 2011, when CASE first reported a 25% rise in complaints against contractors. And today, the Straits Times reports that:

The number of complaints against errant home-renovation contractors climbed to 1,532 last year, according to newly released figures from the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).

There were 1,488 complaints in 2011.” – Gripes Against Contractors Building Up (Straits Times, 17 Jan. 2013)

So 2011 saw a 25% increase, and then things got worse. If this keeps up, we’ll soon be lining up at remand facilities to view flooring options. Why is this happening, and what can you do?

  • Accreditors Have No Teeth
  • Lack of Comparison Platforms
  • Inconsistency Issues
  • Customers Try to Expedite


1. Accreditors Have No Teeth


Dog Teeth
I’ll leave Fluffy here. You know, to raise your spirits and speed you up. Now work.


There are plenty of accreditors for contractors. Problem is, they’re about as helpful as sandpaper when you’re out of toilet rolls.

A scam contractor (or even a merely bad one) doesn’t care much about accreditation. Or the loss of it. If I were to print “Singapore Expert Contractors Consortium” on a five cent sticker, and then slap it on a brochure, how would you know it’s less valid than SCAL (Singapore Contractors Association)?

The majority of home owners have no idea what accreditation to look for. Nor do accreditors get much government firepower: Beyond a General Contractor’s license, what more can the government do? Crooked tiling isn’t a threat to public safety.

An Interior Designer I spoke to, who only wanted to be known as Jared, suggests:

You want the safest option, get a direct recommendation from someone you trust, who has used that contractor. To me that is safer than accreditation. There are some contractors whose attitude toward accreditation is ‘Oh, if I lose it, I lose it’. They’re not scared to be slipshod even if they’re accredited.”


2. Lack of Comparison Platforms


Interior Design Magazine
And also, the head of this design firm has a MUCH better haircut.


The most common advice for choosing contractors is “Get many options to compare, and multiple quotes“.

Sure, it makes sense. But wait till you try and “compare” 10 different contractors, when each visit leads to a confusing 40 minute conversation. The temptation to just “hire and get it over with” will grow with every cup of complimentary coffee.

Short of a few websites (RenoTalk and Kluje), there are few platforms where you can get side-by-side reviews and pictures. That increases the odds that you’ll make uninformed choices, or just be unlucky and round up the worst options.

To prevent this, Jared suggests starting early:

Either start early, or be patient. Resign yourself to taking a long time, maybe two months, before choosing. Go and look around, ask your friends or relatives to refer you. The more time you take, the more homework you do, the less likely you are to get ripped off.”

Well, at least there’s a comparison platform for renovation loans. Visit MoneySmart for that.


3. Inconsistency Issues


How many replacement pipes? Hang on, the maths is complex.


Some contractors can be inconsistent,” Jared says, “their work is sometimes fantastic, sometimes bad. Sometimes it’s because they use cheaper workers for one project, and more experienced ones for another; it depends on their budget.

I’ll translate: Jared’s suggesting you swallow a higher cost, if it means the contractor can hire better workers. You’ll get what you pay for.

The past few years everyone was buying property; and in Singapore not many people want to be labourers. Good help was hard to find. Sometimes contractors got desperate, they had to take whoever they could get. Sometimes the results became substandard because of that.”

Jared suggests you choose “older firms, that have been around for a while”, as they’re more consistent in the workers they employ.


4. Customers Try to Expedite


Brand's Essence of Chicken
Customer’s always right. Now hold your nose and down that 11th bottle.


I can’t tell real granite from green jello, let alone tell my contractor how to work faster. And I’m betting most of you are in the same boat.

But then again, there’s always the “pay more to make it faster” method. That works right? Jared disagrees:

Just pay progressively. Don’t accept stories about how much faster it will be if you pay one big sum. Also, most good contractors will not suddenly come to you with such a request. They will stick to the agreed payment plan.”

On that note, Jared advises against:

…having an unrealistic time frame. You want to pressure the contractor to be faster, things are more likely to go wrong. I think this is how many complaints happened. The contractor tried to go fast to please the customer, took shortcuts, and then things went wrong.”

Jared will be giving us more tips on finding the right contractor shortly. Follow us on Facebook!


Image Credits:
Keith Williamson, hillary h, Indissoluble, Miss turner, Marshall Astor

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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.