Renovation firms drive fewer clients up the wall

Inspect First (Singapore) director John Wee, and his son Shaun (far left), who is its business development executive. The company examines homes for flaws and whether they meet building and construction standards.
Inspect First (Singapore) director John Wee, and his son Shaun (far left), who is its business development executive. The company examines homes for flaws and whether they meet building and construction standards.PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

FEWER brickbats have been thrown against renovation contractors and firms in recent years.

Complaints about renovation dropped from 1,779 in 2013 to 1,462 last year, according to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case). The number of cases taken up by the consumer watchdog also dipped from 269 in 2012 to 242 last year.

Increasingly cautious customers and a sluggish resale-flat market are some possible reasons, said industry players.

"The slowdown in the property market due to various policy measures and loan curbs may have affected the home renovation industry in Singapore, as fewer consumers buy and renovate their homes," said Case executive director Seah Seng Choon.

Dr Sky Tan, vice-president of the Singapore Renovation Contractors and Material Suppliers Association (RCMA), agreed.

Although more Build-to-Order (BTO) Housing Board flats have been built in recent years, they generally do not require as much renovation as resale flats, he said.

"Most things are already fitted in a BTO. The scope of work is much less," said Dr Tan, chief executive of interior design and renovation company Sky Creation.

Home owners, having heard of other disputes, are also more careful when it comes to renovation.

"They go on websites, forums, social media to find out more about contractors," said Dr Tan.

Mr Seah added that Case's education efforts may have made consumers more savvy.

But the director of interior design firm Ciseern, Mr Dean Lim, said there are still "some black sheep out there who cheat customers".

"Some take the deposit, then close down the company later," said Mr Lim, who is also treasurer of RCMA. "Others deliver poor workmanship."

Between January and April this year, Case received 438 renovation complaints.

One complainant was engineer Joseph Liu, 33, who tried contacting his contractor after he and his wife spotted defects in their kitchen tiles and bookshelf drawers.

"He kept delaying coming over, then started ignoring us. We were frustrated, we couldn't trust him," said Mr Liu, who eventually got his defects rectified after Case intervened.

Some ways to avoid renovation disputes include putting verbal agreements in writing, requesting itemised billing, having realistic expectations and choosing CaseTrust-accredited contractors, said industry players.

"Customers should do their checks," said Mr Lim. "Contractors and interior designers should also undergo training on how to better run their businesses."

Some home owners have even turned to professional inspectors.

Credit analyst Sally Sim, 39, approached Inspect First (Singapore) twice in nine years. The firm examines homes for flaws, and whether they meet building and construction standards.

"They detected quite a lot of defects, like hollow, uneven parquet flooring, and leakage from our rooftop pool," said Ms Sim, who lives in a semi-detached house in Ang Mo Kio.

Said the firm's business development executive Shaun Wee, 26: "We want to give home owners peace of mind."

His father John, 58, who is director of the firm, stressed that they deliver an unbiased report, pointing out that home owners can sometimes be too fussy.

He cited a case where a contractor had replaced a marble flooring three times, but the home owner was still not satisfied. He recalled: "We went down and found out that the work was well done."

yeosamjo@sph.com.sg