When Mr Jai Amir, 35, hired D'Concept Design to renovate his home in June, he thought that he had done his homework.
After all, he had quotations from nine other companies and designers from D'Concept visited him four times to discuss plans to overhaul his living room, kitchen and toilets.
He ended up forking out $43,774 upfront, after taking a bank loan. The work on his resale flat in Tampines - including re-flooring and new fixtures - was to have been completed in August. However, until now, only the cupboards in the living room have been torn down.
"The company kept giving excuses. First, it said the designer was on reservist duty; then, the boss was not around. Later on, the boss himself told me that his contractors had suddenly left him. Then, after a while, everyone stopped picking up their phones," said Mr Amir, who works as a chef.
He met 14 other D'Concept Design customers last month, who were left in similar situations, to decide what to do. The Straits Times understands that, so far, at least 11 police reports have been made and the group has engaged a lawyer.
Since January, the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) has received 14 complaints against D'Concept Design, mostly about multiple delays despite payments being made to the firm.
Many customers paid in full even before renovation works had begun. The total contract value of the cases lodged with Case adds up to $457,294, with the highest contract valued at $51,000.
An Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority search found that the firm was registered in September last year. It has a paid-up capital of $2 and has one owner, Singaporean Kelvin Ang Yong Hong.
Calls to Mr Ang's mobile phone went unanswered and the company's officein MacPherson was locked and its signs removed. No one came to the door at his registered home address in Yishun when The Straits Times went there last Wednesday.
Checks with Case, the Renovation and Decoration Advisory Centre and the Housing Board found that D'Concept Design is not registered or accredited by them.
There have been other sudden closures of companies in recent months. Last week, 76 couples with wedding packages amounting to more than $130,000 were left in the lurch after bridal salon Sophia Wedding Collection shut. The police are also investigating The Scizzorhands hair salon which left hundreds out of pocket in August.
Case executive director Seah Seng Choon urged consumers to be careful when dealing with a lowly capitalised company. Owners of private limited firms - which D'Concept Design and most other pre-payment businesses are - are liable up to only the firm's paid-up capital amount and cannot be sued directly for company debts.
Mr Seah also urged home owners to refer to the model contract provided by HDB. He added: "While it is understandable that renovation firms may need some payment upfront, consumers should pay only a little bit at a time, instead of a lump-sum payment."
Mrs A.L. Lee, 31, who also had a bad experience with D'Concept Design, said the company even arranged visits to houses that it said it had renovated.
"We saw two or three units, so it gave us confidence that they were able to do the job," said Mrs Lee, who works in marketing.
She paid the firm $33,000 in August to renovate her kitchen and living room but, after making payment, she claims the company was uncontactable. "I thought I did my homework. It's so hard to establish if a company is really trustworthy, and even good ones can fail."
• Additional reporting by Yuen Sin