When Natasha* wanted to renovate her 5-room flat to spruce it up for rental after her sons moved out, she thought it would be straightforward. The last thing she expected was to be embroiled in a battle with her contractor.
Yet, with a dismissive attitude, unclear job scope and possibly even theft, the contractor she employed turned out to be a classic nightmare of many Singaporean homeowners.
*All names have been changed for confidentiality
Natasha, a teacher, first got to know Seng* as he was the husband of one of her pupils. “He looked competent and amicable,” she recalled, and she heard that his business was a construction firm that was reliable, citing the ACRA accreditation as proof.
In hindsight, she felt that she shouldn’t have been so trusting and should have done her research. “I didn’t bother to do much background checks then as I operated on the trust I had with my pupil.” As such, she decided to entrust her 5-room flat in Yishun to the firm, which reported over a decade in the construction and renovation business.
Things going wrong
Flouting air conditioner compressor rules
As Natasha wanted to rent the rooms for passive income, keeping the place cool with additional air conditioning was crucial. To that end, Seng recommended adding two compressors to support the aircon units.
However, when she checked with the HDB officer, she found out only one compressor was allowed for her unit. Seng encouraged her to flout the law, saying that HDB would not come and check: “aiya, at most take down the compressor if not needed.” This set alarm bells ringing in her head with his lack of accountability.
Eventually, Natasha decided to bring in her own contact and got just one new compressor.
Battle of the tiles
Things continued to take a turn for the worse very quickly. Another red flag? Tiles.
Natasha wanted a particular tile with a Peranakan motif for the flooring in the new bathroom and toilet. However, Seng was convinced that the design on the tiles would fade with time and stated that those kinds of tiles were very “hard to clean, should take big tiles, don’t have so much algae and grout.”
He kept pushing for large glossy white tiles for the bathroom, which Natasha disliked as it would make the space look smaller. She was also wary of his recommendation as the tiles Seng pushed for happen to be the ones used in his very own bathroom and master bedroom, which had a very different interior design style.
The tiles Natasha wanted vs what the contractor pushed for.
With all the resistance from Seng, Natasha had to prove her point by checking with a cousin who had similar Peranakan tiles but who had no problem maintaining them. Only then did he relent, but it was only the start of yet another headache.
Exhaust fan in bathroom woes
The original idea for the bathroom renovation was to demolish the old toilet and erect a new wall to separate the toilet area from the shower area. However, Natasha realised this would cause poor ventilation, and hence requested for an exhaust fan to be mounted on the partition.
Yet, instead of getting an exhaust fan mounted on the wall, ceiling or window, Seng got his workers to cut a hole into the wall and slip an exposed drain pipe through it (below-right).
Expectation of exhaust fan versus reality.
Image credit: (left) Fatema Design Studio, (right) Natasha. Left is for illustration purposes only.
According to Natasha, he went ahead to do this without proper explanation nor confirmation,
and when confronted by her “that she was paying for items she didn’t want”, merely stated that he would omit the cost of the exhaust system from the quotation.
Seng also showed Natasha a picture of the exposed pipes in the ceiling of a new bathroom. “It was like an ugly ‘Korean BBQ’ style pipe, which I did not agree to.” All she wanted was the typical ventilation fan usually spotted at kopitiams.
When she brought this up, Seng’s attitude soured and he started to answer calls sporadically or not at all. Instead, he got someone else from his company to deal with Natasha, and started displaying a distant attitude.
Unclear and changing quotations
With all the tension over renovation choices, Natasha was increasingly concerned about the scope of renovation and pored over the quotation given to her, which was couched in unfamiliar terms that Seng didn’t bother to explain.
“He just assumed that I would understand, and didn’t bother to explain what he meant for certain line items. Also, there was no illustration like using technology to show pictures – no renders were given at all.”
There was also changing payment schedules. On 6th July, Seng sent her an invoice with the trms of payment being 40% upon confirmation and start of work, 60% upon completion.
Yet, later on in July, he issued an invoice with a request for 50% of the payment instead. The discrepancy was also not explained.
Missing Dyson vacuum cleaner
To top it all off, there was even a case of a missing Dyson vacuum cleaner that disappeared during the renovation.
Image is for illustration only.
According to Natasha, her home was secured with a digital lock and only the contractor and his workers had access to it. The police wereas called in, and it was inconclusive, but the damage had already been done – it was the final straw as trust was irrevocably broken between the contractor and herself.
Concerns about payment
Throughout the course of renovation, quotations were revised many times due to the disagreements between Seng and Natasha, with it starting from $23K at first and ending up at around $19K after certain line items were removed.
The entire process was also delayed, which left Natasha incurring lost income as she was poised to rent out the flat. As such, out of the $19K, Natasha held back $4K for the unsatisfactory quality of work. According to the CASE model agreement, payment can be made only after satisfactory completion but she was repeatedly pressured by her contractor to make full payment despite her clear dissatisfaction.
Yet, while she expressed concerns with the defects, Seng threw back the contract in her face, saying it was for ‘completed works’ and called her ‘unreasonable’ and ‘nonsensical’. He also threatened to send a debt collector along to collect the outstanding amount, while accusing her of making a big fuss of the current renovation done.
Taking it to court
With both Seng and Natasha at fierce loggerheads, the matter was escalated to the small claims tribunal. While the matter has yet to reach a verdict, one thing is for sure – choosing the right contractor is absolutely critical for any renovation works, no matter how small.
Communication is also highly critical, and both parties must agree on the job scope, payment terms and even preferred design style before any work commences.
Natasha’s headache-inducing experience which ended in court is indeed a cautionary tale for all homeowners to look at the fine print of any renovation contract, and to ask if ever in doubt. After all, nobody wants to start off their renovation journey on a sour note!
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