How To Save Thousands Of Dollars On Renovation? Tips From Actual Homeowners & Interior Designers

30 May 2022 | BY

Stuck between an expensive home reno or an ugly house? Here are some top tips from homeowners and IDs to help you save on your renovation while realising your dream home.

How To Save Thousands Of Dollars On Renovation? Tips From Actual Homeowners & Interior Designers

Even before you get your home, you’re conditioned into thinking that it’s normal to fork out an upwards of $40,000 for your home reno, regardless of the size of your home. Chip 20% or so off that amount for a BTO, or be ready for that amount to increase based on your square footage.

But here’s a dose of reality: Not all of us have the financial ability to dip into our savings for reno, and neither do we want to take out a loan to achieve a liveable home. If you’re stuck between an expensive home reno or an ugly house, here are some top tips from actual homeowners and interior designers to help you realise that vision without all the debt.

1. Start with a smaller budget for buffer

It can be tempting to want to incorporate all your dream elements into your home reno, but here’s a piece of advice to start: cut your coat according to your cloth.

home reno
Curved walls can set you back around $600-700 in labour costs.
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Staying on trend can cost you quite a pretty penny, and it’s good to first set out with a hard budget of what you’re prepared to spend. You can further refine this budget by sectioning the budget according to different categories like electrical work, plumbing, appliances, and furnishings.

Be prepared to shell out 10-15% on top of your expected budget because unforeseen costs can and will pop up during the reno such as installation costs and scaffolding rental if home for you is a maisonette. 

2. Skip the interior designer for an experienced contractor

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One fairly obvious way to shave down the thousands on your reno bill is to forgo the interior designer (ID) and work directly with a contractor. You might be passing on the project management aspect and design services, but you’ll easily be saving anywhere from $3,000 up to a 5-digit amount in some cases depending on the size and scope of your home renovation project.

home reno
Image credit: SmartDraw

On top of that, IDs are known to charge mark-ups on miscellaneous works to account for labour sourcing and other hidden costs. You can sidestep this by picking a reputed contractor, this guarantees you a pretty good outcome – just prepared to put on the hat of a project manager. 

You’ll also easily find free interior design tools such as SmartDraw and Floorplanner on the web to do up your space planning and the built-ins you envision for your contractor.

Pro-tip: Make sure to get a minimum of 3 quotations from your contractors, and don’t settle for the first quote you receive.

If you’ve already contracted an ID…

We spoke to a couple of IDs who revealed that mark-ups are an industry norm and something one can expect when they get the quote. There are a couple of IDs that charge a lump sum for project management instead, this amount is set and doesn’t change throughout the reno process as any additional cost is commonly absorbed by the ID. 

And while both project management fees and mark-ups are fairly common practices, you can expect to pay one or the other, but not both. That’s when you know you’re being fleeced.

3. Buy your fixtures from the suppliers direct

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One perk of having an ID is that he or she will usually take you shopping for all your home fixtures and even recommend tiles, flooring or appliances that will complement the look that you’re gunning for. But this will incur costs in itself. To save more on renovation, you can request to do the shopping from the suppliers on your own, and then have your ID oversee the installation process. 

For the gungho lot working with just a contractor, you’ll save some money by ordering your fixtures like lights and switches directly from the supplier or online from Taobao which is a treasure trove of aesthetic options to fit any theme.

For fancy switches and sockets: Choo Chiang, Kim Siah Electric Co.
For best bathroom supplies: KOHLER Singapore, Modeste
For stylish fans: Decor Fan SEA, Haiku
For tiles: Soon Bee Huat
For lighting stores: Lightfaktor, Lightart Studio
For pretty knobs and handles: Lava Vella Knobs, Handles & More

4. Outsource the painting

home reno
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Painting a home isn’t cheap. If you’re looking at that $1,500 paint bill thinking you can do it better, there’s a high chance you can do a pretty decent job for a fraction of the cost. One hack is to hit up paint companies directly to hire their services as they usually have fair rates and extensive knowledge of how to clean and prep your wall for a lasting paint job.

Most of the homeowners we spoke to highly recommended seeking the services of paint brands, such as Nippon Paint or Raffles Paint, both of which have very transparent pricing on their websites based on the size of your home. The former has prices starting from $950 (<490sqft) and the latter from $900 (<600sqft).

If you’re just looking to save as much money as you can, you’ll probably be able to find cheaper painting services offered on Carousell with rates from $80 per wall – but contract at your own risk!

5. Avoid hacking

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It’s no secret that hacking walls are one of the factors that’ll bump up your reno bill, with the hacking of a single wall costing $40-60 per foot run and the hacking of multiple walls costing you $2,000-$5,000. With that said, another type of hacking you should avoid is the hacking of tiles – both wall and floor.

The labour costs for hacking can easily amount to upwards of $1,400 for an >600sqft space, this comes on top of the cost of laying new tiles. If the original tiles in your purchased home are too outdated, but in good condition, you can easily have them covered with vinyl flooring or retiled with anything your heart desires. This will help you minimally shave off $1,000.

6. Tile only the wet areas

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If you’ve ever popped into a tile store like Hafary or Soon Bee Huat, you’ll know that tiles normally cost around $3psf depending on your tile of choice. The labour cost that comes with it will set you back about $1,600 and this price will only increase if waterproofing (>$200) of the area is needed.

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Instead of tiling whole bathrooms and kitchens, the cost-conscious can consider only tiling the areas that come into direct contact with water. We’re talking about shower walls, the floor area of the shower floor, and the vanity backsplash in bathrooms, and just the backsplash in kitchens. If you’re not one to do heavy cooking, then opting for vinyl for the kitchen flooring could save you some money as well.

Wall tiling can cost $7psf, and while the costs seem negligible at this point, when you factor in multiple bathrooms and the entire kitchen into the final bill, you’re going to want to trim as much excess costs as possible.

7. Custom-make or buy your home fixtures on Taobao

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It’s no secret that Taobao is a haven of furniture dupes and a real gem for homeowners looking to save money on anything from fixtures like light switches and pendant lamps to furniture and soft furnishings.

Content creator Jessica Tham ordered her custom marble wall-hung sink from Taobao.

Image credit: @tippytapp

But the magic doesn’t end there. Think of Taobao as the Room of Requirement in Harry Potter. Whatever you need – be it a custom marble sink or terrazzo countertop, you’ll be able to find a wholesaler willing to fulfil your order for a fraction of what it’d cost you to fashion the same piece in Singapore. 

Just make sure to get your measurements down to a T because refunds or exchanges are bound to be lengthy and arduous.

8. Opt for ready-made furniture instead instead of built-ins

A custom built-in wardrobe (left), compared to a loose wardrobe (right) which can help you achieve the vibes you want without the cost.

Image credit:, @rooma_sg

Carpentry needs no introduction as one of the biggest expenses where home reno is concerned. And while some carpentry like kitchen cabinetry is an expense that can’t be avoided, things like built-in floating TV consoles, shoe racks, benches are complete money-suckers and 100% optional.

According to Tan Carpenters, the cost of a built-in wardrobe can range from $210-$250 per foot run  depending on whether or not you choose casement, sliding or soft-closing ones. This means that in the event that you need to do up a 2m wardrobe, you’re looking at prices from $1,365-$6,000 depending on your chosen design configuration and material.

To save more in this department, opt for loose pieces of solid wood furniture which will be cheaper and more lasting in terms of initial investment, as you can choose to sell them on Carousell when your tastes change. Brands such as Wihardja, Scanteak, Rooma and Second Charm are pretty safe options for long-lasting solid wood pieces. 

9. Reconsider built-in feature walls

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Fluted walls and rattan fittings may be all the rage right now, but can we confidently say that they’ll still be trendy 10 years later? Maybe not. All trends have their moment of glory, and most of them do pass with time.

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The Surface. Studio

To avoid a case of having to renovate your home again in a few years to rid it of an interior style that no longer holds the same appeal it used to, look for less permanent alternatives that will help you achieve the same look without all the commitment – and costs. This could be vinyl or laminate as opposed to custom wood feature walls that could set you back $25 and up per foot run. Here’s how one homeowner DIYed his own fluted panel.

Saving thousands of dollars on renovation in Singapore

Getting your keys is merely one half of the journey to obtaining the home of your Pinterest board dreams, and it’s hard to avoid renovating completely especially if you’ve got an older resale flat or BTO on your hands. Thankfully, there still are smart decisions you can make to help you save precious dollars here and there. 

If you’re looking for more reno inspiration, check out our other articles here: 

Cover image adapted from: @lev.interior, @loft208, @hausonthehorizon

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