6 ID & Contractor Red Flags To Look Out For When Renovating Your HDB, As Told By Actual Homeowners

11 August 2023 | BY

Here are some interior designer and contractor red flags to help you choose one that’ll bring your ideal home’s vision to life.

Renovations are generally costly, racking up tens or hundreds of thousands at one go – or more. Most of the money usually goes to the services of interior designers (IDs) and contractors, so choosing a reliable one to spend your hard-earned money on is crucial.

Of course, there are obvious things you know to watch out for when picking your ID or contractor, but spotting potentially problematic behaviour from your IDs or contractors may be difficult for new homeowners.

So, here are 6 ID and contractor red flags to keep an eye out for before entrusting them to turn the vision you have for your home into reality.

1. When the ID disregards your opinions

As an ID or contractor is someone you’ll regularly interact with, both during the reno process and for warranty purposes during the post-reno period, it is crucial to find someone who has your best interests at heart and won’t simply disregard your opinions. 

According to content creators t.hy home who shared their experience via Lemon8, some IDs fail to listen to key requests about space planning and budget. 

tv in living room

Image for illustration only.

Image credit: Behance 

“Despite firmly and repeatedly stating during the initial meetings with each ID that we did not want, nor need, a TV feature wall, 3 of the 5 IDs still included a big one in their design proposals.” They said this was a sign that some IDs would not listen to concerns during the reno.

Another major turn-off they faced with certain IDs was that some had assumptions about what they would need based on the lifestyle of the general public. “Despite having already addressed it in the first meeting, these IDs continually mentioned the possibility of children in our future.”

“The fact that they did not listen to us, and assumed to know how we planned our lives on top of that, was especially irksome,” they added.

2. Consultations are conducted by someone who isn’t an ID

Another red flag that Singaporeans homeowners have shared about IDs is when they make you contact someone who is not an ID.

“We had decided to meet with an ID recommended by an ID portal. They had quick responses coupled with an impressive showroom,” said flat.white.93 on Lemon8.

However, they said they were surprised after their point of contact presented themselves as a general manager rather than an ID. “Throughout the consultation, he lacked enthusiasm and failed to provide fresh ideas. Despite being newbie homeowners, we simply ended up telling him our preferences without receiving any usable input.” 

His immediate dismissal of their request to install a water dispenser away from the sink worsened matters, stating that it couldn’t be done. However, later on, they discovered from other IDs that it was indeed possible, albeit with additional considerations. 

“To this day, the ID firm has not returned with a quotation; in retrospect, we’re quite relieved that they didn’t.”

3. ID agrees to all your suggestions and cannot answer questions about your home’s design 

Whilst new homeowners might have interesting and unique ideas on how they’d like to do up their homes, as professionals, IDs are responsible for being realistic and not overpromising.

This red flag was shared by gohinghomee on Lemon8, who wrote, “Imagine suggesting design ideas that are, quite frankly, impossible to accomplish, but your ID immediately agrees to them. Without even seeming to try to visualise certain concepts, these IDs immediately show their assent.”

“That is a big red flag for me. I would have preferred to get an ID that tells me they will try their best to meet my demands, rather than have one who says ‘okay’ or ‘can’ to everything and end up unable to deliver.”

id red flag text with reno background

Image credit: Owlcozyhome

Meanwhile, another key red flag you should never dismiss is when an ID is unable to respond to questions regarding the home’s design. According to owlcozyhome on Lemon8, they experienced this after signing with their ID, only to discover that the ID couldn’t properly advise them on basic aesthetic details. 

Although they decided to go with the particular ID because of their good reviews, practical advice, and budget-friendliness, they were initially hesitant as they had doubts about their eye for aesthetics.

“Nevertheless, we changed our minds when we saw one of their project photos, which resembled our desired style. After confirming with the ID, we chose laminates and tiles for our 3D render. However, we discovered that the homeowners mostly chose the tiles and laminates from the project in our ID’s portfolio.”

The ID could not properly advise them on how to match the tiles and laminates. They were also very insistent on their selections, even though the homeowners felt that their choices did not match what they had in mind.

girl looking at document

Image credit: TheSmartLocal

Ultimately, they went with a different ID with a better eye for aesthetics and could give them practical advice.

“Various IDs have skillsets which lie in different fields. While some have an eye for aesthetics, others are more inclined toward function or practicality. I suggest looking for one that is well-versed in both aspects and can incorporate them together, if possible,” they added.

4. ID doesn’t have an in-house or dedicated contractor 

mechanic working on pipes

Image credit: THE SUA KUS

THE SUA KUS on Lemon8 shared another red flag that homeowners should spot is to ensure that the ID has a dedicated and reliable in-house or an outsourced contractor.

“I would suggest that new homeowners consider getting a professional hood installer instead of accepting your ID’s offer to have it installed by their handyman or any other random person.”

Their ID made the whole renovation journey a nightmare due to poor design, with the most notable incident being their hood installation by the ID’s inexperienced handyman.

Although the ID and their carpenter had access to the hood model and the instructions, neither bothered to read it. “No pun intended, but they even tried to smoke us by saying that the carbon filters are ‘not required’ when neglecting to install them.” Side note – they were. 

hood incorrectly installed by contractor

Image credit: THE SUA KUS

The ID cut corners by having the hood rest atop two thin strips of wood blocking access to the fan speed switch. In addition, they left a gap between the hood and the above surface, such that you can even see the internal PVC laminate. 

“We only learned about the other problems when one of the bulbs blew, and Bertazzoni sent someone to replace it. Bertazzoni’s professional felt that something was amiss, especially when he discovered that the filter wasn’t installed, which defeated the purpose of the hood,” they explained. 

While installing these filters, the professional uncovered certain issues. Outrageously, the original carpenter had covered the output hole, which meant that the hood could not function, and the air could not escape. 

“The hood was only as good as a decorative piece. Meanwhile, our ID and the carpenter didn’t know what to do and insisted that ‘all hoods are installed like that in Singapore.’”

5. When the reno costs more than the industry standards 

Although, understandably, renos aren’t cheap, one major red flag is when the price quoted by the ID or contractor is much higher than industry standards.

“I had a bad experience with a renovation company in 2021. Not only was the start date delayed, but they also wanted to charge more than the industry standards,” shared u/minisoo on Reddit

The company said that the SoWs did not cover certain things, and if they wanted those done, they would need to pay more. Ultimately, the homeowner asked them to stop work and return the house key. “I then went to look for another renovation company, and this time, they carried out the same SoW at a lower price.”

It’s already dubious when an ID or contractor charges more than industry standards. If your renovators request more than the industry downpayment upfront, it could indicate a potential scam or shoddy work. 

6. When the quote is too good to be true and too vague 

id red flag, expensive costs

Image credit: Light&dwelling

A key piece of advice new homeowners should know is to beware of a seemingly cheap quote. According to light&dwelling on Lemon8, they realised that several substantial hidden costs were not reflected in the quote, making it appear cheaper with more competitive pricing. 

Below are some basic costs that may be hidden:

  • Material costs such as floor or wall tiles ($10k+)
  • Electrical (~$6.5k )
  • Plumbing (~$3.5k) 
  • Aircon (~$3K) 
  • Doors (~$3K) 

Based on this, it is unsurprising if the reno cost goes up by around $20-30K compared to the original quote. 

picture of pipes

Image for illustration only.

Image credit: Pip’s Island

It’s also necessary to ask for a breakdown of reno costs to avoid being scammed. For instance, they requested to replace all the water pipes in their house to prevent future leakage problems, for which they were quoted $2500. 

“However, we later realised that the pipes running from the kitchen to the outside water meter are still using the old ones and were told to top up an additional $1000 to replace them as well. This could have been circumvented by drawing out a Pipe Replacement Route.” 

They warned homeowners to watch out for reno contracts with subtle sales tactics. “If you ever chance upon a goodwill discount or free gifts such as rendering services, bear in mind there may be some other hidden costs being added to the Variation Order (VO) at a later stage, which somewhat balances out the discount given.”

points to note in a mou

Image credit: Light&Dwelling

To dodge certain problems that might arise from reno contracts, they suggest attaching a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) as an appendix to the contract. “This outlines the broad terms and intentions of an agreement between you and your renovator. While it is not legally binding, it still serves as a foundation for future negotiations and cooperation between the involved parties.”

“By coming up with an MOU, we can help remind the ID or main contractor about our expectations and mutually agreed upon discussions. It also serves as a protection to prevent any disagreement along the way, they explained.”

ID and contractor red flags

While there are many things to worry about when hiring an ID or contractor, with some adequate research, a few meetings, and a clear vision and budget, you should be able to spot the red flags and prevent yourself from choosing an ID that you’ll end up regretting.

Although it might be difficult to find the perfect ID or contractor who can perfectly execute the vision you have, hopefully, these ID and contractor red flags will serve as a guide on what to look out for.

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Cover image adapted from: Behance, THE SUA KUS

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