IN FOCUS: ‘It was a nightmare’ – Why are renovations still such a minefield for home owners?

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Altogether, timelines have had to be extended. “Before COVID, a resale flat would’ve taken one-and-a-half to two months, but now we need at least three months,” said Mr Yea.

Carpentry used to take seven to 10 days, but now the minimum lead time is 20 days, he added.

On the other hand, wages have shot up by 30 to 50 per cent. “Everyone is asking for a higher salary because of supply and demand. There’s a lot of demand but not enough supply.”

The price of all materials, such as wood and cement have also risen in the past one to two years, he said. In particular, he cited the “sky high” spike in prices of nickel, which is used in pipes.

But the firm has to absorb these costs, to honour the contracts that home owners signed a year ago, he added.

HOME OWNERS ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM

While there are genuinely some bad apples in the sector, consumers also play a role when ties sour, said industry players.

SIDS’ Prof Ong said: “We don’t play by the mantra that the customer is always right. Both sides could have contributed to disputes.”

Azcendant’s Mr Choo said some owners without technical expertise may not understand the difficulty of achieving their desired aesthetic. It’s also a problem if the consumer is too particular, even about differentials of about “3mm to 5mm”, he said.

RCMA’s Mr Ong added that the most frustrating consumers are the minority who “want to spend very little money, but demand the most, or a lot, from designers”.

It’s even worse when these consumers then write untruthful, negative online reviews as leverage to get what they want, Mr Ong said.

“No harm trying … To them, it’s zero cost but there’s a chance they get something back … And (for the company to challenge them legally is) quite a hassle and you cannot guarantee any action.

“Some companies (accede) to their demands, then they ‘spoil market’ because it leads other consumers to think alike,” he said.

Design4Space’s Mr Yea said consumers’ indecisiveness can be frustrating if they cause delays.

“We encounter a lot of home owners who today confirm, then tomorrow (say): ‘Eh, change leh.’ Then changed already, when we have already started fabricating the cabinets, they say we want to change this. Out of 10 households, I think about three to four are like that.

“The problem is we cannot stop there, wait maybe a week (to see if there are changes), then start. Because the lead time is too long for us to wait, we have no time for that, you see.”

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM?

Associations and firms are pushing for regulation as the answer.

RCMA hopes to emulate the journey taken by the real estate agent industry sector – which was once unregulated. A statutory board, the Council for Estate Agencies, was set up in 2010 to enforce a regulatory regime for the industry.

Mr Ong said authorities would want to “see what the industry provides first”, and whether “someone can come forward and lead the way to show what can be done”.

To that end, RCMA launched an academy last year, with courses for those who want to join the industry, or who are already in it without prior experience. So far, the course has had five runs with about 400 to 500 students in total.

“We want to make sure they understand the ethics involved, the correct way to do works. They need to have knowledge of tiling, carpentry, so they can be good project managers, making sure things are delivered properly,” said Mr Ong.

Upon completion, they get a certificate and an offer to join the association as a member. As members, they must abide by certain rules for quality and practices – or risk being struck off. This is an affirmation of the quality of work they produce, he said.

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