FOCUS: ‘It Was a Nightmare’ – Why Is Home Renovation Still a Minefield for Homeowners?

Overall, the deadlines had to be extended. “Before COVID, a resale apartment would have taken 1.5 to two months, but now we need at least three months,” Mr Yea said.

Carpentry jobs 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 percent. “Everyone demands a higher salary based on supply and demand. There is a lot of demand but not enough supply.”

The prices of all materials, such as wood and cement, have also increased over the past year or two, he said. In particular, he cited the “sky-high” rise in the price of nickel, which is used in pipes.

But the firm has to absorb those costs to fulfill the contracts homeowners signed a year ago, he added.

HOMEOWNERS ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM

While there really are some bad apples in the industry, consumers also play a role when relations go sour, industry stakeholders said.

Prof Ong of SIDS 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 that without technical expertise, some owners may not understand how difficult it is to achieve their desired aesthetic. It’s also a problem if the consumer is too precise, even when dealing with differences of around “3mm to 5mm,” he said.

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

It’s even worse when those consumers then write untrue, negative online reviews to get what they want, Mr Ong said.

“There’s no harm in trying Mah. It’s free for them, but there’s a chance they’ll get something back… And (it’s quite a hassle for the company to legally challenge them and you can’t guarantee action.”

“Some companies (surrender) to their demands, then they ‘spoil’ the market because it causes other consumers to feel the same way,” he said.

Design4Space’s Mr Yea said consumer indecision can be frustrating when it causes delays.

“We see a lot of homeowners confirming today, then tomorrow[saying]’Uh, change leh.’ Then they changed it when we started making the cabinets, they say we want to change that. I think about three or four out of ten households are like that.”

“The problem is we don’t stop here, maybe wait a week (to see if there are any changes) and then start. Because the lead time is too long to wait, we don’t have time for that, you see.”

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM?

In response, associations and companies are pushing for regulation.

RCMA hopes to emulate the path of the real estate brokerage industry – which was once unregulated. A statutory body, the Council for Estate Agencies, was set up in 2010 to enforce a regulatory regime for the industry.

Mr Ong said authorities would “first want to see what the industry is providing” and if “someone can step up and lead the way to show what can be done”.

To this end, RCMA last year launched an academy with courses for those who want to enter the industry or are already in the business with no prior knowledge. So far, the course has had five courses with a total of around 400 to 500 students.

“We want to make sure they understand the ethics involved and the right way to work. They need to have tiling and carpentry skills so they can be good project managers and ensure things are delivered properly,” Mr Ong said.

Upon completion, they receive a certificate and an offer to join the association as a member. As members, they have to adhere to certain quality and behavior rules – or risk being removed. This is a confirmation of the quality of their work, he said.

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