Sunday, December 14, 2014

Renovation advice (Part 1 - Selecting ID)

After renovating 2 homes in the last 10 years, I have accumulated some experience in the tricks of this trade. Throughout my journeys, I have made several mistakes and fallen into some traps. This post is meant to share my experience as well as to give you a brief overview of what to look out for and what to avoid.

Let me start with selecting a good interior design company for your reno works. As you may be aware, renovation doesn't come cheap. So you must be prudent in your selection or else your reno will end up in a mess. When selecting ID, do not walk into reno fairs and sign a contract blindly. Do not trust recommendations from online forums - some of these posters are the company staff who posted positive reviews about themselves. Some of these popular IDs receive enough fame on forums and start to produce shoddy work in recent times.

Most ID companies are main contractors in disguise. They are not really designers. The young chap sitting in front of you is usually a sales person who has no formal training in design. Do not be afraid to ask for someone senior. Ask for previous project designs and the number of years of experience he has. A newbie who has just started work may quit halfway or screw up your renovation because of poor coordination.

Beware of another type of contractors - who are middle aged and seasoned in their trade. Some will outsmart you by giving you a very low quotation and then add back the amount subsequently because he would say this is not included or that is not included. For example when renovating toilets, they will deliberately omit the cost of building shower kerbs and tell you later it costs $120 per kerb. If you have 3 toilets you would have to fork out $360 extra. There are many hidden costs in quotation, so it is best to compare a few. Installation of lights, electrical appliances and toilet fixtures all cost money. If they are not written down, it means you would have to pay for these later. Or they may jack up the cost of aircon installation to recover the money. It can be quite a substantial amount.

The last type of IDs to avoid are those who have graduated with some arty farty design diplomas or those who won so and so awards. These group of people are difficult to work with. They often advertise themselves or their services in ID magazines, so it's pretty tempting to hire them. For basic designing, they will charge you a premium and then subcontract your works to third or even fourth parties. If your budget is less than 100k, I suggest you give them a miss. It's really not worth it paying them a premium unless you are earning gold bars. And even if you do, there are better ways to spend your gold bars.

So who should you approach? Ask for recommendation from your friends who have had worked with specific ID or contractor. Do not look for those who are overbooked and have no time to even meet you for a discussion. I had encountered one who replied my SMS only 3 days later so I dropped her immediately. Look for someone who is sincere and you can get along with. If the person is too pushy or trying to force you to accept his designs, drop him. Ask questions to find out if he or she is familiar with the trade. For example, show him your floor plan and tell him roughly what you want to do. Ask him how long the renovation would take. An average apartment will take at least 2 to 3 months for complete renovation, provided you have confirmed your designs within 2 weeks. Give some allowance for you to shop for your tiles, paint colours, toilet and kitchen accessories. Think through what he tells you and judge whether he is sensible and gives you good advice.

For my first home, I engaged a main contractor who gave me simple and decent design. However I felt that a lot of things he did does not make sense or was simply done for his own convenience. He hired old fashioned workers who placed my power points right on top of my kitchen back splash - major design flaw as my wires would all run down when I plug in my appliances. He also brushed me aside when I asked him if his carpenters could do round corners for me. He simply told me it was not feasible to do. So he was not the ideal contractor to work with because I demanded more complicated designs for my second home.

For my second home, I changed 3 IDs/contractors. One of them over promised and failed to deliver his stuff. He was also perpetually on his phone and not listening to me. Several times he cancelled our appointments at the very last minute, leaving me with a very short time to complete my project. The last straw came when he altered my cabinets without telling me about the change. The other company was not any better - it was an established award winning company and they sent me a sotong designer who doesn't know what she is talking. I knew she screwed up another owner's house cos I overheard her conversation on the phone. I took leave for a one day job - tiling a particular wall. The tiler came and told me he needed 3 days to do it and the carpentry should be done up before tiling. The sotong didn't show the tiler the design before engaging his services. So you must imagine how angry I am when I wasted one day staring at an empty wall. Like most companies, they hire Malaysian workers. These workers took a long time to cross the causeway each morning. By the time they arrive, it is past 12 noon and they start fruitful work only after 2 pm. On some days, only one worker appeared. Around 6 pm, he would pack up his tools and bade me farewell. I complained to the ID that these people are wasting my time but to no avail. How much can you achieve in 4 hours of work a day? My reno was delayed for weeks and months.

The carpenters also work differently. The first company applied the laminates at the factory before bringing them over. This speeds up the installation. The second one had to do the cutting and glueing at my home, and this takes a very long time. Some of the wood grained laminates are not consistent and not well aligned. I had to ask for rectification works which again took time. So if you are selecting wood grained laminates, decide whether you want them to be vertically or horizontally placed. Tell them you want the joint lines to be perfectly matched. And the coloured interior PVC lining used for drawers have to be closely matched to the laminates too. It would be best to select the colours yourself. These coloured interiors bear additional costs to your carpentry but it makes your cupboards nicer to look at when you open your doors.

Visit enough showrooms to have a feel of how modern kitchens and toilets look like. For a start, I suggest going to Toto and BLUM showrooms. Shop for appliances early, especially your kitchen stoves, hoods, ovens and toilet fixtures which have to be factored in your design plan.

Certain models of induction kitchen hobs require high electrical power points (greater than 13 amp). So if you are doing a HDB renovation, choose only 2 rings instead of 4 rings. Always check with the store and your electrician before you purchase. Else you ended up with no power point for installation. Induction stoves are fast to heat up and there's no danger of the wind blowing out the flame. I prefer induction over gas or electric stoves.

Do note that when you are looking for toilet bowls you need to measure the distance between your wall and the center of your hole. It can range from 4 to 12 inches and certain toilet bowls come in specific dimensions. All these advice should be given to you by your ID. If he didn't tell you, then he's not worth your money.

Also, some fanciful shower heads design from Hans Grohe are not suitable for hdb installation. The rain dance shower needs a specific water pressure to work beautifully. For private properties this is usually not an issue. The Hans Grohe staff will usually check with you before your purchase. But if you are buying from a third party (shops along Jalan Besar or Balestier) some may not bother asking you.

More to come for my part 2 - Buying household fixtures.

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