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4 signs your contractor is cheating you, and what you can do about it

It pays to be safe than sorry; that’s the best advice homeowners can use to safeguard themselves, especially when renovating their new home. We’re not trying to scare you, but unfortunately, we cannot escape the reality that the interior design industry has been cast into the spotlight, owing to the numerous incidents with errant contractors in the news recently.

According to the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE), as of last year, 1,268 complaints were filed, garnering the industry the notorious honour of being fourth on the list of top number of cases lodged by the authorities. So, should you find yourself in need of engaging a contractor, avoid these common pitfalls to save yourself from additional stress:

1. The contractor suddenly disappears or becomes uncontactable

This is by far the worst-case scenario homeowners can face. Imagine having paid a large down payment to the contractor firm for the materials and services rendered, only to have them vanish midway through the renovation process. Not only are you faced with a home which resembles a war zone, you’ll need to fork out more funds, and time, to get another contractor to continue where the previous one left off.

Attempting to trace and recover your money is also as pointless as purchasing a solar powered torchlight. Unless you’re hellbent on hiring a private investigator to track the culprit(s), the money may be as good as gone. Worse still when you discover the contractor is broke, they’ll have no money for reimbursement if you decide to sue.

Pro-tips:

  • A common pattern frequently seen is that of contractors insisting on homeowners remunerating them the bulk of the costs, prior to the completion of the renovation work. As such, some would result in paying close to the full amount to the contractor, even before they have a chance to gauge the quality of the contractor’s work. Unless you’re absolutely familiar with the contractor you’re working with, it is risky to assume that he/she will do a good job (or complete it). We advise homeowners to negotiate for a staggered payment schedule at each stage of the renovations. In other words, you pay progressively according to how much progress the contractor accomplishes. This limits the amount of money you stand lose, if the contractor disappears/closes down suddenly and can incentivise them to work faster.
  • Choosing a reliable contractor should not boil down to having hope and praying for the best. That’s why it’s best to consult the list of certified contractors from CaseTrust. These companies aim to uphold standards of fair trade and transparency in their renovation businesses and give homeowners a sense of security with the inclusion of a deposit performance bond and a clear structure on fee payments and refunds (if necessary). Alternatively, if trust weighs heavily on your selection decision, perhaps it be best to rely on word-of-mouth and hire the contractor your relatives or friends have actually used before.

2. The completion date keeps getting delayed

Another scenario sometimes witnessed is the constant shifting of deadlines by contractors who claim they need more time to complete the renovations. Just to clarify, we’re not referring to cases where renovations may become more complicated than initially anticipated. We’re talking about times where contractors constantly give excuses to delay the handover date.

You may tolerate a couple of instances, but bear in mind slow progress has a domino effect: It will affect the date of delivery for your furniture (assuming you’ve pre-order beforehand), and if you’re intending to rent out the property, it’ll postpone when you can market the place to potential tenants.

Pro-tips:

  • Delays in the schedule may be due to the contractor taking on too many jobs at once. As a result, they’ll have less time devoted to completing yours because they’ll rather prioritise doing more high-paying jobs first. It is best to draft a contract, detailing the completion date for each stage of the renovation, as well as when payments would be made, in writing. This removes all ambiguity from both parties while giving homeowners some leverage, should the contractor choose to shirk his responsibilities.

3. The materials used just don’t seem up to par

You asked for marble flooring but somehow the tiles installed appear grainy and discoloured. The fresh cost of paint starts peeling. Supposedly high quality fixtures and lightings suddenly fail to work, or start to deteriorate faster than you expect. Chances are, the contractor has profiteered from giving you cheaper knock-offs, and made you believe genuine products were used.

Pro-tips:

  • Don’t be a victim of contractors who sweet-talk you into thinking you’ve been given the best quality materials. Always be sure to know you’re getting what you’re paying for – ask for official receipts or quotations of what the contractor has recommended you purchase.
  • Be aware of the suppliers your contractors are buying from. Again, you can err on the side of caution and contact them directly to check if the contractor has indeed acquired materials from them. Otherwise, the less sneaky option is to arrange a meeting between you, the contractor and their suppliers directly so that all three parties are on the same page.


4. The renovations don’t seem to last very long

You might be impressed on the big reveal day, but as soon as you’ve started moving in for several months, you start noticing defects. Contractors who get the job done ahead of the stipulated deadline may do so at the expense of the overall workmanship by cutting corners wherever possible.

Remember, it’s relatively easy to stage a property to appear in good condition at first glance. The real test of how well the interior design is done can only be determined over time, after frequent usage.

Pro-tips:

  • Because you’ll not be able to ascertain whether your contractor did a good job until after you’re living inside the property, it is ideal to negotiate for a warranty or guarantee in case something goes wrong. Similar to how BTOs and completed condos have a 1 year defects liability period to check for defects after key collection, having your contractor be able to address any minor defects (such as a chipped or cracked tile) after you move in can help you save on reparation costs.

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