A Homeowner's Renovation Nightmare: "My ID lied about his experience and rushed me into signing a contract with him."
- May 30, 2022
Siew Eng* (*not her real name) reached out to us earlier this month to share her renovation journey. Unfortunately for her, things didn’t go quite as plan and what should have been a straightforward renovation for her 4-room resale flat spiralled into a stressful affair that has her both mentally and emotionally spent because of an inexperienced interior designer.
In line with Singapore’s doxxing laws, we are unable to reveal any names, but it is her hope that her renovation journey and the lessons she learnt from this will be able to help prevent future homeowners from falling into the same circumstances. This is her story. The following account has been edited for clarity.
Rushed into signing the contract…
I started my search for an interior designer (ID) around September/October of 2021. I shortlisted, through an online search, around two companies that fitted what I was looking for. X Company replied promptly and was sincere in clinching the deal, arranging a zoom discussion immediately, followed by a meet-up.
One zoom meeting and physical meeting later, the deal (and my fate) was sealed.
When I met up with the assigned ID—let’s call him Tom—he came across as a 'can-do' kind of person and one who wasn’t calculative. During the meeting, he promised me a lot of things, which he said he could add on without any additional costs. This included changing the hinges for the old cabinets as well as the locks of my windows.
I’ll only realised later a lot of these were empty promises. While some were fulfilled after many reminders on my part, others were dismissed and I was told that they couldn’t be done. And since I did not make sure to include them in black and white in the contract, there was nothing much I could do.
Tom also told me that his workers won’t be taking a long Chinese New Year break, which is good news for me since it meant that I could get my home renovations done earlier. But the deal clincher was perhaps his offer to waive off GST from the contract. This offer, according to him, only stood for a couple of days, or the discount will no longer be valid.
At that time, while I felt rushed into signing and felt this was a sales tactic, I didn't want to miss out on the opportunity for extra savings, so I went on to sign with Tom and X Company even though I hadn’t met up with a lot of other IDs. I should have listened to my gut.
Where do I even begin?
I arranged for the start day of my renovations way in advance, rushing out my key collection so that things could commence on time as per what we both agreed. But just as it was all supposed to start, I was told by Tom that he has yet to apply for a permit to commence works, resulting in a week’s delay. Delays, as I will find out later, were going to be a regular feature in my renovations.
Upon key collection and being new to all these home renovation things, I didn’t realise there were a lot of extra things I needed to do, which caused my initial budget to increase substantially. My ID also did not advise me from the beginning on what to expect, so to say I was taken by surprise is probably an understatement. This led to a lot of variation orders throughout the renovation, which I had to pay upfront every time it was issued before work would commence.
There were so many things that needed to be done in a resale flat renovation, particularly one for an older apartment, that I wasn't aware of.
One of the things I added a variation order to was the overlaying of my toilet tiles. Admitting that it was me who added the job later, I accepted his request to go choose the tiles myself the following day so that it can be delivered before Chinese New Year. Hence, all tiles were chosen in a rush as I only had a few hours available and there was no ID there to guide my decisions. But the worst thing was having my tiles left outside the block all through the Chinese New Year holiday because the tile company had sent them to the wrong address.
The tile company had all gone for their Chinese New Year break so no one could send the tiles to the right home. Turns out, there was no need to rush out my choice of tiles after all.
I wasn’t an ID and my ID lacked experience
Things took a turn for the worse when the renovations eventually started.
When deciding on the positioning of the dish rack, for instance, I wanted to align it with the top cabinet. But when it was done, I realised it was too high for me. When I asked him why he did not advise me on this earlier, he says he cannot overwrite my decision and told me that I should have seen how it was done in my friends’ homes and be aware that the height I wanted was too high. How was I to know? I'm not in the industry.
In another instance, the plumber had noticed there wasn’t any hole drilled on the countertop for the kitchen faucet. When he raised it to Tom, my ID told the plumber to drill the hole himself, but the plumber says he didn’t want to take responsibility if anything happened to the countertop since it wasn't his usual job scope. I had to wait a week later before someone else came by to drill the faucet hole and the plumber had to make another trip just to fit in the faucet.
Tom also told me that it was impossible to install a lock for my casement door kitchen cabinet. I did my own research and show him what I found before he changed his stance.
A screen shot of my conversation with the ID.
As mentioned earlier, I had sought his help to change the locks on my window grilles, which he had initially readily agreed to do. When I reminded him again later on, he said that there was no equipment that could change the window locks. He also said that no one used that kind of lock with round screws anymore. But my dad managed to source for the locks, and the window installer was able to change them for some of the windows.
All these may seem minor, but what really grated me was Tom's unwillingness to help or to offer suggestions and instead simply dismissing them as something that couldn't be done. He also said things like, “Help is help, no obligation.”
Another issue that really highlighted his lack of experience was in regards to my vinyl flooring. He went to the site after my flooring was done and shared photos of the completed work, but he never pointed out any issues. That evening when I went, I spotted shoddy work and visible gaps between the joints!
The gaps seen on my vinyl flooring
Measurements are not his forte as well. He forgot to buffer enough space for a piping at the back when planning out the concrete base for it, which now resulted in my fridge sticking out from the base.
The refrigerator protruding from the base.
Failing to account for the extra piping sticking out.
The double whammy: bad coordination and bad attitude
But his lack of expertise wasn’t the only problem. He was also bad at project coordination and had a bad attitude to go along with it, resulting in a lot of scheduling issues that delayed my project.
After the overlaying of my tiles and the running of new water pipes in the bathroom, I noticed there was a hole on a corner of the wall that was rather visible. This wasn’t rectified until I highlighted it to him and asked if there was a reason for that hole. He said—in a relatively calm manner—that this was because the tiling was done before the water piping was run.
The hole on the bathroom wall.
Shouldn’t he properly coordinate which subcontractor should come first? Fortunately, the tiler came and replaced that piece of tile, covering the hole.
I engaged an external installer for my air-conditioning (AC), which could only be up after the painter did his first coat. When I told Tom when the AC installer was coming, he scheduled for the painter to come just the day before. I actually told him to play it safe and arrange it earlier, but he confidently told me that the first coat could be done in a day.
On the night before, I pressed him for updates on the paint job and he assured me that the sealant coat was already done. When I went over and checked the next day, there were three rooms that were completely untouched! He did absorb the costs for the extra trip needed for my AC installation, so I'll give to him that at least.
There was no initiative to manage his own workers and sub-contractors. The painter was originally supposed to do the touch-up from 9.30am to 10am, but at 10.40am, the painter was still nowhere to be seen. When I texted him to ask what happened because I took the day off just to wait for the painter, Tom just said the painter forgot. No apologies were given.
Some of the work done by the tardy painter.
There were a lot of instances like this. The workers would be a couple of hours late, and I would be at home wondering what was happening because I didn’t receive any updates from my ID.
Because I also outsourced my electrician, Tom was quite unwilling to advise me on my wiring and electrical points. As a result, I missed out on the switch for my hood, which I only realised on the day when the carpentry was supposed to go up. That afternoon, I had to rush my electrician down to install the hood switch.
Going downhill from here
Another major hiccup was with the switches. As I wanted black switches, which my electrician didn’t have, Tom recommended me to purchase them from one of his friend’s shop. The black switches turned out to be unsuitable for the standard casings by my electrician. I asked Tom, who was there during the day of installation, if the black switches came with their own specific casing. He said no, since the shop usually did concealed switches, which didn’t require casing.
Insisting that it was the fault of my electrician, Tom tried to force the switches into the standard casing. As it still couldn’t fit perfectly, my electrician tried covering the gap with silicone, but the switches still bulged out.
I decided to reach out to the switches shop on my own to see how things could be rectified. To my surprise, the staff told me there was a casing for the switches.
The shop owner telling me there is a specific type of casing for the switches.
When I showed the image of the casing that was sent to me by the shop to Tom, he dismissed it completely and said it wasn’t their casing. I was completely flabbergasted by his denial and inability to admit his mistake.
My ID denying that the casing is from the switch shop, even after I showed him proof.
To round off the series of unfortunate events, I was even asked to throw out the packaging from my heater, hood, hob and vanity set, even though I paid for haulage and installation. “By right you should clear those that you bought yourself,” was what he said.
A screen shot of part of my contract.
I also bought a small side cabinet for the bathroom that I needed help installing and Tom agreed to do it. On the day of installation, I was told that installation didn’t come with assembly and I ended up having to fix the cabinet myself, while the plumber only drilled the holes on the wall for me.
Lessons to have and to hold, forever
Nearing the end, I was emotionally and mentally spent. There were so many aspects I wasn't aware of as it was my first time dealing with a resale flat renovation, and Tom hadn't been much of a help to me.
It was a tedious journey, having to constantly remind my ID on what to do and what he promised me and having to do my own research and checks because he was always saying things couldn't be done. He would constantly be trying to 'smoke' me, taking shortcuts and trying to avoid doing things if he could. For instance, after building my partition wall, he suggested that I didn’t need to do any skirting on that wall since the furniture will eventually cover it up.
Doing up the floor skirting only halfway.
Any necessary rectification work also took forever. The fixing of the vinyl flooring, for example, took a whole 10 days, and it was only after I approached the interior design firm’s team manager that it eventually got rectified.
I regretted not reaching out to the manager earlier, as that might have helped save me some time since he was able to communicate to the suppliers and sub-contractors directly. By my estimates, my entire renovation could have been done two months ago, if not for all the delays in between.
Ultimately, I feel my process would have gone a lot smoother if I had an ID that was at least experienced. Word of advice: Do more research into your ID, check out their portfolios and don't believe everything they say. He or she may claim to be really experienced and have the technical knowledge but it may not be the case. I realised that later only after doing a search for him on LinkedIn.
Read reviews, and make sure the reviews are talking specifically about the ID handling your work. What I realised in my case was that the ID firm received quite a number of really good reviews, but they were all of another ID in the firm, rather than of Tom specifically.
Also, no matter how petty you will look, include everything they promised verbally in black and white. It’s best if it’s stated in the contract.
And another thing I learnt—I should have probably reached out to the company through an interior design listing site, rather than reach out to them directly. Some of these sites can help to at least interfere or reach out directly to the ID for you when things go south.
Things for me haven't been completely resolved. I am still waiting on certain issues to be rectified and settled and my renovation has yet to be completed. I might go to CASE for help. I can only hope, through my sharing, that the same thing doesn't happen to you. Choose your ID wisely.
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