The truth behind interior design & renovation packages in Singapore

Household & Lifestyle Goods
11 minutes reading time (1876 words)
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Unedited: The truth behind interior design and renovation packages in Singapore

A note: Our guest writer, Jason Low has no prior working experiences in the Interior Design industry except spending thousand of hours in Pinterest and news stand flipping Home Decoration magazines. And like any aspiring but cheap skate Singaporean, he has recently bought a new place and project manage by himself. How the place turned out is another story for another day but having spent 8 months coordinating with contractors and searching for materials, he shares his bare truth joy & pain in renovation in Singapore. There are no commercial kickbacks from Interior Design Companies mentioned in this article.

First thing first.

You just bought a new place or a resale flat/condo. Life is wonderful and suck at the same time because you just became a slave to your new nest.

Haha. Welcome to Singapore where there is nothing more sure than housing prices upward trend. And precisely because it is such a heavy but steady investment, we tend to be proud house owners and put a lot of focus on interior design and renovation quality.

Shopavision-truth on renovation
credit: Lookbook Design A 5-room HDB BTO flat designed for Instagram

The value of Renovation in Singapore

I would expect Singaporeans to at least "upgrade" their houses once or twice in their lifetime, each time in the space of 5-8 years. If you have been dreaming of the "instagrammable" house look, chances are that is too, on everyone's mind. When houses are sold, new owners will usually renovate again for their own "dream look". Imagine the waste of your beloved caesar stone table...

In fact through my personal experience, the selling price of your property is pegged to the last sold price around your vicinity. Any plus minus consideration would detail into floor level, unit facing, privacy and amenities. Renovation cost would always be on the lips of "selling" agent and proud owners but is never really a considerable bargaining chip in the eyes of buyers.

Renovation value, like your nice polished car, depreciates to close to nothing at the end of its lifetime. But is it worth it thus? Absolutely! Not everything needs to pegged to economic value and sometimes happiness and joy transcends above all. My article hopes to share the insights to renovation packages being advertised on social media and with all the horror stories floating around, how should we deal with it?

I project managed my own house. At what cost?

Beside being cheapskate, the real reason the macho me wanted to proudly say at the end of the journey that "i did it by myself". While it was quite a fun project at the beginning, the technicality and issues will wear down anyone that walks this path. From inches, centimetres to millimetre, technical jargons like "脚线“, "内洞", "抓平线" in China Chinese, Malaysian China and Singaporean Colloquial to drawing technical drawings for your tiler, electrician or plumber to understand, it's a steeper learning than i thought. At the end of the day, i probably saved about 20% of my total renovation cost but i am not sure if the number of hours put in to google, learn, trial and error on these communication tools could actually ever quantify this saving.

Yes, you may argue i did learn something new at the end of the day and i did enjoy the whole process but unless you really have time, don't do it. Leave the macho at home. Leave it to professional.

The problem with Renovation industry in Singapore: Anyone could be one.

If i could picked this up in a couple of weeks, it's very clear how easy the barrier of entry is to start up a renovation company. It only takes some determination and a few good contacts really to make this work. It's really a middle man syndrome here because the real skilled workers are the men that come across the bridge every day.

Don't get me wrong. This is not belittling the hard work some of these companies do to make sure they are not fly by night. All i am saying is that it is really difficult at the end of the day to differentiate one that is balancing cashflow, trying to keep alive and another that will do all means to make sure your job is delivered. So unless there is some defined regulations in Singapore, you are going to see more disgruntled customers and companies that either run or just fold up, wasting our time and money of course.

How does a renovation package looks like?

I have seen quite a few over the last few months and renovation companies that continue to attract with "click bait" styled ads. A typical ad will first attract you with an attractive package price you can't refuse. There would be some skeptics on Facebook that asks some questions and most answers are on PM status so you never really know what is happening.

Shopavision approached Darwin Interior recently when i saw a random renovation ad on Facebook that initially looked like a typical renovation package ad but on a deeper look, actually displayed some great insights and transparency on what they were offering for the price.

Darwin Interior BTO Reno package

In my 2 cents worth, i attempt to break down their worthiness of the package. I might be wrong but my trusted sources tell me i am about there.

Design Service

Most home owners are the real "Interior Designers".

Blame it on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and countless renovation apps and magazines out there, using wide angled lens to make any photo looks good. Customers usually already have a clear idea what they don't want and so i never really think design is very much worth a fee. Also design is often not made up of just the interior design but by the decorations that you customise or choose for your place.

ATD Customised Cushions
Credit: All Things Deco: Customised cushions do wonders to the finer touches to your home. 

But space planning and 3D drawings are. In my own personal project, i used apps like Home Design App on iPad to make artist impression and they are perfect in giving you a clearer idea on how your house may look like. You can even take photo of the tiles you have short listed and super imposing on it, giving you a more realistic feel.

But it is still a pale comparison to professionally done 3D Studio Max impressions done by professionals. Also space planning is a very important. A good interior design company that understands the need of its customers (i.e. married couples vs married with kids) will take advantage of space beyond what you can think of.

Project management means that is someone is your hotline your wife or you could always call to get assurance on your house renovation. Now...isn't that wonderful! (pun intended on myself really)

That cost lumped together is here takes on about 20-30% of the cost so for $3,000 ++, i say taking a load off you having to go on site everyday to manage different contractors for the next 2 months could make actual economical sense.

Masonry, Painting, Plumbing Works.

Pretty standard cost to me and you cannot really run away from this.

I would advice though you ask in details if some other works are inclusive in this package. For example, plastered walls are always going to look more polished than non-plastered walls. I say visually, it is an investment worth going into as it does impact how your house looks and feels.Tiled walls can also visually enhance the entire look of the house. It is a lot more work of course and is understandable it is not inclusive in the standard package.

Electrical work is missing here. I assume this is because BTO comes ready with the electrical points but are they enough for your needs? Cat 6 (i.e. Internet) points are a must in each room because HDB Blocks (and even condominiums) are notorious to have structural walls that creates blind spots for internet in the house.

It is also great to have more electrical points than you need. So having a few extra electrical points may cost you a couple of hundred dollars now but imagine the nightmare of having to install electrical points later on. Remember Smart Homes technology are slowly creeping into our life so it is best to future proof your appliances this way.

Masonry also seem to be missing false ceiling work. If you want the wires to be nicely tucked, that should be an additional cost too. (Updates: Darwin Interior has got back to us to say their BTO packages includes Lbox/False Ceiling for the living room and dining room at the least)

Carpentry Cost

Package seems to cover a functional kitchen and there is a nice touch on the free upgrades on Blum soft closing with is high quality hinges meant to last forever apparently. The internal PVC carcass upgrade on all carpentry is also valued but most people would go for internal lamination carcass to match the external design which will probably cost more.

The Carpentry seems to have missed out on TV console, Vanity closets and shoe racks. They are many nice TV consoles in the market at great prices so personally, there isn't a real need for customisation. Customised vanity tables are expensive but neccesary if you are hard pressed for storage spaces. Each customised toilet vanity table should set you back about $800-$1,200 there about.

(Updates: Darwin Interior has got back to us to say while Tv consoles, bathroom flooring and vanity tables are not inclusive in their packages, it is really because there isn’t a one size fits all solution to everyone’s needs. Due to waterproofing standards required for bathrooms, owners have the option to “overlay” this tiles if need be. )

Bottom line is this. Let's be fair. It's a business and some money must be earned. Price packages, like Darwin Interior, is probably a strip down skeleton version of renovating your "dream house". Balance it realistically between the "dream look" and the budget you have.

Promotion? How true are they?

I believe good promotions can happen. Most business rely a lot on Word of Mouth and reaching out with promotional deals might not be favourable to the pocket but done correctly, flips more business opportunities for them. So when we spoke to Darwin Interior, they were nice enough to give an additional $500 off on their BTO Renovation packages for anyone that bothers to read my experience. That's a nice gesture. 

How to choose a good renovation or interior company in Singapore?

Always get a few quote to compare but be realistic. Your best deal is not to find the cheapest quote but the company that you can trust and work with the most. Cheap is not always good and this is real in this industry. I will advice strongly to go for trusted companies that have strong track record in this industry. Because social media is such a powerful tool for consumers here in Singapore, I advice strongly to look for renovation companies that can’t “run away” from their business so accrediation by Case Trust, RCMA etc.

$500 off Renovation + Door Gift
Get a $500 discount coupon off any existing Darwin Package, what's more, get a free adorable limited edition door gift when you visit us for your free consultation.

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