What did we do?
We started searching for an ID or contractor online roughly in October last year, before the estimated completion date, which was in Q1 2018. There really were many IDs and contractors, some advertising on Facebook, many on sites like Renotalk, Hometrust, etc. Before the search, we were leaning towards going for a contractor. We wanted to go for a cheaper option so we have more options when it came to furniture or other stuff.
We also had no idea what we wanted. I have had an unpleasant experience with wood and laminates. My current house is full of defective stuff, e.g. wardrobe sides popping out, laminate flooring popping out, skirting hiding tonnes of ants. We went into the first few conversations with the idea that we wanted to minimise the amount of wood, and if possible to just stick to an industrial theme. While it’s not the most trendy, with most homes I see going for a modern or Scandinavian theme, it is still something that is coherent and is mainstream.
What we did immediately was to check out Renotalk, and PM or reply to the topic to request contacts from satisfied home owners. Many of those satisfied could not receive new PMs, which made it such that you have to go to the next one or wait for a reply (which usually wouldn’t come – why would you actively share contacts 1 year after your renovation anyway). We then went by word of mouth and went to HomeTrust to send feelers.
A word of advice, I’d strongly recommend not using the automated service where the sites promise to match you with several IDs or contractors. These are in my opinion those with lower ratings and could be those who paid to get recommended as a priority. In addition, you should also steer clear of ‘noise’. For example, you might get bombarded with mini-sales pitches and ‘reviews’ from your HDB Facebook/Whatsapp chat, with people claiming XXX ID/contractor is fantastic, urging you to take up the package as well to enjoy group buy discounts. Ignore them. Look beyond this bullshit, because different people will have different fits with different IDs/contractors.
Making our rounds
We then contacted several IDs and contractors, many with disappointing results.
J (Contractor double hatting as ID)
It wasn’t good. We checked on Renotalk, and there was a design by a contractor that looked decent and affordable. The threadstarter couldn’t receive any more PMs, so I replied to the thread asking for a contact. Another user replied, and I was initially thankful, because I wasn’t expecting the threadstarter to return and reply PMs. We set up a meeting with the contractor. He wasn’t too clear over Whatsapp. But there are some who aren’t good with words and technology, so I wasn’t too bothered.
The actual discussion went alright, considering that we did not know what to expect at all. He said he was double hatting as an ID too, which triggered some discomfort because we didn’t like the idea of double hatting – it was an another way to say that you are a contractor but you want the profits of an ID. There was some upselling done, but nothing too pushy. The ideas weren’t bad, but weren’t good either.
Towards the end, it seemed like he totally wasn’t the one who did up the house in the original post on Renotalk. He confirmed that it wasn’t when asked. It was apparently a satisfied customer who keeps spreading this guy’s contact on Renotalk. A closer search found that this guy made several PMs and posts just for promotion purposes.
And this is the part that got at us. It’s not that he wasn’t good; in fact, his portfolio seemed better than the one in the original thread. But it’s about integrity. Maybe he didn’t create accounts on Renotalk to self promote, maybe he did. But such trickery is not appreciated.
We still came out of the meeting with some enthusiasm. That was largely me, as wife wasn’t too happy about him. She had the bad vibes when it came to him. I’d come to realise that actually she’s a good indicator of the ID/contractor when it comes to gut feel.
But to top it off, he never did send a quotation to us. Maybe it was miscommunication. Maybe he expected that we would reach out to him after we sent him our floor plan. But that’s just bad sales. You should always try to keep a close link to your prospects and build up a good impression.
A weird case. Multiple instances of miscommunication. We couldn’t even arrange a timing and location to meet. Though he apologised for misreading my texts, he was easy to eliminate from the running. If I can’t trust you to agree to a meeting, how can I trust 30k with you?
Shao Jie (ID)
He was a recommendation – Rooot Studio. We kept getting the name wrong because we kept googling Root with two ‘O’s. They weren’t really established online, so there was less info.
The meetup was easily organised. He introduced how his firm did their work. They tell stories on behalf of their clients, through spatial design. His portfolio was impressive and really appealed to us. We then did an extensive Q&A with him on everything we are as a couple, from our lifestyle habits to our hobbies, to when we first met. Thereafter, we went through the types of designs we liked, and some types of designs we didn’t like.
After that, we were told that he’d design something for us, to have a feel. I was initially quite skeptical, because I thought that no ID would want to risk doing designs for a client who may never commit further than an initial feeler meeting. In between, we went back and forth quite a bit, as I kept having new ideas pop up while we met others and researching online. He was really patient and answered my questions.
He eventually came back with a design that really wowed us. It was what we wanted, and he remembered everything we mentioned in our discussions. He even remembered that I played Dota. The interesting thing was that he chose to show us his 3D design right at the second appointment. He was very open with his design, but he also risked having me copy his design and running off with a contractor to finish the job.
His quote was not the cheapest, but it’s some way off the top, i.e. more middle-low range. In all, the best mix of pricing and design concept that I can ask for. And the most important thing is that we felt comfortable around him, as he is not pushy at all and willing to take in all ideas from us.
One thing that I observed though, he is not really a salesperson. His quotes are higher, but I only discovered subsequently that it’s because his materials are often better. For example, LURF vinyl from Belgium rather than the generic cheap Korean or Chinese vinyl.
He was also a recommendation, as we know someone who had a project under him. He kind of struck us as a project manager and a contractor, as he was quite well versed with dimensions and practicality. We were told that he was sometimes forgetful, but on the plus side he is very responsible, flexible, and neat. His quote was also the lowest, although that did not compromise on quality when we went to the ongoing project. One thing that worked against his quote was that he made some errors in terms of proof reading and fairing, as well as forgetting to include a storage settee-style cabinet that I requested.
Eventually we had to choose. We didn’t go with him as we thought the forgetfulness was not something we really wanted from our ID and the design input was not really apparent for his case. But I would still recommend him to others, as long as you oversee timelines and the details closely.
Got this contact off a forumer on Renotalk. He was quite an old school contractor, and had a strange aversion to texting. He preferred to send Whatsapp voice messages. We went to two of his ongoing projects, which told us absolutely nothing to be frank. His modality was to pass projects to his in house ID (for which you’ve to pay by percentage of the total value of renovation). We agreed for me to send him photos of what I wanted, so I could possibly skip the ID part, since I wanted simple designs. I sent him the pictures as promised, but he didn’t reply. It was a waste as I was quite serious about going with him.
Got this contact off a forumer on Renotalk. I whatsapped him. He said to email him. I emailed him. He didn’t reply. Enough said. It turned out to be an ongoing theme with contractors.
Another contact from Renotalk, but she was totally unresponsive. After asking me about the timing when I needed to get my flat, she went MIA. A definite no-go.
The company had quite pricey reviews. We got a goodie bag out of it, as it was their open house. She was quite accommodating of our ideas, and we were quite comfortable with her in our conversations. The only thing was that she sometimes struggled to express her ideas well, as her English might not have been her strongest suit. I must admit there were a couple of problems with what we discussed with her, in terms of the design concept, that we only realised after talking to other designers.
But eventually we had to eliminate them. The company operated on a sales mentality, with a package offering and adding more stuff. The total quote came up to 47k, despite seemingly being quite affordable in their packages. It probably was just a marketing gimmick to have ‘packages’. I’d recommend to avoid all these package-oriented firms entirely in future.
We found some good reviews of this firm on HomeTrust, albeit a little pricey. They were probably from other designers. Our guy was friendly and proactive, being able to accommodate our meeting at short notice. But he was not knowledgeable. He mistook a wall for a window, and raised unnecessary alarm that we couldn’t do a wardrobe against that wall. He thought that his drawings on the floor plan were to scale, and raised another alarm when he said the master bedroom was too small to accommodate a queen bed. It turned out that his floor plan was printed too small.
He also kept trying to make us go for some paint that was glittery and with patterns to show more character. He showed us the effect in person. But we hated it. He also tried to upsell us to take up KompacPlus, which I thought wasn’t necessary. You don’t ever need KompacPlus. Even if I were to spend that money, I’d just splash it on a Quartz top.
Eventual quote came up to be around 49k. He didn’t even want to send us the quote over email. He eventually took screenshots, but covered all the itemised costs.
Wife wasn’t convinced about him. He seemed quite knowledgeable about the intricacies of HDB flats, as he spoke about measurements and where water pipes were. But that came across as quite boastful. The dude also said he was the top salesperson in the firm and did many projects, but we couldn’t find much info online.
He also said he had costings at his fingertips. Because I said my budget was about 30k, he asked me whether I wanted to sign a contract there and then for 29k, 28k. I didn’t know if he was joking. But we definitely weren’t prepared to, as we only had 1 quote at that point in time, and we told him that. That left quite a bad impression, it seemed like a hard sell tactic. He was the last to provide a quote, and we held off our decision making until we got his.
Sadly, his eventual quote was far from his “fingertips”, costing 37k in total. It worked on a package deal plus add-ons, so it was no surprise everything was really expensive. So we wasted time waiting for his quote.
Who did we go with, an ID or contractor?
Back to the original question: an ID or contractor. I suppose you get what you pay for. Contractors are mostly less responsive and less able to tell you their vision of what your house should look like. And I got a sense that they were not the most ‘slick’ in their conversations, although I think some may feel more comfortable with those less able to convey their thoughts accurately.
We went with Shao Jie and Rooot Studio. We originally came in with the idea that we should go for a contractor if we can, because that would be terrific for our pockets. Unfortunately, the contractors weren’t up to scratch. Maybe we should’ve chased them more, hurried them often, and bugged them till they replied. But if they can’t be bothered to reply or to follow up when we have not paid up yet, I can’t imagine what they will delay or drag in future if we have paid up.
For IDs, we prioritise his/her design input tremendously. I think I have really only gotten terrific design input from Shao Jie, with the rest being on par with one another. These designers gave the impression that they designed for practicality and without a really coherent design concept, whereas Rooot came in with a theme and a narrative. We were sold on that.
I also really appreciated Shao Jie’s genuine attitude and his lack of salesmanship. Just the fact that he was willing to show me his design, without any guarantee that I’d go with him, proved that point.
Did we compare prices?
To be honest, we did some cost comparison. I said we shouldn’t do it during our search, because I wanted to get the overall fit with the designer correct instead of trying to save a few bucks. We still did it as we couldn’t resist being typical kiasu Singaporeans. I think it’s only human nature. My sense is you don’t need to go for the lowest quote, because something’s gotta give if they offer rock bottom prices. Aim for something in the middle to lower range of all the quotes.
That said, price comparisons may be difficult because many IDs don’t give a good breakdown of the costs. They choose to hide the unit prices completely or fudge it in big categories. It’s in their interest to do so, because if they reflect lump sum costs or costs according to large categories you don’t really know what you’re paying for. I think that’s a no no and it’s an indication that the designer/contractor is trying to hide their mark up. Many companies often give you a good price for one item only to mark up highly for another, often for something that you definitely want so there’s no choice for you. It’s 拉长补短 essentially.
The next step then, having identified some furniture, was to hammer out the plan, look at a completed project, and then to sign the contract with Shao Jie.
Too Long; Didn’t Read – Choosing an ID or contractor
In short, assuming it’s a competent ID or contractor you’re choosing, go for an ID if:
- You’re not really sure what designs you like and what’s possible with your layout.
- You’ve rough ideas on what you want but are unsure how they should be put into action.
- You want significant design input on the renovation details and furniture, down to colours, shapes, zones, in your home. (Although you should make sure you’re getting an ID, rather than contractors using template 3D designs and posing as IDs.)
- You need someone who’s a more responsive point of contact but want to leave everything to him/her.
Choose a contractor if:
- You’re on a very tight budget and need the cheapest prices, although you need to make sure your contractor gets good sub-contractors and suppliers.
- You’ve a very good idea what your design is and how you’re going to execute it, although many contractors do partner with IDs who solely contribute the design for a fee.
- You’re a very detail oriented person to check through the work and have a rough idea what is being done.
- You’ve time to supervise the contractor/sub-contractors on-site.