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Home defect inspectors seeing more demand from local homeowners

Defect inspectors conduct a number of checks, as shown by Advance Inspection's lead inspector Joelson Sim. Mr Sim demonstrating the use of a spirit level to check the gradient of the floor (above).PHOTOS: PHILIP CHEONG, BENJAMIN SEETOR

 

Advance Inspection's Joelson checks the drainage for any debris that might lead to clogs (above). Mr Sim uses a network cable tester to check if the data point in the home is working.PHOTOS: PHILIP CHEONG, BENJAMIN SEETOR

There is a fresh item on the must-do list of new Singaporean home owners: Spending a few hundred dollars to ensure their new homes are in good condition to avoid future repair costs.

Many are signing up for home defect inspection services once they collect their keys, fuelling a growth in an industry that has low barriers to entry.

Industry players estimated there were three defect inspection companies in 2015. The number has grown to more than 10 today. A top firm says it is conducting up to 300 inspections a month, a spike from around 50 in 2015.

This surge could be explained by a spate of projects with well-publicised defects in 2015, which alarmed home owners. Then, Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) developments like Trivelis and Centrale 8 had made the news for defects such as shattering glass shower doors and uneven tiles.

Since then, business has spiked by about 20 per cent, defect inspectors told The Straits Times.

A typical package offered by a defect inspector includes three visits: one to spot the defects, another to bring up the defects to the developer during the defect liability period (DLP), and a final one to see if the defects have been rectified.

Under the sale and purchase agreement, a developer is required to rectify any defects in the unit during a one-year period and bear the costs. Such defects must be corrected within a month of receiving a written notice from a home owner.

Engaging a professional inspector helps one escape the "roller-coaster ride" of bringing up defects to developers and contractors, said home owner Kelvin Low, 37, who got the keys to his four-room Build-to-Order flat in Sengkang last August.

"My friends have had negative experiences where they could not get their defects rectified," said the tutor, who said these accounts spurred him to pay $380 to a professional defect inspector.

Mr Tan Wee Kwang, 37, who runs a defect inspection company called Absolute Inspection, said communicating effectively with developers and contractors is one big reason why professionals are needed.

PROPER CHECKS ON INSPECTORS NEEDED

"Most laymen would not know the technical terms to describe the defects accurately for the contractor to understand and rectify them. This can cause miscommunication and sometimes, they end up rectifying the wrong things."

Unsurprisingly, not all developers take well to defect inspectors.

"We are like traffic wardens of the house. Of course, when you issue 'summons', people won't like it," said Mr George Lim, managing director at Advance Inspection, adding that some developers may brush their claims aside or do not fulfil their promises to fix defects.

There remain concerns, however, over the lack of regulation of the industry as there are no specific qualifications required to be a defect inspector.

Firms say most inspection is now carried out based on the Building and Construction Authority's (BCA) Construction Quality Assessment System (Conquas), which measures workmanship standards in architectural fittings like walls and floors, as well as mechanical and electrical fittings.

Mr Lim, whose firm now uses professional engineers and licensed plumbers to endorse reports, said he hopes the BCA will come up with proper regulations and accreditation specific to defect inspectors so that "not just anyone can do a defect check".

The issue is compounded by the lack of knowledge on the part of home owners who assume all inspectors are equally qualified, said those interviewed.

Mr Davin Soh, the director of Defects Checks, said: "Clients don't usually ask what qualifications we possess, but our knowledge will speak for itself."

Some, like Mr Jasper Kwek, who runs an architecture firm, are doing defect inspections on the side. "I don't know other architects who do this, it is not glamorous and can be boring," said the 63-year-old, who has 30 years of experience as an architect.

Before setting up Defects Checks, Mr Soh was a property manager with a local developer. Mr Lim was doing commercial interior design and Mr Tan was from BCA.

Some home owners say they would welcome more clarity in the industry to avoid engaging second-rate inspectors.

Ms Ginn Yong, a bank business analyst in her 30s, opted for an interior designer who provided free defect checks last July. But what followed was a "half-hearted effort" where there were no checks conducted on the power points or the top of the in-built cabinets of her studio apartment, she said.

She added that it delayed her from moving in by a month, and she eventually enlisted the help of Absolute Inspection's Mr Tan.

An inspector also told The Straits Times about unscrupulous firms that have been "fear-mongering" on the poor condition of homes in group chats with condominium residents, in a bid to get jobs.

To keep ahead of competitors, especially bogus ones, Mr Lim tries to educate customers who go for "free defect checks" that might actually be done by second-rate inspectors.

For Mr Tan, who has conducted more than 3,000 inspections since 2015, he feels his team's strength is its experience as one of the pioneer companies in the business. But he also foresees what might be a natural attrition in the industry.

"We are starting to see a drop in new housing supply from 2018 to 2020, so it will be interesting to see how many companies will continue to exist beyond that," he said.

 

This was first published on The Straits Times. Click here to read the original story.

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