1. Renovation is expensive

Not going to mince our words. Renovation really requires you to fork out cold, hard cash. That means you need to plan your finances and save up for it. Not enough savings yet? You can wait out your renovation and take 6 months to save.

Another solution? Renovation loan. But let’s be prudent with borrowing money at this point in your life. You’re already taking a home loan (from bank or HDB), you’re likely to pay by instalments for your furniture and home appliances. Consider all these before you decide to take on another renovation loan.

In general terms, new HDB BTO owners who are not looking to do an extensive job should set aside about $30,000. The figure can easily double for resale flats. These days, it’s not surprising to read stories of people who renovate their resale units at prices between $80,000 and $100,000 – or even more.

You’ll also need to buy furniture and appliances (at least the basics like a sofa, bed, fridge, washing machine, etc), which means adding on about $10,000 on top of what you’ll already be spending for renovation works.

Start planning for your renovation in the months leading up to you getting your keys – that way, you won’t waste any time.

2. Plan Renovation Early

Start planning for your renovation in the months leading up to you getting your keys – that way, you won’t waste any time. Read widely on the subject, eyeball your floor plan, and do up moodboards of interior designs.

Things can move fast once you’re ready to sign on an Interior Designer or contractor.

Knowledge is power, and being armed with all kinds of information will put you in better stead when you’re negotiating your reno contract.

Tile or vinyl flooring? If you know the terminology, you’re less likely to be overwhelmed. This also means you can be precise and request a detailed line-by-line breakdown of all the costs, which will also mitigate the issue of hidden costs.

People are very generous with information and their own experiences on renovation forums, so wade right in and start asking questions.

Aircon set in a brown partition wall to hide unsightly aircon trunking

3. Renovation Hidden Costs

You may have done extensive research and combed through every line of your quotation before committing to an Interior Designer or contractor but you should still expect hidden costs, because unless you’ve had experience renovating many homes – and most of us don’t – you can’t foresee everything.

Take for example, aircon trunking. You won’t be thinking about the trunking (which connects the indoor aircon units to the outdoor unit outside your flat) until you’re at the stage when you’re planning the route in detail, and you realise how unsightly it’s going to look.

So you end up wanting to conceal it by boxing it up or constructing a false beam. Oh hello, hidden costs, there you are… Be prepared to set aside a minimum of five per cent on top of your quotation to cover hidden costs

Hand holding a jar of coins with the label "Savings". Home renovation costs can be lowered greatly by approaching or buying direct from factory manufacturers

4. Save Renovation Cost

Everyone knows costs are lowered when you cut out the middleman, and this is true for windows, grilles and doors. Your Interior Designer or contractor needs to sub out such work to a specialised manufacturer anyway, so what they quote you for these items has been marked up.

You can save significant dollars when you approach these manufacturers directly, only it involves a little more hassle and you need to do some coordinating of your own – but it’s nothing the average person can’t handle.

Many of these direct factory owners and manufacturers have a Facebook page, and you can always find more information on renovation forums. Otherwise, ask your elderly parents – they will likely know an Uncle who runs a metal factory, a glass factory, or handyman company etc. Hey, you’d be surprised!

Top view of interior designer looking through construction of new house building. Wooden samples on desktop. Silver pen in hand. Colourful palette and laptop on working table. Renovation concept

5. Interior Designer or Contractor

First question: Are you hacking any HDB walls? If you are, you may need to find an Interior Design company to submit a renovation permit on your behalf.

However, if you are happy with your BTO unit, you can just call up individual contractors to fix up your furniture or carpentry bit by bit.

If you’re a hands-on type who wants to be involved in the transformation of your home and have a fairly good sense of colour coordination, proportion and style, pick a contractor.

If for you, design is best left to the experts, then go for an Interior Designer. Whoever you pick, you need to be comfortable with this person, because you’ll be working with them for at least eight to 10 weeks. As a general guide, go for the “bigger” and more reputable interior design firms – they are likely to have standardised processes.

Are “cheap” interior designers reliable?

A cheaper, small (and unknown) interior designer may be tempting. But let’s just say I’ve burnt my fingers and learnt my lesson with a cheap interior designer’s rash, choppy, and terrible work. A fellow friend ended up with uneven floor tiles. Highly recommend you spend a little more and get a trustworthy interior designer.

You should speak to a minimum of three companies to get a sense of the market rate. It’s a must to ask them to show you homes they’ve recently done so you can see workmanship, and the breakdown for the quotation should be as detailed as possible.

Last but not least, never pay in full at one go, as the industry standard is for payment to be made in stages as stated in contract. Some wayward interior designers will ask you for lump sum stating they “don’t have money”. Beware of these people.

This article was first contributed by Singsaver in 2017.