Home Renovation Guide: Tips to Follow and Mistakes to Avoid for First-Timers

For first-time home renovators, it's especially easy to get duped, as everyone assumes you're not really familiar with what you're doing. Worry not! We've written up a handy guide to ensure that you'll be covered throughout the entire home renovation process.

Buying your first home is probably one of the biggest life milestones for anybody, so congratulations! As a new homeowner, you'll probably want to customize your home to match not just your personal aesthetic preferences, but your lifestyle choices as well. But amidst the endorphin rush of finally being in your new home, you might feel a little bit apprehensive about the lengthy process of home renovation, especially after all the effort you went through to purchase your house! 

For first-time home renovators, it's especially easy to get duped, as everyone assumes you're not really familiar with what you're doing. Worry not! We've written up a handy guide to ensure that you'll be covered throughout the entire home renovation process. From choosing your contractor to getting a loan at the bank, we've laid out all the necessary tips and tricks to ensure that your home renovation goes smoothly and stress-free.

Set aside some time to plan out your renovation in advance

Why wait until you have the house keys in hand to plan your renovation? You should start planning out at least the major renovations you want in your home from the moment you receive the floor plan. By planning out your renovation this early, you'll have much more time to meet with different contractors and interior design companies. This will allow you to compare their offers and review their portfolios more thoroughly—after all, choosing a contractor and interior designer is no joke! You'll likely be spending a significant amount of money on this project, so you'll want to choose only the best of the best. 

Starting ahead also means preventing any unnecessary rushing in the midst of the renovation, since unexpected delays and obstacles are practically inevitable. In the long run, this'll save you more money and keep your renovation-related headaches to a minimum.

Choose an interior design theme that matches your personality and lifestyle

Everyone wants to have the interiors of their home match all the latest trends. After all, what homeowner doesn't want to stay up-to-date with what's currently considered fashionable? But a word of advice: don't make the interior of your home all about the trends. You'll want to consider a theme that suits not just your lifestyle, but your budget too. Just think, while boho-chic interiors are all the rage now, will the rattan furniture and eclectic color scheme representative of the style still be fashionable ten years from now? And if it isn't, would you still like it? Choose a style that fits your taste, but be pragmatic about it. Pick pieces that match the aesthetic you're going for while also suiting your needs as a homeowner. In sum: don't follow trends blindly. 

Carefully pick the right contractor or interior designer for the job

Most people don't realize it, but hiring an interior designer usually costs more than hiring a contractor. Interior designers are actually more like project managers, overseeing the entirety of the renovation process, from the planning all the way up till the renovation completion. Contractors, on the other hand, will just carry out your requests, as if YOU were the interior designer in this situation. With this in mind, choosing a contractor or an interior designer really depends on your level of knowledge about how you want your home renovated.

If you're just going for some basic renovation, hiring a contractor should do. If you know exactly what you want, then going with a contractor is a safe choice—and a more affordable one, too. However, if what you want is a little more complex, or you have no idea of what'd work for your home, you should hire an interior designer to ensure that everything goes smoothly. Otherwise, you might end up with a home you don't want! 

It's essential that you choose a trusted contractor or interior designer, as, if the firm doesn't do what you've paid them to do, you'll still be able to recover your deposit or receive compensation from the service that wasn't provided. Also, don't fall for any renovation packages that sounds too good to be true! To avoid this, make sure you do a thorough background check on all of the contractors and interior design firms that you plan on meeting with. You can also check the list of HDB approved contractors and CaseTrust-accredited interior design firms, and cross-reference the info you see there with the Consumer Association of Singapore (CASE)'s blacklisted contractors. While all this might sound a little over the top, just remember that this is your home we're talking about. You'll want to make sure it'll be in the right hands.

Never rush the renovation process

We know you're probably eager to see the finished product and move into your new home, but NEVER rush the renovation process. Remember: patience is key. You want to make sure that everything goes smoothly for the best results.

You'll also want to spend extra time on the design phase of the renovation process, as any changes to the design mid-way through the construction will only result in delays and added costs—aka a huge headache for everyone involved. Also, it's important to note that you don't have to follow everything your interior designer says. As the homeowner, it's your right—your responsibility, even—to evaluate everything consciously and carefully.

When it comes to loans, it's best to shop around

Let's not cherry coat it: renovation will be expensive. While getting a loan isn't the best option, if you really need one, you'll want to shop around and carefully compare the rates of different banks. Also, it's crucial to note that the maximum loan you can receive is $30,000 or 6x your monthly salary, so don't forget to consider that when budgeting for your home renovation.

ALWAYS read your renovation contract before signing

It's like the "terms and conditions" document you see before installing apps. While you might think that it's common sense to read them, most people don't. This holds true for something as important as your renovation contract, and we beg you—don't do it. Just read the contract! While it might seem boring or time consuming to do so, just think of the giant investment you're making. Isn't all that worth trudging through the contract's fine print? Even if the contractor or interior designer you've chosen is well-known and with a good reputation, you should still read the contract. It's better to be safe than sorry! The contract should have a complete breakdown of the scope of work and the costs for each project stage, including:

  • design fees
  • project management fees
  • coordination fees
  • labour costs
  • fees for materials, accessories, fixtures, etc
  • workmanship warranty
  • dispute resolution clause

Also, before signing, it's important that you check the schedule and payment terms and negotiate these if they don't work for you, as changing the schedule and terms will be difficult once the contract is signed. Lastly, when it comes to payments, ALWAYS make the payment to the company, not the interior designer or the contractor.

Be mindful of hidden renovation costs

Besides the overall fee for the interior design charges, there are a ton of extra costs involved in the home renovation process. If you're not watchful, these hidden renovation costs could stack up, so take note of:

1. Electrical work

Installing too many power points in your home could end up emptying your wallet. Did you know that the current market rate for additional electrical points is at least $60? Keep yourself from overspending by choosing the optimal spaces to place the power points. To save money, you should only use the power points for the larger appliances, but for regular household appliances, a power strip extension cord should do just fine.

2. Concealing cables

Electrical, phone, and LAN cables can definitely ruin the aesthetic of a room. As much as you want to conceal these, just know that concealing them entails hacking at the walls, which can be expensive if done repeatedly. Not to mention how difficult it'll be for an electrician to hack at the wall again should any electrical problems arise in the future. Instead of asking the contractor to hide all the wires, find creative methods to conceal them instead to save on cash. This could include taping them to the back of tables or buying an exterior cable management system. 

3. Flooring

You need to ask your interior designer or contractor for the cost and specifications of the flooring type being installed in your home. Flooring can be extremely expensive, especially materials such as marble, mosaic, or homogeneous tiles. These types of flooring require hacking at the floor, which is not only expensive to do, but incredibly time consuming as well. Review flooring types with your interior designer or contractor and choose one that fits your budget and your personal aesthetic preferences while being easy to install, clean, and maintain. 

4. Walls

As you may know by now, hacking at anything in your home almost always equals more money spent. You'll want to choose designs that don't require hacking, so refrain from unnecessarily spending on feature walls when instead you can use art or furniture pieces. 

Also, when it comes to paint and wallpaper, thing long-term. A neutral color in a light or bright shade is the safest option, and almost always makes a room look classy and spacious. Wallpapers are a little trickier, as you'll need to find one that not only features a classic design, but one that doesn't curl or fade out in the hot, humid Singaporean weather. 

5. Storage 

Evaluate how much storage you really need in your home. You don't need to blindly agree with how much storage your interior designer proposes, as storage is charged based on a per foot run. You might end up spending extra on storage spaces that you don't actually need. 

6. Haulage fees

It's inevitable to have a ton of debris in your home after the renovation process. You'll need to have all this removed, and for that you'll need a haulage service. These typically cost anywhere between $300 to $600, depending on how extensive your home renovation was, so shop around with different companies instead of going for whatever your contractor suggests. If you're living in an HDB flat, you can check with the town council for their debris removal fees. 

7. Chemical wash

If your home renovation was a major overhaul that required flooring and painting on a large scale, you'll most likely need a chemical wash to remove any cement stains and other dirt scattered around your home. While this is usually included in the contract for any major renovation work, you'll want to double check just in case. 

In case you missed it, we've also published an article on how much it costs to rebuild a house in Singapore here.

The Final Tip

With the renovation done, you can finally settle into your new home! Our final tip? Before you make the last payment for the renovation, just spend a couple days in the house with your friends and family. This'll ensure that any problems in the house can be easily spotted, and you can settle these with your interior designer or contractor before finally closing the project with the final payment. 

We hope these tips help you turn your house into a dream home. Happy renovating!

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