Welcome to the “House of Kae Renovation Series” where I’ll be sharing my tips for anyone planning a renovation for their HDB BTO or resale flat. I’ll be revealing everything I’ve learnt about how to design, renovate and style your dream home. With a retail design consultancy industry background, this articles will help you to fast-track your knowledge, build your confidence and get you ready to reno. I’ve made the mistakes, so you don’t have to!
In this first part, I’ll cover…
✔︎ The process you need to follow to renovate
✔︎ How to create your own vision board
✔︎ What style of home you want to create
✔︎ Comparing renovation quotations
✔︎ How much did my reno cost
✔︎ If you need an interior designer or contractor
✔︎ Actual floorplans of my house
The Process for Renovation
It is crucial to start planning the moment you get your floor plan, and not wait until you get your keys. In my case, the time from when I decided to buy a place, to house-hunting, to getting my offer accepted was about a month which didn’t give me much time to plan ahead. I bought the place in June and got my keys in August 2019. The renovation only officially kicked off in early November and as of today on 4 January, we’ve only started on the painting and still have carpentry, electrical appliances, lighting etc to be installed.
Thus, the more time you have, the more flexibility you can afford, the more mistakes you can avoid, and the more money you can save. In most cases, there will almost always be unforeseen delays. In my case, my ID and I both mis-read the instructions from HDB for the hacking of the wall between the service balcony and kitchen whereby they stated “NO PE ENDORSEMENT REQUIRED” but just that we need to provide the details of a PE Engineer who will be onsite to oversee the hacking. The back and forth communication between myself and the HDB officer resulted in one week’s delay during which the team couldn’t any work until the wall came down. Just today, the painter informed me that due to the holes left behind after the cornices were removed, they need an extra day to patch up the holes.
Start early to prevent an unnecessary mad rush, especially if you’re renovating during the peak seasons. With less than 2 weeks to go before CNY, I’m not hopeful that the renovation will be completed on time.
How to Create Your Vision Board
A Vision Board comes first! Before you start dividing up your inspiration by specific room, you make a vision board that not only includes what you want your home to look like, but what you want the spaces to feel like!
Initially, I use Pinterest to make my vision board and mood boards but I also used Instagram so you can use any program you like, or print your pics and paste them onto a real board, which would be very cool because you could include fabric and samples.
What’s the difference between a mood board and a vision board?
A mood board is basically a grown up collage of images that really speak to you for the overall look and feel of your home, whereas a vision board will help to define your style and vision in 3 words. This has been really, really, really hard for me because I keep switching between different styles. One moment I wanted minimalist, the next I wanted coastal and then Parisian chic.
What Style of Home You Want to Create
So ultimately, I came up with #ModernAussieLux. Pretty sure I made this up but I realised my favourite designers were all Australian and their styles were modern with touches of luxurious elements like gold, brass and velvet. Here are a few of my favourite designers’ Instagram accounts if you fancy some #decorinspo:
You cannot hope that your vision magically gets translated to your contractor and ID…no one is a mind reader…especially since you might not have even really made up your mind. (Sound like you??) Don’t let people fill in your blanks for you…they’ll probably just stay blank. Seriously, if you don’t figure out your details, they just won’t exist. If you don’t clearly articulate in your own mind how you want to feel in your home, all your decisions won’t tie back to those feelings, and in the end the home won’t feel that way.
The first time I visited the tiles showroom with an ID, he told me he knew what I liked and he would go and pick them out for me. After about 1.5 hour, he returned with a selection of tiles most of which I didn’t like. I had to show him specifically what I had in mind and we wasted another hour finding the tiles. The worst part? I didn’t event go with this ID ultimately and had to go to another showroom to pick new ones all over again. Lesson learnt!
If You Need an Interior Designer or Contractor
When I first started my search, I wanted to go with a contractor because I heard it’s cheaper via this route. Having spoken to nearly 10 IDs and contractors, I realised most contractors also offer a total package meaning parts of the renovation are still outsourced to others. In most cases, they were not always cheaper than a traditional interior design firm.
Most of us would have zero experience in renovating a house so if you love to be super involved like going on site every other day to make sure the contractors are doing a good job, I’d suggest you to stick to an ID or a “main” contractor like a carpentry company who has contacts for masonry, electrics, plumbing works etc.
Just imagine this, instead of getting quotes from 5 IDs to compare, you need to repeat this process with every single contractor. If you have the time to compare 20 to 30 quotes, go for it. Yes, the savings might be significant but do you have the experience to communicate with these tradies? Also, the ones that you can find online are usually not the cheapest or the best. The good ones don’t have fancy websites and referred by word-of-mouth.
In my case, I decided to hire my own painting company because my paint choice wasn’t carried by my ID’s appointed painter. They wanted to charge $1500 + GST just for the labour costs and oil sealant. Even though it seemed pretty straightforward, the process to find another painter at the last minute was still frustrating because most of them were not keen to use this “natural” and “eco” paint citing lots of excuses like they need to do more coats, or a quote will become more and more expensive the more you ask. One of them even sent me a nasty text when he found out I am speaking to other paint companies.
Comparing Renovation Quotations
As mentioned, I spoke to about 10 different companies but here are 3 of them for comparison purpose.
Contractor in Woodlands I found on Instagram
The first company I spoke to offered those lump-sum packages which seemed too good to be true. I went down to their showroom and the guy did a very standard sales pitch and was super keen to get me to commit to putting down a deposit. The price he quoted me was just over $38,000 but something just seemed off. I asked if I can move my tap to the kitchen island and he said that HDB doesn’t allow such modifications which I later found out was total bullshit because you sure can.
ID “I found him at Hong Lim Food Center but he turned out to be a scam”
True story… I did find him at a hawker center where he was talking about renovation with another lady. He sounded very experienced even claiming he did renovation for the Sultan of Brunei’s palace. During the first meeting where he was supposed to come to my place for viewing, he almost forgot about the appointment had I not reminded him. He was also 15 minutes late so the first impression was terrible. He took more than a week to come back with a quote saying he was admitted to the hospital for some infection.
His first quote (not the one shown above) looked much cheaper than the rest so I thought why not give him a shot. However, when I inspected the quotation in details, he had missed out the wall and floor tiles for 2 bathrooms and also the plumbing works. These are significant amounts which worked out to about $6,000!!! When I questioned him via WhatsApp, look at his response below. The incident gets even weirder because he disappeared for 2 weeks before texting him, saying he just sent me the revised quote, without any explanation why he took so long to get back.
Contractor Aunty I Found Through a Friend’s Recommendation
To be honest, aunty didn’t really have any issues. Her first quote to me was more than $70,000 because there was a lot of custom carpentry and modifications to the floor plan including hacking a door between 2 bedroom doors. I think her intention was good, she wanted to wow me with a design by offering to do 3d rendering of the proposed design. Their background is a carpentry company so as you can see, contractors can offer design services too. I also noticed her hacking costs was much higher ($2,000+) more than the others. When I questioned her, she claimed they made a mistake and would revise it to match other quotes. Eventually, the quote came close to what my current ID was quoting but I decided to go with my ID anyway.. Why? Read on to find out…
ID Referred by My Lash Lady
Just as I was about to sign on with the aunty, I mentioned to my lash lady I am having a hard time deciding which ID to go with. She told me her husband does renovation and will ask him to get in touch with me. At this point, I was just getting tired of going through the process all over again. I told myself this will be last ID I am going to meet and I need to make a decision soon because it has been more than 2 months since I collected my keys. Because they are an established ID firm in Singapore, I thought their prices will be very expensive. I previously had an ID outright rejected me saying my $45-50K budget was not possible for them to work with. Turned out their rates were on par with these other contractor IDs so I decided to meet up with one of their Chief Creative Consultants, Xavier and the ID, Edison that will be handling this project. They were very punctual for the appointment and had a no-nonsense attitude which I appreciated. By this time, I was sick of the cheesy cliche sales talk pitches. So, ultimately, I decided to work with Carpenters Interior Design Firm for my renovation.
How much did I spend on my renovation?
The contract that I signed was $50,500 including GST but because I made some changes to the bench top material and kitchen design, I will need to top up $2000+ more.
Floorplan and 3D Renders of My House
In the next article, I’ll talk about what happens after I signed the contract…