Monday, January 21, 2008

Common Mistakes In Renovation

Today, I'm going to write about the common mistakes people make in home renovation. Most people renovate their houses less than 3 times in their whole lifetime so mistakes will be inevitable. Hopefully we will learn to avoid as many mistakes as possible through reading, asking friends and also from my blog. I'm writing from my viewpoint as a designer and contractor and these mistakes are from my observations over the last few years.

Renovating New House

1. Before renovating, plan whether you intend to sell property in the future. Will the renovation add value to your property? Some renovations do not add value and can even turn off prospective buyers if not esthetically done.

2. Everything goes through wear and tear and trends do change. Provide allowance for remodelling in the future.

3. Plan a budget and get your priorities right. Don't be tempted to bust your budget even when some contractors try to hard-sell.

4. Extensions fall into the category of major renovation. Consider whether it's worth it in the long run.
5. Remember trends change very fast! Something that looks modern today will look passe in another 7-10 years. If you do not wish to keep spending money to 'update' the look of your home, ask your design to propose something that will withstand the test of time.

6. Renovate first, then move in. Renovation work is dusty and messy!

7. Many people take a bank loan on top of their home mortgage to renovate. Ask yourself if it will be worth to tie yourself up with too much loans. Look at what my financial guru, the renowned Rajen Devadason, has to say about debts

8. Allow ample time for planning, sourcing, engaging your contractor or designer, designing, actual delivery of work and another 2 to 3 weeks after job delivery for rectifications and touch-ups. If you do not allocate enough time but plan your moving in on a tight're setting yourself up to a major heart-ache especially if your project is a major one!

9. Don't spend ALL your money on buying the property but later choose the cheapest stuff for its interiors. Nothing is less flattering than entering a grand bungalow and finding that its furnishings are all low-cost ones.

10. When you hire a contractor to do grills, make sure he provides sufficient numbers of escape exits. We've met a few contractors who do not provide enough escape doors if the house-owner forgot to specify. Their intention to undercut is to save some money but that is irresponsible!

11. Have you ever been to a house where you don't feel comfortable and your eyes hurt? That is what insufficient lighting can do. Install dimmers so that you can tone down for relaxation or brighten up for reading.

12. Plan the functional usage for each and every corner of the house. Then only you will know what you require :

- electrical points

- task lighting

- future purchases

Renovating and Maintaining Old House

1. Make it a point to throughly spring-clean your house at least once a year. Many people told me they feel it's such a big waste to throw out things that are still in good condition even though it's no longer in use. Use this opportunity to send good and usable stuff to poor people who actually need them. However, don't insult the poor by sending them torn and tattered stuff!

2. Get rid of stuff that you haven't used in 2 years - that's a cardinal rule! I have many clients who insist on making cabinets - kitchens and wardrobes - that reach the ceiling because they have mountains of stuff to keep. Remember, you're going to spend a huge chunk of your savings to renovate and supposedly to make your house more beautiful but if you insist on more storage space reaching ceiling height just to keep junk, you house will just end up like a huge warehouse!

3. Think many, many times over before you decide to buy an old house. It is very costly to remodel an old house, if you want to change a lot of structures like the total outlook.

4. If you decide your old house needs a face-lift and proceeds to change the exterior and kitchen..don't forget the bathroom too! Also remember to water-proof it.

5. Old houses ( sometimes even new ones too ) are very likely to harbour termites. So get it treated first before anything else! One customer ignored signs in neighbours' houses and didn't treat their house. The kitchen we built for them didn't last more than 1 year! And don't scoff at this, even condominium units on 16th floor can get infested, as another client experienced.

Choosing a Contractor

1. Ask if he will design and build or you need to get another designer yourself. Also, ask who will supervise the whole project.

2. Ask what grade of workers he will use. When one contractor quotes you a high price and another quotes you very much lower, you'll need to understand what causes the price difference. Price differences come from materials, design, grade of workers and types of accessories used. I've already written about this point in detail on another website

3. When choosing a wireman (especially when he is working alone) make sure he is suitably qualified. Mistakes in wiring can cause an overload and leads to fire accidents.

4. Ask how your contractor what steps he will take to minimise mess to your house.

5. Beware of rogue contractors.

There are some around whose cash flow is not very healthy (ie. they have a personal problem in managing finances). These group have a human weakness of over-spending on the progressive payments collected from clients on themselves - big cars, big house, whatever..The result is that when they reach breaking point, they'll disappear with your money without delivering the job. Signs to alert you : Is he having several handphone numbers? Does he ignore calls from unknown numbers? Is he reluctant to let people know where he stays? Does he try to excuse himself every time a call comes in because he doesn't want you to listen to his conversations?

Another smaller minority group are those who are linked to gangsterism. These group are only found around low-cost flats or housing. They normally rent a showroom at new low-cost apartment block and sort of "pau" (Cantonese term meaning "monopolise") all renovations in that particular apartment and no other contractors are allowed to linger near the area. A few times in the early years of our career, Chee Hoong met these people who warn him to drop any clients in their zone or they'll make him eat paper! Many times, his car was also vandalised. We've stopped meeting gangsters like these now that we're no longer selling low-end renovation work.

Working along with Contractors

1. Make sure your contractor gives you a copy of everything agreed upon so that there will be no dispute.

2. When errors occur, don't start quarrelling with your contractor. Remember that all these work are done by humans and humans do err! Reason out in a rational and logical way and most contractors will help you rectify whichever part is making you unhappy.

3. Errors will happen, whether big or small. The bigger the project, the more errors will happen. A good project manager will be experienced enough to foresee potential errors and take steps to minimize them. Clients too contribute to a multitude of errors! Play your part to minimize these errors by being clear in your instruction and most important, not changing your mind after the design, materials and colours are confirmed.

4. To minimise heart-ache, adjust your expectations to what you are paying. If you choose a specific contractor because his price is the cheapest, don't expect first class service.

5. Ask your contractor for a Project Schedule. It will be easier for you to keep track of progress and check for validity of progressive payment bills.

DIY or Main Contractor?

1. If your house requires a major renovation and both you and your spouse are working, then you will have peace of mind if you hire a main contractor. Hiring a main contractor is slightly more expensive than hiring individual labour workers because you are paying his salary to be your project manager, to supervise the whole project and to coordinate all workers so that everything is moving smoothly.

2. If you decide to go about everything the DIY way, it pays to learn more about renovation standards and how to check on workers' work rather than solely depending on them to deliver the job. In the course of our work, we've come across many houses where things are not delivered up to normal standards ( normally work done by unskilled foreign labour without any qualified managers / supervisors to check on them ) : walls are not 100% straight so kitchen cabinets end up slightly crooked , bathroom floors built without proper 'slope' so water ends up stagnant, concrete slabs in kitchen not at standard height so cooking cannot be done in a comfortable position, built in walls not in the correct depth so cannot build wardrobe in the space where the owner intends, etc, etc.

Interior Furnishings

1. Furniture is too large and rooms poorly laid out. If you still remember drawing x,y scale from secondary school Mathematics, it will be helpful to actually draw out the layout plan. Then you can see if you will have enough walking and living space.

2. Not being able to see the whole picture and how everything fits together. If you have good taste,you won't falter. Otherwise, get a designer!

3. Don't be afraid to use colours, however there is such a thing as too much colour. The eye needs to rest.

4. Be careful about colours. Things which are permanent (like wall tiles and flooring ) should be in neutral tones so that they can match whichever wall colour and furniture that you choose to change in the future. Eg. instead of tiles of pink or blue, choose neutral ones like white or cream.

5. There are no hard and fast rules regarding design and colours. So don't get too bothered if your 'too helpful' friend or relative do not like your choice and tries to interfere!


Miss D said...

thanks for the tips. very helpful!

Vivian said...

This is indeed very useful tips, thanks a lot!

Anonymous said...

Your information/tips in this post is indeed helpful and informative. Thank you for sharing with us! Keep it up the good blog.