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Do You Really Save More With a Contractor?

May 10, 2018
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Old or new, small or big, one question always remains. When getting a professional to carry out your home’s renovation, who should you go for – interior designers or contractors?

In fact, the lack of markups and lower costs has made engaging contractors a very appealing option these days. But while they may look affordable on the surface, are you really saving – in terms of money, time and effort? Here, we break down the math to discover if they are really as worthy as they seem.


In terms of cost: SAVE

Siglap Road by Zenith Arc
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Interior Firm: Zenith Arc

The biggest pull that tips the scales for many budget-conscious homeowners, it’s true that an ID usually charges more than a contractor. In fact, price markups can range anywhere from 10% more to (gasp) double of a contractor’s quote!

Eunos Crescent by Fuse Concept
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Interior Firm: Fuse Concept

But before you go swearing off IDs altogether, do note that unlike an interior designer, contractors don’t provide the whole spectrum of services like 3D designs, detail drawings and project management. What they are charging you is the cost price for labour and materials, nothing more.


In terms of design: DON’T SAVE

Edgedale Plains by Fifth Avenue Interior
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Interior Firm: Fifth Avenue Interior

Save from basic built-ins, most contractors won’t be able to help out much in terms of interior design. Rather, they execute based on your specific instructions. You’ll have to be prepared to do most of the designing work – which can be risky if you’re not knowledgeable about renovation. Are the proportions right for your space? Is that swinging wardrobe door going to obstruct the ceiling fan?

Tampines GreenForest by asolidplan
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Interior Firm: asolidplan

Furthermore, a contractor isn’t always able to advise on the implications and practicality of design features, unless they are stark, obvious issues. So, if the finished product doesn’t look (or work) the way you think it should – the onus is on you. Alternatively, you can still engage an interior designer to conceptualise and draw up a design plan – then engage a contractor to do the work. Though, pay mind that additional design fees incur (and may run up to the thousands).


In terms of coordination: DON’T SAVE

Joo Seng Road by Weiken.com
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Interior Firm: Weiken.com

Except for the initial breakdown of various works and costs – a contractor is basically hands off there on out. It’ll be your responsibility to liaise with the contractor and keep track of the entire renovation timeline. Likewise, a contractor will not follow you around material showrooms and advise you. You’ll have to coordinate and relay your decisions to your contractor.

While a contractor might work with other sub-contractors to carry out works they cannot do, there’s a chance that you might have to outsource those works yourself – like finding a plumber or electrician. Unless you’re an ultra-organized person who’s able to juggle everything, managing one is bound to take up a lot of your time and can be overwhelming.


In terms of time spent renovating: SAVE

Melrose Park by erstudio
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Interior Firm: erstudio

It’s no surprise, really. Considering that an ID needs to draft out a design, go through multiple revisions, communicate plans to sub-cons and such – a renovation process with an interior designer may tend to stretch longer. Alternatively, working with a contractor cuts out all these back-and-forth. Instructions or changes can be relayed directly to the person executing it, which will save time (but beware of running into potential miscommunication/delays).

Sims Drive by Roughsketch
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Interior Firm: Roughsketch

The flipside of this is that you'll have to be thorough and sure of what you communicate with a contractor. Once an instruction is given and things are fabricated, any small changes you’d want to make can add up to your timeline as well and cost more to correct.


In terms of quality of workmanship: DEPENDS

Emerald East by Habit
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Interior Firm: Habit

Truth is, using an ID won’t guarantee you better workmanship than a contractor. After all, they are using contractors (or sub-cons) to carry out the works anyway! It really depends on the individual contractors themselves. On one hand, having an ID to oversee helps as he/she will know what details or errors to look out for. On the other, working with a contractor is equally convenient as well; if you’re meticulous in spotting issues, things can be rectified quickly as you’ll be informing the contractor straight.


So, is it worth it to engage a contractor?

Kim Tian Road by Artitecture
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Interior Firm: Artitecture

Ultimately, it’s all about give and take. Yes, contractors may be ‘cheaper’ in terms of upfront price – but they come at the expense of hidden costs (like having to pay for external design fees, outsourcing works), a ton of coordination work and lack of design or renovation guidance. Our take? If you aren’t well versed in renovation and if this is your first time – having an interior designer to guide and manage this otherwise overwhelming process might be wiser.

Likewise, take into consideration the savings you’re getting. Compare quotes between an ID and contractor and think twice! If the difference between the ID and contractor’s quote is minute (perhaps by $1,000 - $5,000), why not save yourself the trouble and get an ID to handle every aspect?

Tampines Street 61 by Aestherior
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Interior Firm: Aestherior

Go for a contractor if:

  • You’re doing specific works and know exactly what you want.
  • You have a particular aesthetic in mind and don’t need design input
  • You are only planning to do basic, no-frills works.
  • You are highly meticulous and able to multitask.
  • You have a tight (or limited) budget to work with.

Do you save with a contractor
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Request for a free quote here, and we'll recommend you 5 interior firms, based on your needs, budget and style. All recommendations made by Qanvast will be eligible for the Qanvast Guarantee, a complimentary opt-in scheme that safeguards your renovation contract up to $50,000* in the case when the firm becomes insolvent. For more details, read here.

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