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How to Not Get Cheated by Your Interior Designer: 4 Must-Know Tips

Because no one wants to have a renovation horror story of their own.

The journey in creating your dream home can potentially be a nightmare if you engage the wrong home professional.

According to CASE’s media report, the renovation contractors industry recorded the highest number of complaints received in 2022 at 1,454. Many of these complaints centred on unsatisfactory workmanship, while others pertain to delays in project completion caused by shortages in manpower and renovation materials.

Bedok North Road by
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But aside from these issues, you have probably also heard of interior designers who have:

  • Demanded huge deposit amounts or extra payments before starting/resuming works;
  • Carried out defective work and unethical practices;
  • Abruptly shut down their firms and magically disappearing with the monies;

The scary truth is, anybody can become the subject of a renovation horror story – but with careful preparation and research, you are less likely to become one. Here, we have listed out several things you should do to avoid falling prey to a renovation scam.

1. Research estimated prices before choosing your designer

Kim Keat Avenue by Miracle Design Studio
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Research is everything before carrying out a renovation. Knowing the average price of renovating a home that’s the same size as yours, or of the materials you like, can go a long way, especially in the face of a sly individual looking to take advantage of clueless homeowners.

To give you an idea on what average costs can look like, here are a few helpful articles:

Note that these articles look at the rough costs required for an average home renovation. If you’re keen on doing a major revamp or on using more premium materials, it goes without saying that you’ll be paying much more than the average amount.

Pine Lane by Thom Signature Design
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Ultimately, the main aim of researching estimated prices is so that you have a rough gauge of your renovation price.

Remember: you shouldn’t just be wary of designers that seemingly raise prices unnecessarily or exaggerate quotes. You should also be careful of those that promise suspiciously cheap packages – they’re usually too good to be true, and come with strings attached.

Explore: How to Spot Red Flags in Your Renovation Contract/Quote

2. Ensure that your contract has a reasonable progressive payment schedule

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An example of progressive payment

Most interior design firms offer a progressive payment schedule, so what you need to look out for is one that’s paced reasonably.

These days, the average deposit amount is anything from 10% to 30% before commencing work. But don’t panic if your interior designer asks for a higher amount, because it may be necessary for bigger projects.

Cantonment Close by Mu Design Studio
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Instead, try asking them why they are asking for that particular amount. If they have a solid explanation (e.g. if you require lots of carpentry work, the higher upfront payment may be needed for material and labour costs), then great! However, if their response is a little more wishy-washy, you should be extra careful.

And, we cannot stress this enough: Always ensure that your payment is made to the appointed firm rather than the designer you are working with.

Explore: 4 Important Details: How to Read Your Renovation Contract

3. Perform background checks on your interior designer and the firm

Bishan Street 23 by ChengYi Interior Design
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You should never go in blind when looking for an interior designer, even if one has been recommended to you by friends and family.

Regardless of how you came to know your ID, background checks are still necessary for your own peace of mind. And we’re not just talking about looking into the design firm – in fact, we’d strongly recommend checking out the designer assigned to your project too, as even a reputable firm may have a black sheep in their midst.

Here are the things to check for:

For the interior design firmFor the interior designer
  • Accreditations (e.g. Qanvast SuperTrust, CaseTrust, SIDAC, etc.)
  • A registered office address or showroom. It will be harder for companies with a showroom to shut down their business as and when they want to.
  • Any mentions of their firm online. Aside from reviews, search for their names on forums and social media platforms. You can also use this time to search for bankruptcy suits.
  • An established company portfolio – not just to see if their design style is to your liking, but also to affirm their experience.
  • Portfolio - it’ll give you a sense of their personal design style, as well as their experience. You can also search for their personal Instagram accounts, as some IDs use one to show off their design work.
  • Reviews (e.g. on Qanvast, Facebook, Google Reviews, etc.) that specifically mention your assigned designer.

If time permits, you can also ask to visit your ID’s most recent worksite and projects to get a rough sense of their work practices, interactions with their workers/clients, among other things.

Explore: Have You Asked Your Interior Designer These Key Questions?

4. Document all communication with your designer

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Play it safe and ensure all communication with your designer is documented in black and white. If (and hopefully only if) your renovation goes downhill, you’ll have evidence to prove your point – for example, a claim for delayed completions should be backed up with messages or a contractual agreement showing the promised timeline.

For claims on unfinished works, homeowners must be prepared to allow a mediation session organised by the Small Claims Tribunal, which usually results in either a partial refund on unfinished items or a time frame for the alleged designer to finish or improvise the said job. Fortunately, there are

If you’ve opted in for the Qanvast Guarantee, you may also get back your deposits in the event the firm runs into insolvency issues, and money has been paid but works are not done.

Finally, you can lodge a report to the renovation accreditation scheme under CaseTrust, the consumer watchdog's accreditation arm.

Looking for an interior designer?

We got you – just let us know your budget and design requirements to get free personalised quotes from five local interior design firms. You will also be eligible for the Qanvast Trust Programme, which includes the Qanvast Guarantee that safeguards your deposits!

This article was originally published on 27 March 2015.

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