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How To Protect Yourself From Renovation Scams

The brutal truth?

Interior designers and contractors are just as reliable as MRT trains these days. According to CASE, the renovation industry is one of the most highly complained, with 1,269 cases filed last year alone! Considering the fact that we’re dealing with 5-figure sums (or up) and a lifelong commitment – we won’t blame you if your faith in interior services is close to zilch.

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That doesn’t mean you should let a couple of bad eggs ruin your dreams of a comfortable nest! Save yourself the drama and heartache, by beating cheaters at their own game; here's an ultimate guide of do's and dont's to protect yourself against renovation scams.

Types of Renovation Scams We've Seen

This is why people have trust issues. A lack of proper regulation, easy level of entry (and exit) has led an industry full of unsavoury ‘contractors’ or ‘interior design firms’ out to make a quick buck.

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While there’s no telling what new schemes these conmen may have up their sleeves – issues often arise, when the interior designer:

  1. Does not provide the renovation services as promised after payment, or
  2. Has unsatisfactory works done (sub-par workmanship and materials).

Check out these high-profile cases below that give us a glimpse of the different stunts shady IDs can pull off on unwitting homeowners.

1. Renovation Works Half Done For (Almost) Full Pay

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Homeowners Matthew Alan and wife were stuck with an unfinished, half demolished home when their interior designer announced that they were in financial difficulties and could not continue the renovation. The couple had paid up to 90% of their total renovation cost of $70,000 in the first 4 weeks, though minimal work was done.

2. ID Requesting For Unreasonable Deposit

After charging an extremely high deposit amount of 80%, this homeowner was faced with a rut when his interior designer refused to continue works until the additional remaining sum was paid.

3. ID Using Unskilled Labour, Breaches Renovation Guidelines and Basically Does A Bad Job

Another unfortunate homeowner received the brunt of defective works and unethical practices on her place when her interior designer went on the run after providing highly defective and unsafe works. Think collapsing cove light holders and concealed wiring that were not properly tubed in; also, the contractor had unlawfully used the renovated home during ungodly hours to engage in works, and threatened to remove works (e.g. provided floor tiles) when the homeowner refused to make further payment.

4. ID Firm Closes Down and On The Run After Receiving Money

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Homeowner Jai Amir and 14 other victims were left with unfinished homes when their engaged interior firm took their payments and went AWOL. Some even paid up the full sum, only to find that the ‘professionals’ had closed up their physical store, were uncontactable and went on to skip town.

5. Contractor Overcharges and Turns Nasty When Homeowner Refuses to Pay

An initial amount of $19,000 for works escalated into $27,000 when this homeowner’s contractor stealthily jacked up prices for electrical wiring and other hidden, undeclared costs. Refusing to pay the additional amount as she wasn’t informed of the price changes, the contractor then proceeded to lock the homeowner out of her house – by changing the locks. Nasty.

How to protect yourself from renovation scams

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Truth is, scammers will always exist - as long as there are unknowing, inexperienced homeowners to prey on. The only way to nip this in the bud? Arm yourself (and your loved ones) with the right knowledge, and know the do’s and don’ts to avoid being swindled.


1. Do CSI-work on the interior firms you’re planning to meet or work with

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Always do a background check on the interior designer or contractor you’re in discussions with, and make sure they are registered under ACRA. If possible, find out how much is the paid-up capital of the firm. Why is that important? Owners of private limited firms are only liable up to their paid-up capital amount, so if it’s only $2 put in, $2 is all you’re squeezing out from them if they run away.

2. Do meet a couple of IDs, 3 to 5 preferably

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Don’t base your entire beliefs about renovation costs and works on the words of one interior designer. Especially don’t stick to one ID just because their quotes seem ‘reasonable’ – or they told you so (yes, it happens). It’s always wise to check out the market; meet up with at least 3 to 5 IDs to get a sense of what your budget can bring you, and also if the what they all say really adds up. Besides, it never hurts to get more ideas!

3. Do read up on reviews

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Nothing’s better than hearing it from the horse’s mouth – and actual homeowners are the best source of honest information about how an interior designer/contractor really works. So, read up on reviews on forums, social media or on Qanvast to give you an idea of what to expect.

4. Do get your facts right – on renovation costs & procedures

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Your renovation contract is the key piece of evidence that reveals the terms and conditions to potentially safeguard you against shady practices. Remember, your ID can promise you the world and then some, but a spoken agreement is not a binding one. Here are some things to pay extra attention to:

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  • If you’re buying a renovation package – sit down and clarify with your ID what works are included and what isn’t. For instance, the package may include doing up 10 ft worth of kitchen cabinetry, but it might not include dismantling any existing cabinets or a certain laminate finish. And that’s where dishonest IDs may jack up prices in.

  • What are the specific items and materials used for each renovation work? Usually, your ID should sit down and relate to you at length the individual works done. Be sure to look at the dimensions and check if there are any double entries (another tactic to squeeze in more costs) – and ask them to clarify any entries you’re not sure of (like what’s ABS trimming, etc).

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  • What’s the payment schedule? The contract will usually detail out the amount payable for each progressive payment, plus other conditions which may affect the progress of works or final sum (additional interest/charges for late payment, etc).
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  • Check what are the penalties if you decide to end the contract. Don’t even get it signed until you’ve cleared this up. In case things go really awry and you want to get out of it stat before it snowballs, it pays to know what conditions you may need to make. Some common conditions include the ID absorbing the deposit if works aren’t done.

5. For a greater peace of mind, do get a CaseTrust-accredited interior designer

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Not just another accolade that ‘bumps’ up an ID’s reputation, a CaseTrust accredited interior firm works to protect their consumers, and have stricter regulations placed on them in terms of fee policies, workmanship and sales tactics. Consumers engaging a CaseTrust ID will also have their deposits protected and refunded* if the firm closes down, plus mediation talks if anything goes amiss. Now you can sleep easy.

6. Do visit completed projects by the interior designers

Request to see an interior designer’s completed projects to see first-hand the quality of works done before committing to one.


1. Don't take quotations at face value

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Just because an ID says this material is of good quality or those electrical works are supposed to cost as such doesn’t mean they are right. Always back it up with some research on your own and find out if those numbers in your quotation are what they are worth. Check out our renovation cost guide to help you figure things out better.

2. Don't trust quotes that are too good to be true

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If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. A quote of $10,000 for an entire house renovation? You bet something is bound to be missing – either certain works or your ID, you choose. The average cost of a full renovation hovers around $30,000 - $50,000 based on our data collected from homeowners, so do the math and be wise.

3. Don't be sold by IDs or contractors with a ‘HDB/BCA approved’ label.

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As seen in the recent Valiancy Enterprise saga, in which the HDB approved renovation company owed thousands of uncompleted works and went uncontactable – the HDB/BCA label doesn’t mean much in terms of reliability these days. Trust unbiased homeowner reviews than the awards or certificates hanging around the showroom.

4. Don't pay the full amount upfront without seeing works done

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Any contractor who says it’s common practice to pay in full before doing works is out to scam you. When it involves thousands of dollars spent, sorry - but you have every right to pay a small deposit and see some works being done before committing to the rest of your payments.

5. Don't agree to pay for big deposits before commencing works

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And while we’re on the subject of deposits, there is a thing as paying too much of a deposit. In fact, the norm ranges from 10 - 25% of the entire renovation cost as an initial downpayment. The rest of the money is then split into progressive payments over the course of a renovation. Other best practices when paying your ID? Never pay it in cash (there’s no concrete evidence of transaction), and a receipt doesn’t count. A contract/invoice should come with every payment.

Qanvast Guarantee

When all’s said and done, there’s a lot of work to be done on the homeowners to ensure they pick a reliable firm and safeguard themselves from anything shady. Here at Qanvast, ease your worries a little with our Qanvast Guarantee! When homeowners engage an ID that we have recommended, they are protected up to $50,000 or 50% of their total renovation cost* in case of a sudden closure of the firm.

Renovate with assurance, only on Qanvast. Find and meet interior designers verified by homeowners, with no hidden costs and no commissions involved. Find an ID

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