New drive to knock out shoddy renovation service

New drive to knock out shoddy renovation service
A Group of residents of Centrale 8 in Tampines are upset about the quality of the finishes and fittings in their premium flats and hope to get the developer to extend the warranty period for defects.

Home owners planning to refurbish their place can look forward to better protection from botched or incomplete renovation jobs next year.

They will get insurance which compensates them should the contractor fail to finish the job, and contracts that spell out all the fees the contractors are charging.

These changes are part of a new drive aimed at raising the standard of the renovation industry, said Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) president Lim Biow Chuan.

Last year, there were 1,779 complaints, up from 1,532 in 2012 and 1,488 the year before. Most of the complaints centred on unsatisfactory service and failure to honour contractual agreements.

Between January and July this year, there were 813 such complaints.

To stem the rise in the number of complaints, Case and the Singapore Renovation Contractors and Material Suppliers Association (RCMA) inked a new deal yesterday to implement a new accreditation scheme for renovation firms.

"It's an unregulated industry," said Mr Lim.

"Ultimately, this scheme is meant to raise the standard of the renovation industry, as well as to provide greater assurance to consumers that in the event of a dispute, there are proper ways to resolve it."

There are more than 1,800 renovation contractors registered with the Housing Board.

Currently, there is a renovation accreditation scheme under CaseTrust, the consumer watchdog's accreditation arm.

The scheme, which has 22 accredited contractors, promises workmanship assessment and compulsory mediation by Case in the event of a dispute.

But under the new scheme, accredited contractors, which have to be RCMA members, are required to buy a performance insurance bond for their customers. This will allow customers to claim from insurance companies if the job is unfinished.

"The amount claimable depends on the case. But in general, it will help to compensate for what's not completed." said Case executive director Seah Seng Choon.

Another feature of the scheme is a standard contract specifying fees and fee refund policies, which customers and contractors both have to sign. Contractors which breach this will be stripped of their accreditation.

RCMA vice-president Sky Tan said the scheme will also benefit participating contractors which have to deal with unreasonable customers: "We need to protect consumers but also be fair to contractors. This will create a fair platform to solve disputes."

So far, 15 RCMA members have signed on to the new scheme. But Dr Tan hopes that all of its 122 members will participate.

One of them is Vegas Interior Design. Its managing director, Mr Kelvin Lim, 47, said that although mandatory performance insurance might raise costs, it was good for both consumers and contractors. "A lot of them don't know renovation practices well and this leads to a lot of complaints and disputes," he said.

Civil servant Lai Han-Wei, 30, who renovated his four-room Punggol flat last year, said he would opt for an accredited contractor even if it means paying more.

"My wife and I were over-quoted for carpentry and tiling, and there were hidden costs that were conveyed verbally. The contract and insurance will give us peace of mind," he said.

yeosamjo@sph.com.sg

This article was published on Aug 12 in The Straits Times.

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