Earlier in April 2022, 99.co reported a story about a renovation contractor who had scammed several new homeowners. We followed up with a modus operandi about how the scam happened.
One of the victims – 29-year-old Janessa (not her real name) – paid and lost almost $30k when she engaged the contractor to renovate her new 93sqm, 4-bedroom BTO flat in Tampines.
According to her, police are still investigating the complaints against the contractor and she’s yet to receive her funds back (as no work was ever done).
Despite the setback and possible loss, she’s recently reached out to tell us she found new contractors and managed to complete her home renovation. What’s impressive about her story is how her never-say-never attitude got her to bounce back and finish what she had initially set out to do.
Being previously scammed has also taught her some important lessons, which will serve as a useful reminder for first-time homeowners engaging with renovation contractors they’re not familiar with (or assumed would be trustworthy).
Here’s her story:
“Being scammed was extremely distressing and gave us a bad start to our renovation journey,” Janessa said.
“We thought we calculated our expenses down to a T, because prior to being scammed, we also got married, had a kid, got a car and not long after collected keys to our BTO.
“These were major expenses that pretty much cleared our entire savings. After being scammed, we were at our wit’s end as we knew the cost of renovating and getting appliances for our home was huge!”
According to Janessa, her husband and she literally had less than S$5,000 combined after they paid the renovation scammer. Their predicament was also compounded when they enrolled their son in private childcare that cost between S$1k-S$1.5k a month.
“With all these major upcoming expenses, we were both very stressed trying to think of ways to settle everything together.”
How they found an alternative contractor
After coming to terms that they were scammed, Janessa and her husband sat down and redid their finances.
They had to see how much they could save over the upcoming months to pay the new contractor.
“We opted for a very pragmatic approach and agreed not to blame either party for it.
“We also knew getting an ID to fully renovate our home would be out of the question. This is because the costs would be too high.”
ative would be for Janessa and her husband to roll up their sleeves and manage the renovations themselves, but the mental stress of liaising with different vendors would take a toll on the young parents.
“So we opted for a 50-50 approach in the end. We contacted one of our relatives who was in the interior design business and shared what happened.”
The relative was sympathetic to their cause and took on their case, even though the quantum was low and below the minimum his company usually does.
His main contribution was the kitchen carpentry and living room/bedroom flooring. “We felt these were the most important to get right as the quality would affect our standard of living after moving in.”
But what about the rest of the fixtures like bathroom fittings, lighting, fans, electrical works and so on?
“For these, we made a list and started doing our research on who we could engage from the open market.”
For furniture, Janessa and her husband got all of them via Taobao and a few second-hand items from Carousell. All in all, these actions helped bring down their costs.
Having been scammed, how did they develop trust with the new IDs?
With a 50-50 arrangement, Janessa engaged two IDs to help with the house renovations.
The first ID, Nic from Massing Design, worked on the vinyl flooring and kitchen carpentry.
“We went online to confirm the legitimacy of the company through their social media presence and did a quick check on reno groups to make sure there was no dodgy business.”
Her second ID, Ricordo Design, was an introduction from another victim who got scammed. “We got this ID to do our window grilles and plumbing.
“In a strange twist of fate, this ID used to work for the scam contractor, but rage-quit when he realised about the scam business. He was also the one who notified a lot of homeowners that they were scammed.”
But wouldn’t it be risky to still work with a contractor who used to have ties (though severed) with the previous scam contractor?
“Yes, we were initially sceptical. Not only did they have a previous connection to the scammer, but they were new and did not have much social presence.
“However, the ID was sincere when addressing our concerns. With recommendations from the other victims who also vouched for him, we went with him.”
The decision turned out better than expected as Ricordo delivered exemplary service and saw a vested interest in helping Janessa and the other victims.
Anxieties and decision-making
Despite having two IDs, did Janessa get nervous throughout the renovation process?
“During the entire process, yes. But now, not so much, as we have proven to ourselves that we could bounce back stronger once we put our minds to it.”
Janessa and her husband also got support from families and friends, who came over and helped build up their shelves and curtains.
“These saved us several hundreds of dollars since we did not need to engage professional help for those.”
Janessa shared the following decisions she and her husband made throughout the comeback journey:
- We invested in good vinyl + workmanship (the quality is apparent after you move in)
- We invested in a good set of bedroom and toilet doors. The doors came from a Carousell merchant, who came down, did some measurements and gave us a quote on the spot. We topped up to get more premium doors as they’ll be used daily. We also invested in a smoother, flowing bifold toilet door.
- We did minimal carpentry for our bedrooms so that we have the flexibility to re-orientate and replace furniture.
- Since we got our wardrobe from Taobao, it’s not exactly an IKEA experience. There are no instruction manuals and most of the parts are not user-friendly in design. As an in-house family joke, we decided to keep it as a reminder of what we went through.
- We did not re-tile our kitchen floors. We did not listen to the advice from our group chat as HDB-issued kitchen tiles stain easily and are hard to clean.
Lessons learned and advice for new homeowners
When it comes to lessons, Janessa has a pretty strong list. Here are her warnings and advice:
- Do not trust anyone, even friends or recommendations from friends. When we first got the quote from the scam contractor, it wasn’t the lowest, but we went with him because we “trusted” him as he came through a friend’s recommendation.
- Always do your own research and don’t feel obligated to go with a contractor/ID even if a good friend/relative recommended him/her.
- Less is more. Built-in carpentry is a double-edged sword. It may seem good at first but limits what you can do with the space. This allows you to change rooms or redo the entire space in the future.
- Taobao/Carousell are indeed our best friends. These two platforms helped us save thousands of dollars. We spent shy of S$40k all in – for reno, furniture and appliances. This is quite a feat considering the final outcome of our home. It’s no joke – it included bedroom and toilet doors, study table and TV console from Carousell. Ceiling fans, lights, toilet cabinets, sinks, bidets, wardrobe, laundry rack, sofa, curtains, dining table, chairs and storeroom shelves were all from Taobao. We would have spent at least S$5k-10k more if we had sourced for them locally.
“If you’re in a similar situation like us, don’t panic! It doesn’t help anyone and would affect the relationship with your family.
“We got connected with a few other victims and heard their stories. We heard about scam victims getting PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or developing depression from the experience.
“There were also those who were heavily in debt because they took a loan and got scammed. They were left with no place to stay because they were kicked out of their old homes (having sold them) and their new place was not liveable.”
Janessa is fortunate that her family were staying with their parents throughout the ordeal. It gave her the flexibility to plan timelines, especially how long more she needed to save up and then move to her new place.
“There were times we had to delay parts of our reno to the following month so that we could afford to pay it off. At our lowest, we only had less than $500 in our accounts and had to make sure we did not go into credit card debt. It took a crazy amount of calculation, right down to petrol expenses, to make sure we could tide through, month to month.”
For Janessa, it didn’t make sense to get too caught up with her losses. If she had dwelled in them, she feared it would lead to a spiral of despair.
“It took a lot of mental capacity to look ahead. We made it a point to not “dedicate” mental headspace to worry about the scam. Instead, we stayed focused on the goal – complete our renovation within a certain timeframe with the amount of money we have.”