SINGAPORE — Renovating your new Housing and Development Board (HDB) Build-to-Order (BTO) flat?
Well, here's one way to do it: start your own interior design company to do the job. That's what comedian Kelvin Tan, better known as Mayiduo, did. What's more – the 31-year-old, who started SG Interior KJ in 2020, not only renovated his home for free, he made a profit out of it as well.
Tan shared with Yahoo Finance Singapore that he had turned his own home renovation project into a marketing campaign to promote the company's services.
How to renovate your HDB BTO for free
Through a media company that he also owns, Tan made his 4-room flat at Punggol's Northshore available as a "show unit", where contractors can buy "advertising space" to undertake certain parts of the house's renovation works to demonstrate their workmanship and services. Tan's home will then be featured on marketing materials to showcase the company's capabilities, in the hopes that "everybody benefits" in the long run.
Tan's abode, which he shares with his wife and son, exudes industrial vibes softened with curved corners. The living area looks bigger than that of other units because he hacked the walls of one bedroom to fit a rather large modular sofa. He divulged that renovations would have cost about S$130,000 in total.
While not many homeowners have the advantage of having their own company do their apartment renovation, it wasn't all smooth-sailing for Tan. He said that as the boss, he wanted his contractors to prioritise client projects over his own unit. As a result, there were many delays before he and his family could move in.
Tan said that there were over 20 contractors, or sponsors as he refers to them, involved in the renovation of his home. Co-ordinating such an effort was a challenging task and the renovation took an entire year to complete.
While he technically got to renovate his BTO flat for free – and profited – this way, it also meant that Tan could not make too many demands from the contractors even though certain works were not done to perfection, as it was sponsored work that they didn't earn from.
Still, the good thing about having his own interior design company is that he "knows exactly what can and cannot be done, what materials to use, how to streamline operations, and the communication is very clear".
"I am the client too," said Tan.
'Unethical practices' in the renovation industry
On what led to the idea of starting his own company, Tan said that he became so fed up with the state of the renovation industry after multiple bad experiences that he decided to start SG Interior KJ to stop what he sees as "a lack of transparency" and "unethical practices" in the industry.
He shared that between 2016 and 2017, he encounter three bouts of bad experiences while renovating his properties. As an entrepreneur-cum-comedian who owned multiple businesses, Tan had engaged different contractors to renovate his business properties which included an industrial office, a factory, and a restaurant. All three projects saw huge discrepancies between the initial quotation and the final pricing.
"With all three properties, the main problem was communication and pricing," said Tan, who added that the industry players who take on commercial and industrial renovations were the same ones doing HDB and condo renovations.
"I was initially quoted S$25,000 to renovate my office, but it ended up costing me S$56,000. As for the restaurant, the initial quotation was S$50,000, and the final cost was about S$80,000," Tan recalled.
He was also unhappy with the way contractors would try to "lure" unsuspecting clients with seemingly cheap renovation "packages" that would increase in price halfway through renovation works, as contractors try to convince owners to add on items that they initially did not want. Even if clients do want to make those additions, prices would be marked up a lot higher than market rates once a service contract has been signed.
"For common works where the market price is well known such as kitchen carpentry, pricing is very transparent. But when they are sure that the client doesn't know current retail prices to compare, the practice is to list the job in the quotation as 'based on site situation'. That's where they get you," said Tan.
In 2022, the number of complaints against renovation contractors was the highest received by the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE). Nearly half of the 1,454 complaints relate to unsatisfactory workmanship.
Communication is important
Tan's experiences sparked the creation of his own interior design company which now has 37 designers. Having seen both sides of the coin as a client and now offering his own renovation services, Tan vowed to "list out all possible costs upfront" through the use of technology and by training the interior designers and contractors that he hires.
But being price transparent wasn't always easy on the business, as clients tend to think it was too expensive when all possible prices were listed upfront.
"The most important lesson from all this is communication. Everything can be resolved through proper communication. Whether as a client or as an ID (interior designer), if you communicate clearly, everything will be smooth," Tan said.