Friday, August 03, 2012

Home Sweet Home: Part 1

My wife and I just bought our first home and currently in the midst of renovating the place. We had gone through so many processes and important decision makings that I thought it will be a good idea to share our experience here to help others who plan to buy their dream homes without ending up in a financial ruin.

Owning a dream house is every couple's dream towards setting up a happy family. However it is definitely not easy and cheap to own one in the first place. In this tightly controlled public housing country, many rules are in place to prevent speculation. Unless you are rich and can afford private properties, you have to be contented with the public housing called the HDB flats. However, to distinguish between a citizen and non-citizen, many barriers are in place to prevent non-citizens from buying new flats which are cheaper than condominiums. Moreover, non-citizens do not get any grant or financial help. Therefore we have to buy from the resale market which basically means second hand flats aged 5 years or more. In general, a unit usually aged more than 10 years in mature estates. Owning such old flat is not cheap which can run close to half a million dollar. Banks will only loan up to 80% of the property value. So just like everyone else, we have to slough and work hard to save that initial down payment of 20%; unlike citizens who get many housing options, grants and financial help when they buy their first homes.

Just a rough idea on how much cash you need in hand if you plan to buy a flat. For today's average market rate of $450,000 4-room flat, you need to have more than $100,000 cash for that 20% down-payment plus other miscellaneous fees (most importantly the "legalized" cash-over-valuation or in short "under-table" money paid directly to the seller on top of the selling price; easily around $10,000-$60,000). Of this 20% down-payment, you can use all your CPF monies for half of it. Another half which is $50,000 or more will be in the form of cash. For both working couple, you may need to work and save hard for the next 3-5 years just to afford that initial down payment!

Now after paying all the down payment and exorbitant COVs, I ended up with no money left for renovation and furniture. Since my parents are no Li Ka-shing (HK tycoon), I had to look for alternative ways to get some money. No one could lend me money so I turned to the banks once more. I found out banks offer Renovation Loan package. So far, RHB and Maybank offer the most competitive rates. Each person can loan up to $30,000 and if both working couple apply separately, you can obtain loan of $30,000 each to a total of $60,000 or maximum renovation value as quoted by your interior designer; whichever is lower. So the best way is to approach your designer, ask him to quote you an expensive renovation package with many extras which you can take out later; probably over $10,000 extra. With this over-quote, you'll be able to obtain more cash than you need for your renovation. With the extra $10,000++, you can use this cash to buy furniture. But a word of CAUTION here. Renovation loans are not cheap and they have higher interest rate. So please do not loan too much which you cannot afford to pay back later. If you are really short on cash, then forget about money to buy furniture. Just buy the basic first and delay your house warming to later month; where you can save up some money to buy furniture that are missing.

After passing the most difficult financial hurdle, the next big hurdle is choosing the right designer with the right price and right designs for the home. Although difficult, we had fun in designing the home to our hearts' content. It is best to have some designs in the mind first before approaching any designers. Home decor magazines are a good way to start off the creative thinking. Do not be shy to copy the designs you like from the magazines. From there, you can tweak and fine tune to your heart's desire. If you are a computer wizard or just being adventurous, you can even download a free copy of SketchUp and translate your imagination into drawings. The next step is read the reno forums or ask around from your friends who had done their house reno recently for a copy of their quotation. By scouring the internet and words of recommendation, you can distinguish the good and the bad designers. You'll also be able to have a rough estimate of each type of work and material. As a rule of thumb, this is the price estimate that I can provide from my experience:

$60/ft Solid surface for kitchen worktable
$100/ft of Granite Top for kitchen worktable
$100-$130/ft for kitchen cabinets
$200-$250/ft for bedroom wardrobe cabinets
$100-$150/ft for TV console cabinets or normal cabinets
$110/ft for Vanity
$3/sq ft Tiles

Now armed with enough knowledge, you can march off to find designers for quotations. Do not be shy and get as many quotations as possible from different designer companies. Most items listed on top are normally what is being quoted. But there are many extra miscellaneous items that will be quoted if a designer wants to "fleece" you. By just comparing different quotations, you'll be able to find out some totally out of place and nonsense items in the quotations. Do not be fooled by all these small valued items. When you sum up the total, it can make a huge difference as much as $10,000.

As for my experience, I have engaged D'Trenzo as my interior designer and also renovation works. What I'm going to share below is purely based on my experience and dealings with the company. So I cannot guarantee the same experience for everyone else. After reading through many reno forums on the internet, D'Trenzo was mentioned in quite a number of posts by fellow members who had engaged this firm before. As far as I remember, all were positive reviews on the price and quality of work done by this firm. So armed with many other quotations, I approached this firm. True enough the price quoted by this firm is the most honest in my opinion. Without hesitation, I granted them the contract for my house renovation on the spot. I provided them with a few rough sketches and conveyed some design ideas. They came up with the 3D drawings of almost exactly what we wanted and they were always opened to changes from time to time until we were both satisfied with the final drawings.

Click on the image for picture gallery

Some people may ask why not engage contractor instead of paying a premium price to interior designer. After much research, I discover savings are probably around 10-15%. For my first home, I will not risk putting everything on the hands of contractor which cannot guarantee the designs and results. Sure there are some very good contractors out there, but finding one is very difficult. And many contractors do not offer drawings. Everything is just through conversation, so he may not be able to build what we want. As for interior designers who provide 3D drawings, the final product will be most likely 80% correct, giving us peace of mind during the whole renovation process and not having to worry of wrong end products.

As of now, our home is still in the midst of renovation. So far so good with on-schedule work. Fingers crossed, I hope this good experience continues until the completion of renovation. After the completion, I will come back to share more of my experience with this designer firm, be it good or bad. Stay tuned...Home Reno: Part 2 (Completed)

Click on the image for picture gallery


Evelyn Wong said...

Cheers up hoongji...

Diana said...

Hi Hoongji

I am contemplating to take up Dtrenzo to renovate my place. What are your comments and feedback about them? My ID is Trix from Upper Thomson branch. What about yours?

hoongji said...

hi diana,
I also engaged with upper thomson branch. but the ID, Ace has been promoted to lead a new branch, "Inspire by D'Trenzo" at Balestier Rd. Generally I feel it is very fairly priced, accommodating and helpful in suggesting ideas. Workmanship especially carpentry is top notch. My only gripe is the mediocre tiling works. I'm sure they would have changed the tilers. You can read up on my complete review here after my renovation had been done: