Just had a friend move into his renovated (or as the Americans would say “remodeled”) home a few weeks back. It’s kind of interesting to see how much thought goes into a project of this scale or magnitude. It also reflects a lot of our own personal experience with our current and previous dwellings as well as our current requirements and situation. For example, he has three kids and all girls so the bathroom for the girls has separate cubicles for showering and doing your business in addition to the sink and mirror — in tech speak, single-core triple-threaded bathroom! Some of the little things you wouldn’t really notice or want can get pretty handy down the road such as two-way light switches – done reading? flip that switch by the bedside to go to sleep. Want to prevent anyone with a cheap radio transceiver from opening your auto-gate at night? Put a switch and turn it off at night. Well, the list goes on…
I’ve just done up my house a about a year and a half ago. It is a 45-year old house that used to sell at about RM10,000. During that time, I had other friends and colleagues doing up their own homes at the same time so it was good to share experiences with each other. We could have written a book! Or should have! Anyways, here are some things that we found we had in common.
1. The price quoted to you will never be the price you finally pay.
The lowest bid usually has a bunch of assumptions that are generally wrong or worse yet, you’ll get smacked with a bill for every little change. The highest bid usually covers all the bases but still you will end up paying more. I ended up choosing the middle quote but I still paid more. Some things are unexpected of course such as a friend’s home had a car swallowing sinkhole under the living room and cost him two weeks and a loaded cement mixer to plug it. More reasons below!
2. Buying the stuff yourself is always cheaper but not always
You can always get cement, aggregates (sand, gravel, etc for mixing into concrete), steel, etc cheaper but you’ve gotta let the contractor make some money. It’s also not so practical to obtain a truck-load of sand every week for example. Plus remember, you’ll bound to have some pilferage. These “foreign” workers building your home are bound to sell a bag of cement here or there. Unless you are on-site daily, you can’t tell the usage rate. Plus, exterior work have require remedy or re-doing if it rains while they start the cement or plastering work for example. I decided on ONLY getting the slightly more premium or aesthetic type of things. We went to Niro for tiles (and they have great customer service – read why). We also went to Han Lim (near Niro, Jalan Tandang, PJ) to get bathroom fixtures like my rain shower, sinks, mixer taps. Then off to Mectrades, KL, Jalan Pasar, to get those fancier light switches. While you’re at Jalan Pasar, might as well get some lights too. Rest of the stuff, we let the contractor provide — already too much to handle to sweat the basics.
3. As with point 1 and 2, do get a sanity check
My boss at that time was quoted RM120 per down light fixture and another RM120 per point for the wiring. That was simply absurd. If you don’t know the price of things or would like a second opinion, always check the quote. My electrician quoted only RM100 per point including the fixture, light bulb and wiring. He was also quoted RM5,000 for a 7-foot wide kitchen counter top. The going price at that time was only about RM120 per foot-run and RM250 per side. We’re looking only at the total RM1,340! Even if it included tile-work (going at RM4.50/square foot) it wouldn’t come close to 5K!
4. Sometimes, you gotta put your foot down and insist on things done right or your way
My wife and I are taller than the Malaysian average. We also wanted a counter top at a comfortable height for us. Contractors like to do things their way not because it’s best for you, but because it’s easier and cheaper for them. Of course this is not always the case but it actually is quite likely the case from mine and other friends’ experience. Sometimes, you let them because it may not be a big deal for you but always remember that you’ll be living in that home and for a decent amount of time too. Since we were doing our wiring (45-year old electrical wire is ripe for disaster), I insisted on several things, some being fully galvanized rigid electrical conduits to run my wires to and from the main switch/circuit block. I also insisted on star-topology (which costs more but a blown fuse only affects that small circuit vs the whole room for example) and of course, proper sharing of the three phase power so that a failure of any phase meant only partial loss of power in any room or area. Even if such things didn’t cost more, it’s more work but if you want something, you got to insist on it.
5. Things never get done your way when you’re not around
You want your project completed on time? Show up randomly. Once I just circled around a few blocks after a visit and caught the previously hard-at-work crew lazing in the shade and smoking. Constant checks also allow you to spot certain things that aren’t done right and correct them. Also, invariably (see number 6) you will change things so seeing the progress allow you to sometimes fine-tune certain things. Generally, the tops of windows match the tops of doors but in cases of ground floor bathrooms, you might want otherwise.
6. You will definitely change your plan while in progress
This is almost a given. It also of course depends on the size and scope of the work. For someone who’s building a house from ground up will have more changes that one who is just remodeling the kitchen. I think I had over a dozen changes from window heights to where some windows will be. Bathroom layouts and switch placements were changed. Roof-line, roof-style and even slope were changed. I know everything is a compromise of sorts unless you have unlimited funds but hey, get the best you can. We even changed the color of our kitchen tiles (Thanks to Niro, at no charge!). So, going back to point number 1, yes, buffer for a 20-30% cost above and beyond the quote.
7. The project time line is always too short
Isn’t this like everything else in life? Anyways, most contractors will give a more optimistic time line and not include things like material delivery delays or most of the time, weather related issues. The older the house, probably some additional surprises like that hidden beam or some other delay will crop up. Again, factor in at least 50% more time required. We were told 4-5months. It became about 9 months. Like giving birth. Goodness!
At the end of it all, just be patient, try to enjoy the process (even though you feel like going postal!) and best of all, try to share that experience with friends. It makes the whole thing a bit more bearable.
If you’re currently or have renovated or remodeled your home and have a tip or story to tell, or plain disagree with what I said above, drop me a line here! Would love to hear them experiences – good or bad!