Getting to know that your house is finished and you are entitled for key collection could be one of the most exciting things happening. But unfortunately it wasn’t to me, especially since the house was completed months earlier than planned. There were so much things going on in our domestic department (including the finance side of things) – paying a monthly installment wasn’t part of the plan!
I mulled over it for a good couple of months until I realized that I have to get up my ass and do something about it as the financiers come knocking my bank account every single month demanding for payment.
I have never attempted a major renovation house project, but my experience in attempting house projects in much smaller scales (for our first home) have taught me that: the home furnishing industry in Malaysia could have a significant variance in terms of prices if you put your heart and time in researching for the best deals.
The Decision Process
Here’s why this decision point matters:
- One single contractor deals with everything which in turn typically saves my time and sanity. The home furnishing & home renovation scene in Malaysia is not always rosy and there are many pains and grouses that can be avoided if one deals with only one company. Everyone have heard about contractor ‘lari’ or take exceptionally longer to complete or doesn’t follow your instructions
- However, hiring a single entity will inflate my budget. Typically, no single company specializes at everything. It is normal for them to subcontract out some tasks. They will definitely mark the prices up in your bill
- On the other side of single vs multiple contractors. There’s a danger: Hiring different contractors may save us money, but if not careful, there may not be any savings at all. Or it may only have marginal difference in the savings. The term ‘marginal’ depends on one’s preference: some may think RM1000 is marginal, some may think it is a substantial saving. With sourcing many items with one contractor or as few contractors as possible, they would usually be generous to give good discounts
- With hiring multiple contractors, there will be scouting, surveying, and monitoring that needs to take place for each of them. One may be able to have different contractors to talk to one another if the workscope may be related. People say, time is money. There’s no less truth to that. I am wary that I am trading hours if I were to choose this path.
There’s also another decision between taking general contractor or a complete makeover contractor. My definition of general contractor are those that supplies, fabricates and installs your house’s basic necessities, i.e. functional elements. Usually they will be offering packages which include:
- Kitchen cabinet
- TV consoles
- Shoe rack
In some instances, they could also offer other items such as electrical appliances including installation services. This would make your house almost move-in ready, except for any other soft furnishings/aesthetics and any important electrical items that the house needs.
On the other hand, a complete makeover contractor would be the kind that totally transforms your house, functionally and aesthetically. With bedding, dining set, mood lighting.. Y’know the kind you watch in HGTV and have the owner be blindfolded and surprised at the complete transformation of his/her house.
General contractor : turn the unit into a functional house
Makeover contractor: turn the unit into a home
While there are tons of general contractor to choose from, finding a makeover contractor is few and far between..well, at least those that are budget-friendly ones. I am not looking at luxury transformation – only aesthetically pleasing but easy to the wallet!
This house is a family-sized 3 bed/2 bath condo called Parkhill Residence at Bukit Jalil. Within walking distance or short drive to amenities, corporate offices, universities and 2 LRT stations. I intend to have this unit rented out though I am unsure yet of the demographics I would choose or at what price point.
There is a private Facebook group for the owners which I find really useful going through the renovation process. We are also fully aware that our numbers were circulated amongst the real estate agents / contractors / handymen etc giving all sorts of tenant offers / contractor services / packages. It was soo overwhelming as I have been inundated with SMSes and whatsapps almost every day.
I took my time one day to compare all the packages I received from the general contractors. They are pretty much offering almost similar packages but the devil is in the details. Here’s what I did:
- I listed all the items they are offering in Excel, one contractor per column and listing the items down, each item per row – well, can also use papers though
- For each row, only list down same item only. For example, if contractor A offers ‘supply & install grill for main door’ and contractor B does not offer any grill, leave the row for contractor B empty
- Note down any difference in sizing / specifications / materials that each contractor is offering while still keeping the same item in the same row. For example, contractor A may offer 8 feet melamine base cabinet but contractor B may offer 10 feet aluminium base cabinet. I put them in the same row
- At the very bottom, I listed down the package prices that each contractor is offering
It was fun tabulating the items down. I found this gave me 2 benefits:
- It seems very clear to me which package seems to be ‘overpriced’ and which package is reasonable
- It gives me the opportunity to enquire to contractors should there is any confusion or doubt on their package details. For example, one contractor detailed out ‘2 units DC pump water heater with installation’, while another contractor only wrote down ‘2 units water heater’. For a non-experienced person like me, I could have missed these important differences had I not been comparing between different package details. I contacted the latter contractor to find out if their water heater comes with installation service and if it is a pump or no pump option. It does bring a cost difference in between between 2 options. I don’t wanna get caught with only the contractor offering the lowest prices without enquiring the details
I finally came down to one contractor package which were quite generous in their offerings as compared to others. He also has a show unit in the condo, which means that they might get multiple offers from owners hence may bring their cost down, as well as already knowing the sizes or details required for them to execute work, hence work may complete faster.
Then, I unearthed my correspondence and quotation with a makeover contractor over my interest to have them entirely make our house, which happened many months before our house was completed. Understandably, this option would be pricier as compared to general contractor, but my house would be tenant-ready, aesthetically-pleasing. It will include all the soft furnishings and basic amenities such as the basic cutlery, beddings, shelves, boxes. I was blown away by the prospect of the end results, but at the same time blown away of the pricing too, though in general sense it is still comparatively cheap.
After several communication, a site visit and a re-quotation specific to my unit, I accidentally stumbled upon another makeover contractor which are offering similar service and similar price point. Mind you while the general contractor services are aplenty, I could not say the same for this type of affordable makeover contractor – they are few and far between as far as my knowledge goes! Coincidentally they also have a show unit in the condo, so I asked them to give me a quotation specific to my unit.
Again, as I have done for the past quotations, I asked the 2nd makeover contractor that I would like to have itemized details, and with pricing for each items. This was learning from the 1st makeover contractor I have already engaged with. That way, I could also then compare them line item by line item!
Well due to my full-time career, I have to admit I wasn’t quite fast at making my decisions. You could call me a fool.. Time is money. I am still paying my monthly installment. I need to get tenants as soon as I could.
So which one did I choose?
For the general contractor, I did mention that I was generally drawn to one contractor which also has a show unit in the condo. I went to the showroom but something didn’t quite sit down well with me since then: they have bad feedback on their social media.
Secondly, I wasn’t too fussed on getting a shoe rack so I asked them to re-quote had I take it out of the package. Well, guess what! The moment the shoe rack was taken out of the package, they inflated all their prices as per normal pricing as to encourage customer to sign up for full package.
I also noticed that the items that they are offering, such as sink and water heater are of rather low quality and not well known brand. I am quite selective over what make and model my tenants’ electrical items are. Wouldn’t mind getting a slightly more superior manufacturer if it means quality. In the end, I rationalized of not getting a general contractor as I am racing against time. I know I had to do a lot more on the soft furnishing department to attract those tenants coming.
Getting a makeover contractor is a really desirable option – it would substantially save my time. Getting the aesthetics done such as browsing the Pinterest for theme and inspiration ideas, getting the furnishings all gelled up together is not an easy feat for me. Is it minimalist / Muji style? Industrial? Classic? Scandinavian? I am still trying even for our first house but I have all the time in the world for that!
Between the two makeover contractors, I noticed that the first makeover contractor was pretty reasonable. She gave me itemized quotations and advised on how I can save on certain aspects. She also made me warm up to the idea of having melamine and compressed wood as kitchen cabinet materials instead of getting the more expensive (which is of course, better quality) granite/quartz and glass doors, by telling me that all their kitchen materials are as such and if it somehow gets damaged after a few tenant cycles, then it wasn’t such a waste to change to a new set as it wasn’t too expensive. If a makeover contractor as good as they are could pull a melamine kitchen cabinet off, then why don’t I give that a try!
She was also quite accommodating when I tell her that I would outsource the curtains elsewhere. Well, the itemized quotation revealed that the charges for the curtain (and some other items) were too expensive to me! From my survey (and I am a rather experienced curtain buyer), I could save more than 100% of her quoted price if I were to get the curtain from another supplier!
The second contractor is rather newly established in the makeover business only about a year old, though I suspect they have been venturing into different businesses, including the general contracting as well, manufacturing wardrobes and kitchen cabinets. They may have a smaller portfolio than the first one and not as many photos to decide on, but I felt I was willing to give them a try. He has been receiving good feedback from fellow house owners who are engaging him too.
When I made the comparison between both contractors’ itemized quotations in two pieces of A4 papers, I noticed while their quotations are rather similar in bottom-line prices, a few things striked me with the first contractor:
- Paying close to RM 100 for ‘deco boxes’ for each bedroom seems to be quite on the high side – that’s the danger when you itemize too much! Yikes.
- They charged for things such as project management fees, ID consultations etc when the earlier quotation that they gave was quoted as free
As for the second contractor, I kinda stretched it a bit far by saying that I would like to take all electrical items out from their service, curtains as well as kitchen cabinet! Surprisingly they agreed and I couldn’t be happier! I was happy that they are accommodating to my request even though that means making their scope smaller. I found that they are also very open, and willing to update me on the progresses. I like to be able to jointly make the decisions and not left in the dark over what colour, material, design..that they will furnish my house with.
Because I studied the quotation, when I visited his showroom in the property, I already had a mental image of what he’s going to supply me, such as which walls will the wallpaper be plastered. Entire wall? 1 wall? 2 walls? Wall over the dining table? Between the master bedroom windows? I also noticed that he is giving me more stuffs than what’s quoted, which makes this lady even happier! Such as an extra armchair, side tables and storage boxes. I noted that down and sent him a Whatsapp copy as documentation. Hey, documentation is important, right? I learnt that in corporate world lol.
Admittedly I could sense that some aspects on the quotation from the second contractor was quite on the high side, but I am willing to let that slip, and ensure the entire aesthetics part be handled by them except the curtains. They need to mark up the prices anyway, if not how to do business.. I couldn’t be penny-piching all the time, could I?? Hehe.
I also chose to downsize the contractor scope such as buying my own electrical items, as I would like to delay the purchases to spread the cost across different months, as well as ensuring the warranty period is not wasted. There will always be time to buy them even when the tenancy is already confirmed prior to move-in. Grills are also another example of delaying the purchase – some tenants may request it, some tenants may not need them.
Finally, besides the ease of downsizing the contractor scope, the salesperson being accommodating and fast response, the dealbreaker was that they are offering rebates for their first 10 customers in the property as well as credit card payment facility! I much prefer payment by credit card for points collection and coincidentally there’s a contest going on with prizes that I want. Unfortunately the first contractor didn’t have credit card payment facility.
That pretty much sealed the deal for the second contractor and the first phase of my home renovation journey.
In summary, this was how I saved for my main contractor selection
1.Carefully itemized & compared contractor package quotes in spreadsheets – asked when not sure of details
2. Weighed in pros/cons to get general contractor (save money) or makeover contractor (save time)
3. Ask and you may get – I asked to trim down my makeover package, and I got it
4. Know what I need to get NOW for tenant-viewing ready vs what I need later
5. Research! I chose to outsource to other kitchen cabinet manufacturer upon researching in Instagram and curtains after visiting several shops