Home renovation is something most Singaporean homeowners have to contend with if you own a HDB flat or a condo. While buying a home in Singapore is an expensive endeavour, many of us don’t just want to live in a cookie cutter apartment; we also want our homes to look good, such as having an open-concept style or a scandinavian or industrial theme.
Whether you’re just moving in to a new apartment or thinking of giving your current home a timely makeover, the only way to achieve the kind of dream home we envision is to renovate. But here’s where reality hits – how much should you budget for renovation costs?
To help you see how much you need to spend, where all the money goes, and how you can keep the budget low, check out this in-depth guide to renovating costs in Singapore.
Obviously, you need a ballpark figure to know how much you should set aside. With so many variables to consider, the cost of renovation ultimately depends on these five things:
- Type of home: Is it an HDB flat, condo, or landed house? Does it already come with any existing fittings?
- Its age & condition: The extent and type of renovation work for a brand new BTO and a decades-old resale flat will be very different.
- How much work you want done: Are you more or less happy with the current state of affairs, or do you want to hack everything and build your dream home from a blank canvas?
- Type of materials: If you have a taste for atas marble countertops and parquet flooring, expect to pay more.
- The contractor/ID firm you choose: Different companies charge differently, of course.
Renovation costs for a four-room HDB flat (approx. 90 sq m) can range from as low as $4,888 to as much as $110,000, depending on all the factors above.
According to renovation portal Qanvast, the average HDB renovation cost falls nicely in the middle of the two extremes: $53,000.
But these numbers are only the starting point. They don’t mean anything unless you have a better idea of what you want.
Here’s a look at estimated renovation costs for a four-room HDB flat’s living and dining space, taken from Qanvast’s renovation calculator.
Though the living and dining rooms (or combined living & dining space, if we’re talking about most HDB flats) constitute a large part of the flat, renovation costs here can actually be pretty low:
|Hacking||$100 to $400||$400 to $700||$700 to $3,900|
|Masonry||$200 to $1,300||$1,300 to $3,000||$3,000 to $22,00|
|Carpentry||$200 to $3,400||$3,400 to $6,100||$6,100 to $23,700|
|Ceiling & partition||$200 to $800||$800 to $1,200||$1,200 to $3,200|
Expected costs for bedrooms (price is per room):
|Hacking||$100 to $600||$600 to $900||$1,000 to $5,200|
|Masonry||$200 to $1,300||$1,300 to $2,800||$2,800 to $8,800|
|Carpentry||$200 to $4,400||$4,400 to $7,500||$7,500 to $33,700|
|Ceiling & partition||Up to $600||$600 to $1,100||$1,100 to $5,000|
On to kitchen renovations. This space may seem purely functional, but there’s actually a lot going on in there, which means renovation costs can actually be quite high considering its small size:
|Hacking||$100 to $500||$500 to $900||$900 to $3,200|
|Masonry||$200 to $1,300||$1,300 to $3,900||$3,900 to $11,300|
|Carpentry||$100 to $4,300||$4,300 to $6,900||$6,900 to $17,900|
|Plumbing||$100 to $200||$200 to $500||$500 to $1,700|
Same goes for bathrooms (price is per bathroom):
|Hacking||$100 to $500||$500 to $1,000||$1,000 to $6,800|
|Masonry||$100 to $1,500||$1,500 to $5,700||$5,700 to $17,500|
|Carpentry||$200 to $1,200||$1,200 to $2,100||$2,100 to $9,000|
|Plumbing||$100 to $400||$400 to $800||$800 to $3,900|
Don’t forget to budget for these added overall costs in your renovation:
|Electrical wiring||$300 to $1,700||$1,700 to $3,200||$3,200 to $7,700|
|Painting||$200 to $1,400||$1,400 to $1,800||$1,800 to $4,100|
|Windows, doors & grilles||$400 to $2,600||$2,600 to $5,100||$5,100 to $13,800|
|Disposal & cleanup||$300 to $1,100||$1,100 to $1,700||$1,700 to $13,900|
Before you embark on any renovation work, you should understand what kind of work you’ll be paying for.
While items like plumbing, electrical wiring and painting are pretty self-explanatory, hacking, masonry and carpentry are the three biggies that will constitute the bulk of the work (and the cost).
The more you mess with the original state of the home, the more work it entails and the more it will cost you – demolition and disposal are both a lot of work.
That’s why renovations for resale flats can actually cost much more than a “blank canvas” new flat.
In some cases, it’s not really necessary to hack. For example, if you want to update the flooring, many modern vinyl, laminate and engineered wood floors can simply be laid over the existing tiles.
Masonry is anything involving cement. Think building shower kerbs, cabinet bases and tiling floors/walls.
The more hacking and reconfiguration you do, the more masonry needs to be done. And the more surface area you cover, the more raw material and labour it requires, so the more expensive it is.
This is anything involving wood, such as custom-building bookcases, TV consoles, bed platforms, wardrobes, kitchen cabinets, and so on.
We’ve talked about how your renovation bill can inflate along with the extent of hacking, masonry and carpentry needed.
Another important factor is the type of finishes/materials you choose for your walls, floors and other surfaces like kitchen countertops.
Wall and floor finishes include plastering, skim coating, painting and tiles. In wet areas like the bathroom and kitchen, waterproofing is needed as well.
|Vinyl||$5.50 to $6.50 psf|
|Laminate||$6 to $8 psf|
|Ceramic tiles||$10 to $12 psf (including labour)|
|Cement screed (polished)||$15 to $30 psf|
|Hardwood (e.g. parquet)||$30 to $50 psf|
|Marble||$40 to $70 psf|
The kitchen is another place where your costs are affected by the materials you choose.
Apart from the cost of the cabinet material (laminate is cheapest, solid wood the priciest) there’s also the cost of the countertop material to consider.
|Laminate||$8 to $20 per foot run|
|Solid surface||$55 to $70 per foot run|
|Wood||$20 to $150 per foot run|
|Ceramic tiles||$30 to $80 per foot run|
|Granite||$55 to $175 per foot run|
|Stainless steel||$80 to $125 per foot run|
|Engineered quartz||$90 to $105 per foot run|
As we all know, HDB has a lot of rules and regulations for public housing. Here are some rules to bear in mind when you plan your renovation.
1. Submit all plans to HDB for approval before hacking: Some walls, columns, beams and slabs are load-bearing and cannot be removed, moved or altered. (On your floor plan, these are usually shaded in solid black or grey.)
Other walls, though not load-bearing, hide important wiring and piping and cannot be tampered with.
To play it safe, make sure to submit all plans to HDB for approval before any hacking begins.
2. Pre-packed cement screed: HDB now makes it compulsory to use pre-packed cement screed on dry areas (i.e. walls and floors of bedrooms and living room).
That’s because they are coated with a waterproof membrane to prevent water from seeping to the unit below.
If you choose to disregard the restriction and there’s seepage, you have to bear the cost of fixing the damage to your neighbour’s home.
(You can, however, tile over the existing flooring or lay a slip-resistant laminate.)
3. Exposed pipes cannot be permanently concealed: You feel the urge to cover up the exposed pipes in your bathroom or kitchen. As much of an eyesore as they are, pipes cannot be permanently concealed. In case of clogs, HDB must be able to access the pipes to investigate.
4. Restrictions on bomb shelter: They aren’t the prettiest and you’ll be tempted to do something about them. But here’s what you CANNOT do to the shelter:
- Cover or remove the notice pasted on the door
- Modify or remove the door
- Lay tiles, spray wall finishing such as cement sand finishing or put wall plaster on the interior walls
- Lay tiles or skirting over its existing floor tiles
- Hack on the external walls of the shelter to mount panels or lay tiles
- Install anything that requires power tools on the interior walls
Front door needs to be fire-rated: If you want to replace your front door, you can, but just make sure the new door is fire-rated.
Most HDB front doors are designed to contain smoke and fire within the unit so they don’t spread to staircases or life lobbies.
5. Restrictions on changing the windows & grilles: You absolutely cannot remove or tamper with the safety railings or grilles installed by HDB.
You can replace the windows… but full height, ¾ height and bay windows are all not allowed. For windows facing the common corridor, you cannot install windows that open outwards.
And for balconies with a sliding door, the door is there because windows are not allowed, so don’t even think about touching it.
6. Renovation timings: Oh, and finally… HDB has something to say about the timing of your renovation, too. No matter how quiet, you cannot do renovation work:
- Before 9am and after 6pm on weekdays and Saturdays
- On Sundays and public holidays
- For more than three months from date of the HDB permit
For noisy renovation work, you can only do it when your neighbours are at work – from 9am to 5pm on weekdays only (except the eve of major public holidays).
It’s not enough to know how much to budget for each aspect of renovation work. Another important consideration that impacts cost is which vendor you eventually appoint to handle the renovation itself.
The first decision you have to make is: Do you want a contractor, an interior designer or a design-and-build company?
All three will handle the actual renovation work (the heavy lifting), so the difference is in what value-added services they provide:
|Component||Contractor||Design & build||Interior designer|
These are the cheapest of the three, since you’re paying for just the heavy lifting. If you have time and are confident about being in charge, going contractor-only is a good way to manage your budget. Typically, they charge based on the cost of construction materials. Renovation contractors need to be managed and given specific instructions.
Choose if: you know exactly what you want, including the more technical specifications. You probably also need to take time off to stay home and oversee the work.
The interior designer (commonly abbreviated as “ID”) is a person or firm you hire on top of the contractor to help conceptualise, design, source and manage the entire project.
An ID’s job is to advise and create 3D designs that you approve, and to do the legwork when it come to sourcing for furniture, furnishings and fittings to complete the look.
Choose if: You want to be completely hands-off, as ID firms will also coordinate with your contractor and manage the renovation project.
Design & build
Somewhere in between is the design & build option. They’ll do the construction work expected of a contractor, but include the design and project management as part of the package. Similar to contractors, you’ll pay a rate that’s based on the cost of the materials. No need to pay consultancy fees as the design is thrown in for free.
However, don’t expect them to turn your four-room flat into a Banyan Tree resort. Design-and-build companies are more proficient in the construction aspect than the design one.
For practical homeowners who are managing their budget and not willing to splurge on the level of service and design provided by an ID firm, this is a viable option.
Choose if: You know what you want, but don’t have the time to actively manage the renovation project.
Before you rush out and look for a company to engage, beware of renovation scams as there are loads of people waiting to make a quick buck off gullible homeowners.
Apart from checking references and not falling for too-good-to-be-true deals, make sure that the company is a legitimate one.
If you’re renovating an HDB flat, you can only hire a renovation contractor listed under the Registered Renovation Contractors’ Scheme (RRCS).
HDB approved contractors (here’s a list) know all of HDB’s rules and requirements and will turn down non-compliant jobs.
By the way, HDB is also pretty strict about other kinds of work that can be done on your flat, from plumbing to window installation. Refer to this site for a list of HDB licensed personnel.
For ID firms
Protect yourself by engaging only CaseTrust-accredited ID firms. The accreditation scheme requires companies to protect their customer’s deposit payment through the purchase of a deposit performance bond. In case the company folds before the work is done, you don’t lose your deposit.
Companies under this scheme also need to have cost transparency, accountability and good business practices.
Policies on fees and refunds, and dispute resolution methods have to be properly documented as well.
Even when you choose only from those with accreditations, the list can still be very long.
Thankfully, there are plenty of one-stop platforms you can turn to get recommendations and/or free quotes. (You should still cross-reference against the HDB and CaseTrust lists, however.)
Renovation loans are different from personal loans. With a personal loan, you get the money in cash.
The bank doesn’t know what you’re going to do with it, so it’s riskier for them. As a result, personal loan interest rates are usually pretty high.
With a renovation loan, however, the money goes straight to your contractor, bypassing you entirely.
Because the bank knows exactly what you’re going to do with the money, they can charge much lower interest rates, usually less than five per cent p.a. (Plus if you already have an existing loan with the bank, they’re likely to give you a 0.5 per cent to one per cent discount on your renovation loan.)
The drawback is that you can’t cash out your renovation loan for a shopping spree at IKEA or Harvey Norman. So, keep your loan amount as small as possible.
You can usually borrow up to six times your monthly income, or $30,000, whichever is lower.
This post first appeared on MoneySmart.