Do you really save more with a contractor?

· Interior Design

Using A Contractor

Do You Save More?

With lower markups and renovation costs, many homeowners on a budget tend to gravitate towards engaging a contractor for their home renovation. But while it may look affordable on the surface, are you really saving – in terms of money, time and effort?

Here, we break it down for you and answer the big question: when getting a professional to carry out your home’s renovation, who should you go for – interior designers or contractors?

In terms of cost: SAVE

The biggest pull that tips the scales for the budget-conscious: it’s true that an ID usually charges more than a contractor, as price markups can range anywhere from 10% more to double of a contractor’s quote.

But before write off IDs altogether, it’s important to note that unlike an interior designer, contractors don’t provide the whole spectrum of services like 3D designs, detail drawings and project management. They’re charging you for just labour and materials.

In terms of design: DON’T SAVE

Interior design isn’t up a contractor’s alley. Rather, they execute based on your specific instructions – or a basic, template design. Be prepared to do most of the designing work –a risky move if you don’t have the technical expertise or experience.

Furthermore, a contractor isn’t always able to advise on the implications and practicality of design features, unless they are stark, obvious issues. So, onus is on you to make sure it looks and works the way you wanted it to. Alternatively, you can engage an interior designer to come up with a design plan for you, then engage a contractor to execute the plan. But that means extra design fees, which may run up to the thousands.

In terms of coordination: DON’T SAVE

Except for the initial breakdown of various works and costs – a contractor is basically hands off there on out. It’ll be your responsibility to liaise with the various contractors and keep track of the entire renovation timeline. Likewise, a contractor will not bring or follow you to the various material showrooms and advise on what’s best for your home or lifestyle.

While a contractor might work with other sub-contractors to carry out works they cannot do, be prepared that you might have to outsource those works yourself – like finding a plumber or electrician – and that means putting in the hours to juggle and manage everything. You’ve been warned, it can be overwhelming.

In terms of time spent renovating: SAVE

It’s no surprise, really. Considering that an ID needs to conceptualise a design, go through multiple revisions, communicate plans to sub-cons and such – a renovation process with an interior designer may tend to stretch longer. Alternatively, working with a contractor cuts out all these back-and-forth. Instructions or changes can be relayed directly to the person executing it, which will save time (but beware of running into potential miscommunication/delays).

The flipside of this is that you'll have to be thorough and sure of what you communicate with a contractor. Once an instruction is given and things are fabricated, any small changes you’d want to make will affect your timeline and cost more to correct.

In terms of quality of workmanship: DEPENDS

Truth is, engaging an ID doesn’t guarantee you better workmanship than a contractor. After all, they are using contractors (or sub-cons) to carry out the works as well! It really depends on the contractors themselves. On one hand, your ID will know what details or errors to look out for, and rectify it immediately. On the other, working with a contractor is equally convenient as well; if you’re meticulous in spotting issues, things can be corrected quickly as you’ll be contacting the contractor straight.

So, is it worth it engaging a contractor?

Ultimately, it’s all about give and take. Yes, contractors may be ‘cheaper’ – but they come at the expense of hidden costs (like having to pay for external design fees, outsourcing works), a ton of coordination work and lack of design or renovation guidance. Our take? If you aren’t well versed in renovation and if this is your first time – having an interior designer to guide and manage this otherwise overwhelming process might be a wiser choice.

You should also take into consideration the savings you’re getting. Compare quotes between an ID and contractor and think twice! If the difference between the ID and contractor’s quote is not too much (perhaps by $1 - $5k), why not save yourself the trouble and get an ID to handle every aspect?

Go for a contractor if:

1) You’re doing specific works and know exactly what you want.

2) You have a particular aesthetic in mind and don’t need design input.

3) You are only planning to do basic, no-frills works.

4) You are highly meticulous and able to multitask.

5) You have a tight (or limited) budget to work with.


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