Players argue the time is ripe for the renovation industry to raise its standards.
SOME people say finding a good renovation contractor can be as difficult as striking the lottery. Or in some cases, there is a better chance of winning the lottery than being able to find an honest and competent contractor.
A survey of consumer tribunals reveal that disputes with contractors is rather common.
For example, New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs handles thousands of such inquiries and complaints each year – and this refers only to licensed home improvement contractors.
According to the National Consumer Complaints Centre, which is affiliated with the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations, it received 192 complaints on construction or renovation in 2015, which underscores the gravity of the problem.
Not surprisingly, even those in the renovation industry here find it hard to defend their counterparts.
Chew says it is time the industry raises its standards so that the renovation contracting business can be seen as a respectable one.
“When it comes to the list of professions that the public considers most untrustworthy, I am sure that renovation contractors will come up at the top of the list,” said Desmond Chew, 42, construction manager for My Living Construction & Renovation Sdn Bhd.
Set up five years ago, My Living is a small outfit based in Kajang, Selangor that handles more than three dozen renovation jobs all over Klang Valley at any given time.
Billing itself as a one-stop renovation (including interior decoration) services setup, My Living wants to change the way the renovation business is conducted in the country.
For Chew, a systematic way to teach the nitty gritty of the industry in a way that resembles Technical Vocational Education and Training will lead to a generation professional contractors.
“We want to move away from the common scenario where the contractor strolls in to give a lump sum quotation, all the while wearing shorts, and probably with cigarette in hand,” said Chew, who feels strongly that it is time the industry raised its standards so that the renovation contracting business could be seen as a respectable one.
In the case of Malaysia, it is starting at a very low base. Firstly, there is no requirement that a houseowner must hire a contractor affiliated with the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) or any professional body to renovate his house.
Contractors don’t normally share what they consider trade secrets, such as how to measure and make cabinets.
“Sometimes, it can be based on introductions or referrals from friends, acquaintances or relatives. But there is no guarantee of competency,” said Chew, who has been called by dissatisfied customers to take care of the mess left behind when the original contractor absconds, or just gives up on the job due to various reasons, such as cash flow problems.
There are easily more than 10,000 renovation contractors in Klang Valley alone. The majority enter the business through the “school of hard knocks” that involves a lot of trial-and-error, or by just watching how others do it (correctly or otherwise).
According to the Master Builders Association Malaysia (MBAM), most renovation contractors are not MBAM members. “These so-called renovation contractors may not even be registered with CIDB. Quite often, most of these contractors may offer a lower price than the registered ones.
“However, the work they carry out are mostly based on their own understanding and experience, which sometimes may not be in accordance with industry standards, possibly leading to quality, safety and timeline issues,” it said in a statement.
Chew also cut his teeth in the industry the same way. His foray into the construction industry began when he worked as a salesperson for a renovation company.