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citygirl

A&a On Inter-terrace House

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A lot of good points raised in this thread. Lots of good information. I'll share my own experiences as I'm almost down with my reconstruction of an interterrace.

1) I'm in complete agreement with Petunia about getting a good architect. Pay them a fair rate as they are the only one looking out for you during this process. Builders once they get your contract award will look after your interest by either (1) reducing cost (i.e. cutting corners??) or (2) trying to add VO (variation orders). My architect on the other hand has helped me challenge the PE to relook at their structural plans to simplify design and save cost, he has good relationships with material suppliers and builder and this helped when changes are needed (e.g. windows frames built...I don't like it, tear down and redo it in another layout, no extra cost. Vertical strips changed to frameless glass, add this, add that, no extra charge). From what I understand, industry rates for archi fees range from 5% to 12%. This assumes the ones who really do some real work and not the rubber stamp whatever plans the builders give to them type (i.e. if you use the building firm approach). BTW, this money not easy to earn as the building process is >1 year and there is a lot of work they have to do during this time.

2) While the architect is a key piece, trust between other members of your building team - builder, PE is also important. The building process is a long one. During this time, there will be changes to the plans due to all kinds of reasons (authorities requiring certain things done, soil conditions, site conditions, unplanned or unforseen things, etc). Without trust, you will feel that everyone is trying to cheat you and it will be a stressful time.

3) The architect/builder approach is relatively more expensive that the all in one building company approach. Architects are more exact in their specifications (e.g. waterproofing material must be xx brand form germany and not Yy brand from China. Parquet must be minimum xx thickness and yy length, etc), so no room for corner cutting, builders also know architects will check their work and if not done correctly they have to replace. Hence they tend to buffer in extra for these things. Some say 10 to 15%.

4) Baring significant external factors, building cost will keep going up. Labour will always get more expensive due to rising cost of living. Materials are scare and have always trended upwards. BCA, URA has been trying to upgrade Singapore building standards and keeps adding new requirements for builders to comply. That said, builders can vary their margins depending on how hungry they are for projects. A very busy, well established builder will probably ask for more compared to someone trying to secure new projects to fill their pipeline.

5) Land, House Design and cost. Not every Terrace is equal. Some are on slopes, some on flat land. Some has drainage within your boundary line, some have tree conservation within or next to their land, some has poor soil, etc. All these leads to varying cost. Similarly, not every 3000sqf house is the same. Cost can vary due to material used and design (open riser, spiral stairs vs concrete simple stairs). For inter terrace, given that you can only vary the front and rear facade, cost is usually affected more by material used than design. That said, complex design can add cost in two ways - (1) more expensive to build and (2) contracters markup for possible errors.

Hope this helps and enjoy your house building journey.

 

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Bring errant Architects to task, he will risk losing his professional license. That is if he is really an Architect with a capital A, i.e. registered with the Board of Architects (BOA) of Singapore. You can check out if he is a real Architect from the BOA website. Only a registered Architect could make plans submission for authorities approval. There are some 'architects' that designs but pay a sum to a registered Architect to make the plan submission.

 

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Bring errant Architects to task, he will risk losing his professional license. That is if he is really an Architect with a capital A, i.e. registered with the Board of Architects (BOA) of Singapore. You can check out if he is a real Architect from the BOA website. Only a registered Architect could make plans submission for authorities approval. There are some 'architects' that designs but pay a sum to a registered Architect to make the plan submission.

My previous architect had a BOA registration. He made all the plans submission under his own name... but he was very very old, and very very cheap. It turned out that he was more worried about representing the interests of a particular contractor than mine. When I started asking some logical questions, he himself opted to withdraw from the project stating "Let's stay friends". He sounded a little scared that I would do something, but since I didn't know I COULD take him to task, I didn't. But I could tell he was scared of something.

I didn't know that I could take him to task... but now that I do, it is something to consider. Still, he pulled out before he really did any damage to me and finding proof of misdemeanour would be difficult. Unless my 2 friends who were his previous clients (who recommended him strongly) decide to pursue it. However, their projects were done a couple of years ago so I dunno...

My advice to all is to be careful. The construction process is a complex one and laymen like us know too little to effectively supervise. Get an architect you can TRUST, and make sure all the checks and balances are there. The QS checks the architect and the contractor. The architect checks the QS and the contractor and the PE. The clerk of works checks the building of your house (acceptable grade concrete etc...)

Just to share, my previous architect told me.

1) "The more details you put into the drawings, the more expensive the project will be." This way, he didn't need to provide drawings and specifications... and left wiggle room for his favourite contractor later.

2) "You don't need a QS". This way, there is no documentation to protect my rights if there is a dispute with the contractor.

3) "In a recon, you are not allowed to raise the 1st floor ceiling height to the maximum allowable". This way, he was helping his favourite contractor to save building costs since I told him that if the budget exceeds 600K, I have no money to build. Since 600K is the max revenue, the only way to squeeze profit is to push down costs, i.e., push down my requirements.

4) "Very few builders like to build houses. They all prefer to build govt projects. Builder XXXX is one of those who like to build houses". This way, he was guiding me towards his builder.

5) "Don't subscribe to the Tender Price and Materials Index on the BCA website because these are govt tender prices and they are very expensive". This way, I would not access objective price indices that would contradict all the lies he was telling me.

6) "The clerk-of-works should be paid by the contractor". This removes yet another level of checks on quality of building works. The clerk of works is there to witness and document that the building materials and what not are of acceptable quality, and cast/applied properly. If the contractor is the paymaster, there is conflict of interest. The clerk of works wouldn't be keen to write a poor report because he wouldn't wanna offend his paymaster. You may not get a dangerously built house which will topple, but you may not get the high standard the govt stipulates.

7) "Your budget is so small that you have no money to tile the driveway... to have granite... to have timber deck". This way, costs are depressed and more of my 600K becomes profit for them.

8) "The retention fee is 2.5% standard." The standard retention fee that you pay after the 12 month warranty period is actually 5% (as documented in the standard contracts of the Singapore Institute of Architects). Again, he was representing the contractor interests.

9) "You shouldn't come down to site everyday. Leave it to the pros". This comment of his speaks for itself eh?

10) "Your semi-detached needs 14 months to build". My friend's semi-detached was done in 4 months. That is not recommended though. Too rushed and the concrete won't cure. Cater 6 to 8 months.

11) "It takes 28 days to cure concrete". This is only true of building technology in the 1950s.

12) "Everyone has spare cash. I am sure you have spare cash beyond the 600K". I told him "No... I am very much poorer than my friends."

As it turns out, my project costs much less than 600K... and it includes granite detailing and timber decking.

My 2 friends (who used my previous architect) told me that they used Builder XXXX too. One did so because my previous architect complained so much about the first builder that the first builder gave up. The second one used Builder XXXX because the contractors she had invited refused to come in to tender after speaking to my previous architect. My tender exercise with my previous architect clearly wasn't about to be an objective and truly competitive one.

If there is collusion in your tender exercise, you will never get a competitive price. I watched my tender exercise carefully to ensure that it was a truly confidental tender, and none of the builders knew who the other was.

House building is like shopping in China or Mauritius. You need to do your homework, and you need a good guide. Or else you would get fleeced. It really is a case of buyer beware. It helps to subscribe (for $120 for 3 months) to the BCA website's price indices. This gives you an objective indication of material prices etc... Surprisingly, I found that despite what the builders say, the Tender Price Index is at about the same level as 2007 or 2008. This may have changed. I last checked 2 months ago.

You can also go to the Singapore Institute of Architects to buy copies of the standard contracts, and the latest building specifications. It helps to talk to a lot of people who have built houses before... and spend time chatting with potential builders' past clients. I borrowed 3 sets of tender documents and contracts from friends, photocopied them and read through everything.

The government has structured a building process that involves QS, PE, Archi, builder and clerk of works. These are meant to check and balance each other. You need to make sure that all these people are loyal to you, report to you and work to further YOUR interests. After many years in the industry, many builders and architects get buddy. After all, people like you and I build houses once or twice in a lifetime, but architects and builders work together in a small industry from project to project... Unless you are vigilant, you will be the outsider in your own building project.

Most architects are honest but there are bad hats around and you need to be very careful.

Edited by petunialee
 

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What is your performance bond amt, in case the contractor cannot perform?

I considered the performance bond but then decided against it. It adds to costs. I mitigated the risks by really screening the contractors... their current pipeline and the past projects. One mustn't choose contractors with no on-going house building project. One mustn't choose contractors with too many ongoing projects either. And stay away from contractors that are not BCA registered. BCA gives contractors each a class ranking that reflects their cash flow capabilities. You don't want contractors with problematic cash flow.

It doesn't take much to ring on the doorbell of one or two of their past clients to ask about their experience. My contractor gave me a portfolio of more than 15 houses he had built, and I randomly picked from there to chat to the owners. I visited his office too.

This said, knowing that I have a very good price, I also need to play my part in being a fully co-operative client. One mustn't make life difficult for the contractor either by constantly dithering or changing one's mind. That could put your contractor outta business if his margins are already too tight. And if the contractor folds and your house is half built, you will have a big headache.

But yes... you have a good point Yoongf. I know I take a risk here by not getting a performance bond, even though it is a mitigated one.

Those others who are considering building a house can look at Performance Bond to manage the risks of getting a bad contractor.

Edited by petunialee
 

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One more thing... the Tender Price Index (available from BCA at a quarterly subscription) is computed using the outcomes of government tenders. These tenders are highly competitive and hence gives a good indication of rising and falling materials and labour prices. These government tenders are run and administrated by professionals.

Think about it logically. Contractors and architects are likely to charge a premium for private houses (i.e., semi-detached) simply because home owners are not professionals and often know no better. Architects and contractors are aware that they evolve in the same industry and may run into each other again. There would be greater natural sympathies between them than between you and them, since you will build ONE house is all (or TWO).

Margins are likely to be higher with semi-detached and terrace house building because they know we are not professionals. I wouldn't have known better if I didn't have access to my friends' tender documents. Both are from the building industry and they are building their own house at the same time as I. I simply matched my quotations to theirs and added a premium to offset risk.

Their tender price is below 550K and includes marble plus swimming pool. However, the couple was able to get high quality materials very cheap from leftover stock (using their contacts) from the completion of a few condos. Though their contractor is not BCA registered (this is what I mean by risk), their house is almost completed. The point is that if you are able to supervise yourself... and have influence in the industry, you can get a lower price.... and if you aren't one of those difficult people who change their minds and keep asking architects and contractors to rework, then you can get a better price too (as long as your tender exercise is rigorously run).

Edited by petunialee
 

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Thanks all for sharing such useful information!

Hi Citygirl...i guess i had the same concerns as you when i was first searching for builders, architect etc etc..whatever you call them since i'm not in the industry.

Finally after 6months of going to ID, renovation companies..i decided to do the embarrassing thing. I went to knock on doors of new houses in old estates and ask them for recommendations. This friendly uncle in my neighborhood invited me into his house and look at his finishing, 1yr old renovated house which was originally a 60yr old house. Then he hooked me up with his architect and builder. Basically i knock on doors from Siglap to Telok Kurau area. Take photo of their exterior if you see the owner then ask if u can view inside.

Well...we didn't sign on with them immediately, only after another 6months of hunting for other builders. I compared...even went to the extent to look at their existing projects (i looked at about 3-4 in one morning for each builder). Went inside, talk to the owners, look at walls, floor finishing, glass, windows and doors. Finally i also bargain for them to absorb GST by giving me a discount.

So from ID firms asking me to prepare 350k for no extension, rehauling entire electrical, plumbing etc etc. 350k from a all-in-one not sure what kind you call those. Don't think it's nice to mention their full names "Merixxxx Homes" with back extension but no attic or 500k with attic. I endup with 350k extension plus attic. Ok, it wasn't one of the cheapest one i found but i guess the quality speaks for itself (well, i hope) .

But i do find that you are being overcharged with architect, construction for A&A. I was talking to one of the owners at Serangoon who's SD is almost done with swimming pool. He had ID done and from 1storey went to 2.5storey with swimming pool etc etc for only 750k total (excluding furniture). So i think you kana chop carrot already. But maybe your 250k is for Award Winning? So who knows? Oh ya, SD owner said they took 6months to build although on paper the builder said 10-12months i guess to protect their own backside.

Oh and by the way, i didn't do a tender. I think in tender, builders will be more rigid, less to haggle coz everything follow by book.

 

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Hi Citygirl...i guess i had the same concerns as you when i was first searching for builders, architect etc etc..whatever you call them since i'm not in the industry.

Finally after 6months of going to ID, renovation companies..i decided to do the embarrassing thing. I went to knock on doors of new houses in old estates and ask them for recommendations. This friendly uncle in my neighborhood invited me into his house and look at his finishing, 1yr old renovated house which was originally a 60yr old house. Then he hooked me up with his architect and builder. Basically i knock on doors from Siglap to Telok Kurau area. Take photo of their exterior if you see the owner then ask if u can view inside.

Well...we didn't sign on with them immediately, only after another 6months of hunting for other builders. I compared...even went to the extent to look at their existing projects (i looked at about 3-4 in one morning for each builder). Went inside, talk to the owners, look at walls, floor finishing, glass, windows and doors. Finally i also bargain for them to absorb GST by giving me a discount.

So from ID firms asking me to prepare 350k for no extension, rehauling entire electrical, plumbing etc etc. 350k from a all-in-one not sure what kind you call those. Don't think it's nice to mention their full names "Merixxxx Homes" with back extension but no attic or 500k with attic. I endup with 350k extension plus attic. Ok, it wasn't one of the cheapest one i found but i guess the quality speaks for itself (well, i hope) .

But i do find that you are being overcharged with architect, construction for A&A. I was talking to one of the owners at Serangoon who's SD is almost done with swimming pool. He had ID done and from 1storey went to 2.5storey with swimming pool etc etc for only 750k total (excluding furniture). So i think you kana chop carrot already. But maybe your 250k is for Award Winning? So who knows? Oh ya, SD owner said they took 6months to build although on paper the builder said 10-12months i guess to protect their own backside.

Oh and by the way, i didn't do a tender. I think in tender, builders will be more rigid, less to haggle coz everything follow by book.

Yes! Yes! If got time, must do like Eileen. Wholeheartedly agree!!

 

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Wow pantieileen, I admire your energy and drive! My husband and I are of the lazy sort and the most we have done is to drive around the estate, looking at houses that were being built and taking down the builders' contact numbers. And then not call them! I have seen this architect's portfolio (on paper and the actual home) and I have spoken to his previous customers and they all raved about him. But then again, these people are rich so I believe money was the least of their concerns. What they cared about was the quality of work and the design. And of course, they had a much larger canvas for the architect to draw on!

Pantieileen, if your project cost is 350K, would you mind sharing what was the cost of the architect, PE and QS?

At this moment, I am still undecided and am waiting for more quotes to come in. Think I should go pray about it and ask God for wisdom! :-)

 

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Wow pantieileen, I admire your energy and drive! My husband and I are of the lazy sort and the most we have done is to drive around the estate, looking at houses that were being built and taking down the builders' contact numbers. And then not call them! I have seen this architect's portfolio (on paper and the actual home) and I have spoken to his previous customers and they all raved about him. But then again, these people are rich so I believe money was the least of their concerns. What they cared about was the quality of work and the design. And of course, they had a much larger canvas for the architect to draw on!

Pantieileen, if your project cost is 350K, would you mind sharing what was the cost of the architect, PE and QS?

At this moment, I am still undecided and am waiting for more quotes to come in. Think I should go pray about it and ask God for wisdom! :-)

Oh...PM me your email. I send you my modest little spreadsheet. Erm...so less obvious to work compared with hardcopy on my table with when i'm snaking in office doing personal project.

And i think i have to send you my quote coz whatever you mention Architect, PE, all included but what is QS? No QS in my invoice leh. Does QS means quantity surveyor? The guy that measures and then calculate individual costs of tiles, cement blah blah blah? If yes, then i'm working directly with this guy...i think there's no charge or maybe it's already included so i don't know.

By the way, i also checkout the place they fabricate the windows, glass, doors. Except tiles that one i think cannot see. But my builder gave me a sheet with address of sanitary, tiles etc..where to go list.

Edited by pantieileen
 

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Started recon works jan-10, top dec-10. Just fyi as reference, about 3000sq ft land size, originally 3500sq ft built-up (2 storey) recon to 6500sq ft built-up (3+attic storey). total at 1.8mil now and still creeping due to materials chosen and still choosing (include professional fees for architect, builder, qs, pe, designer, intended carpentry).

 

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Started recon works jan-10, top dec-10. Just fyi as reference, about 3000sq ft land size, originally 3500sq ft built-up (2 storey) recon to 6500sq ft built-up (3+attic storey). total at 1.8mil now and still creeping due to materials chosen and still choosing (include professional fees for architect, builder, qs, pe, designer, intended carpentry).

Wow, S$1.8m and still increasing! Would you be able to share the breakdown - architect's fees (based on fixed cost or percentage of construction cost), structural engineer's fees, quantity surveyor's fees and I assume the rest would be construction cost?

Edited by citygirl
 

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I spoke to an architect recently and he told me that it is the norm for an architect to quote a fee based on percentage of construction cost, and depending on the complexity of the work, is usually 6-12%. When I asked about flat fees, he said it can be calculated by man hours, but the architect will likely factor in a little more.

 

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