Renovating homes is not getting any cheaper

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By Joseph Wong

In today's economic landscape, where inflation seems to be the norm, homeowners are grappling with the inevitable reality of rising expenses, particularly when it comes to remodelling or renovating  their homes. From minor upgrades to extensive renovations, the financial burden associated with enhancing living spaces has become increasingly daunting for many. This burden is felt even more acutely by first-time home buyers, who often find themselves stretched thin financially even before considering the costs of renovation.

Compounding the financial strain is the prevalent trend of purchasing bare units—properties devoid of any finishing touches or furnishings. While these blank canvases offer homeowners the freedom to customise their living spaces according to their preferences, they also come with the daunting task of transforming empty shells into functional and aesthetically pleasing homes. This not only entails significant investment in materials but also requires the expertise of professionals unless homeowners possess advanced do-it-yourself (DIY) skills.

For the vast majority of homeowners, the reliance on renovators or contractors becomes a necessity, further adding to the already substantial expenses associated with home remodelling. The cost of labour, in addition to the escalating prices of materials, presents a formidable financial challenge that cannot be ignored. Even when renovation services are bundled into package deals, the overall expenditure remains far from insignificant.

Delving into the specifics of the price increases, data sourced from the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DoSM) paints a sobering picture of the current situation. Essential renovation materials such as cement, bricks, plaster, glass, wood, tiles, paint and fittings—all integral components of any renovation project—have witnessed significant price hikes throughout the preceding year. These price hikes are projected to continue unabated in the current year, further exacerbating the financial strain on homeowners.

In March 2023 alone, the price index for cement surged by an alarming 11.7%, while bricks experienced an 8.3% increase. Similarly, other crucial materials saw substantial upticks in prices, with glass registering a 7.1% escalation, timber rising by 6.4%, plywood jumping by 7.1%, tiles escalating by 6.1%, paint climbing by 6% and fittings experiencing a general increase of 5.8%.

Renovation costs can range from about RM10,000 for small projects to RM500,000 for major renovations, according to Hin Group. “It’s also a good idea to plan for additional expenses like permits and hiring contractors during the renovation process,” the company advised in its website.

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Faced with these escalating costs, homeowners are confronted with difficult decisions regarding the feasibility of their renovation plans. Many may find themselves forced to reevaluate their priorities, making compromises or seeking alternative, more cost-effective solutions to stay within budgetary constraints. 

As the trajectory of renovation expenses continues its upward trend, homeowners must navigate these financial challenges with careful planning, resourcefulness and prudent decision-making to ensure the realisation of their desired home improvements without breaking the bank.

Costs aside, renovation projects often bring a host of additional challenges. Homeowners must contend with the inconvenience of finding alternative accommodation during the remodelling process. Even for those who choose to remain in their homes during renovations, they must endure the disruptions caused by the noise of drilling and concrete smashing. Moreover, the accumulation of dust, dirt and debris adds another layer of hassle, requiring constant cleanup to maintain livable conditions amidst the chaos of construction.

With this in mind, it would be great if new properties are designed the way that home buyers desire without the need for extensive renovations or remodelling work. But the sad reality is that many homes are essentially designed via a cookie-cutter method, meaning that many homes have the same style, look and format. 

On a brighter note, many developers are now opting for an open concept for the kitchen, dining and living area leaving less wall hacking than in the past with some allowing the owners to add or partition more walls. The only question is how much renovation work needs to be done since each buyer or home owner has his or her own tastes and specifications.

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