Confessions of a renovation contractor
While many renovation contractors shudder at the mention of picky and demanding clients, Mrs Fanny Kok says she relishes the challenge.
"The more 'ngiao' (picky in Hokkien) they are, the more I like," quips the 54-year-old owner of Kok Interior Design and Contracts.
"That's because when I have served them well, they bring in more business for me. Their friends also trust me more because I have passed their friends' stringent standards," the mother of three says with a laugh.
Mrs Kok, who has been in the industry for 19 years, says it was daunting when she started out in the male-dominated industry.
In one instance, male sub-contractors tried to pull wool over her eyes by telling her it would take a week to do the flooring her clients wanted, though it would actually take only three days.
She put her foot down and had none of it, Mrs Kok says in Mandarin.
She took a two-year interior design course and gained experience through a stint at a company which installed cabinets.
Today, she is both an interior designer and contractor.
Before picking up measuring tape and floor plans, she wielded brushes and combs as a beautician and make-up artist to local stars.
Her current job is far from glamorous, she says, recalling the time when she had to deal with two large centipedes 12cm to 15cm long, and hundreds of their young ones.
"My contractor discovered them after hacking away a bath tub an elderly client wanted dismantled. It was a horrifying sight. We used insecticide liberally but it still could not kill the two large bugs," she says with a grimace.
In the end, pest control had to be called in.
Mrs Kok is also often caught in disagreements between couples, and has to play mediator.
The wife typically wins, she says, though things can some times get out of hand.
"I once had a couple quarrelling about whether it was better to use white marble or black garnet for their floors. It took place in front of a showroom and got pretty loud," she says, adding that she discreetly excused herself.
"When I came back, they were still at it. So I had to list the pros and cons of each option. In the end, they went for what I recommended, the garnet."
Couples who cannot make up their mind aren't the worst, she says. Her pet peeve? Nosy relatives of her clients, who want a say in every aspect of a home they will not be living in.
In one case, the brother of a client got so over-involved that the client's wife arranged for a meeting with Mrs Kok in secret.
"He was furious when he found out, and stated that if they made decisions without him, they would get cheated," she adds.
In the end, she told the clients she could not continue as their designer and contractor, to avoid more strife.
Patience, she says, is key in this industry.
"A decade ago, clients simply took a look at their neighbour's homes and said they wanted something similar for their own home.
"They gave you a flat budget and trusted you to get the job done. These days, they want a detailed break down of every item," she explains.
Most clients she works for have a budget of under $30,000. The most expensive project she worked on cost the home owners $100,000.
Mrs Kok relies heavily on word-of-mouth recommendations for her business.
Despite its challenges, it is clear that she loves the job.
"I see every home I renovate as 'my own'. And when I receive the text messages of satisfied customers, that's what keeps me going," she says.