Opinion | Hong Kong’s home renovation industry needs a makeover

The home renovation industry in Hong Kong desperately needs a makeover.

Worrying results of an investigation by the city’s consumer watchdog have exposed a need for businesses, officials and customers alike to fix problems that will only deepen as more housing is developed and existing buildings age.

The Consumer Council surveyed more than 500 consumers and 16 renovation businesses during last year’s investigation. It also consulted government and professional organisations and had staff pose as service buyers.

Releasing the findings last month, council vice-chairman Tony Pang Chor-fu said many customers lacked the experience and knowledge needed to handle complex renovations and were left with “no choice but to rely on traders’ expertise”.

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The survey found 93 per cent of customers preferred to learn about businesses through word of mouth. The investigation also turned up evidence of shoddy work and aggressive sales tactics, and 19 per cent of consumers reported disputes with their contractors.

Only about a third of renovators said they were willing to provide rough cost estimates. Some falsely advertised zero-deposit package services.

Worryingly, 75 per cent of the businesses surveyed claimed walls could be removed based on a look at a unit’s floor plan without taking proper verification steps.

Last year in Tseung Kwan O, a contractor was found to have removed a load-bearing wall without authorisation.

The watchdog raised four major areas for improvement that deserve careful consideration, including a standardised quotation template as well as a cost-effective and efficient dispute resolution system.

It also called for improved public education about industry practices and a widely accepted accreditation system. The Buildings Department does offer a minor works contractors licence but few small operators get them.

The watchdog called for the government to make applications more accessible. Stakeholders must draw up plans to improve a system that too often results in frustrating, costly and dangerously shoddy renovations.

The investigation is also a reminder for service providers and customers alike to stop cutting corners.

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