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Poor-quality construction was the most common complaint for new home buyers in NSW over the past three years, alongside plumbing and solar issues featuring high on the list of concerns for residents.
NSW Fair Trading received about 11,000 complaints each year between 2019 and 2021. The main issue raised was the quality of construction, which included defective work, incomplete work and unsatisfactory performance.
Poor workmanship was the leading complaint when it came to house construction. Credit:Scott McNaughton
That was followed by conduct matters, which included complaints for loss or damage to consumers’ property, misleading or deceptive conduct, or unlicensed tradespeople.
More than 1200 rectification orders have been issued in those three years, including 85 prosecutions and 14 matters still before the courts.
Complaints about poor workmanship on house construction have experts concerned about a brain drain in the sector and an abundance of cheap labour that can end up costing homeowners thousands of dollars in rectification work and, in some cases, lengthy tribunal battles.
NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler, who resigned unexpectedly on Monday afternoon, said while his remit was apartments, there was enough evidence in poor unit works to suggest the problems exist in house construction too.
“I am seeing a sufficient number of defects emerging from class 2 buildings [apartments] coming from previously class 1 builders [houses] to say that they probably need to look at their space as well,” Chandler said.
The combination of unqualified trades, poor quality checks, and site supervisors who are thinly stretched over multiple projects was contributing to house building defects that were migrating into the apartment sector, Chandler said.
“I’ve currently five class 2 buildings where the builder on those projects had a class 1 background, and all five of those buildings exhibit defects that really say that maybe what they have done in their normal practice, and we’re calling them out and discovering them in class 2 defects,” he said.
Chandler has placed a Sutherland class 2 development on notice for serious defects, the builder having come from a background in house construction.
The Sutherland townhouse development that has come under question by Chandler for a series of serious defects.
“We’re seeing the practices that may exist in class 1 where you’ve got a supervisor across multiple projects so the trades are left to themselves,” he said. “What we’re seeing is the carry-over culture that the trades are largely left to themselves, and they’re not adequately supervised and so when the works are not performed properly, are not challenged.
“That would be an example of what we’ve seen on the Sutherland project where there has been, in my view, inadequate supervision and there’s been inadequate design.”
Mr Chandler put this down to builders and developers shopping for cheap labour regardless of qualifications.
“The people who’ve turned up with poor quality buildings are the people who have shopped Joe’s, who, they don’t care whether they were qualified or not,” he said.
Chandler said the developer of the Sutherland project came from a detached housing background.
“I don’t think that it is a lack of tradespeople per se. What’s happened is that we’ve devalued the value of a tradesperson.”
For Katherine Maiorca, the building of her dream home in Sutherland in 2019 turned into a nightmare when the process took 18 months to complete, which meant her family was almost made homeless when they exhausted their rental situation.
Even when they moved in, the house was plagued with defects that are still being fixed, the 44-year-old said.
Among the building issues were internal-grade gyprock installed in outdoor areas, water heaters installed incorrectly, missing downpipes and the bathroom’s floor waste flowing outwards rather than in, Maiorca said, adding they had had multiple supervisors on their building site.
Katherine Maiorca and her children Imogen, Nicholas and Sammy in front of their family home in Sutherland which took 18 months to build.Credit:James Alcock
“We spent three years finding error after error,” Maiorca said, after her case ended up in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal to get the problems fixed.
“It almost financially ruined us, we settled on [the build taking] a year, we were out for more than 18 months and now going through this fighting to fix things is not fair.”
An example of a non-compliant box gutter.
Tyrrells Property Inspections founder, architect and building consultant Jerry Tyrrells said while the majority of house construction was done reasonably well, there were knowledge gaps between trades that, if fixed, could avoid common and expensive defects.
“I have to say at least 95 per cent of Australian construction is satisfactory … but that’s not to say we’re not spending too much money on avoidable problems,” he said. “It’s still costing $20 billion in loss and rework across Australia in rework and completion and then there’s the social cost on top of it, which is huge.”
Tyrell said while quality assurance can help, knowledge was key and part of the Home Building Compensation Fund should go back into better training of trades.
He also said there was not enough continuity between the trades on construction sites either.
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