If you are building, then you are paying your builder handsomely, so you could be forgiven for thinking you have paid for a good ticket. So what if - as often is the case - you have the feeling that instead you are getting a donkey ride?

At the most basic level, a building contract is two promises: the owner’s promise to pay in exchange for a builder’s promise to build.

I have been involved in hundreds of building contact disputes over the last decade and a half and can attest that owner’s promise to pay is seldom broken, but overwhelmingly the builder’s promise is. It’s the case of under delivering on the promise, and builders often get away with it. So what happens?

To answer that, we need to consider the incidence building defects. Fundamentally, a building defect is a failure to meet reasonable expectations of functionality and of aesthetic appearance. For example, brickwork that is structurally perfectly functional will nevertheless be deemed defective if it is face brickwork and its appearance is outside allowable tolerances. Face brickwork that is within tolerances will nevertheless be defective if it is of a lesser standard than display home brickwork (DBCA1995 div 6).

To understand the problem, we need to view building as an on site production system. It should have a system of supervision planning and control to prevent errors, and a quality control system to catch, review and correct any errors.

This is all good, but economics often gets in the way. The cold hard facts are that production and quality control systems cost a significant amount of money, and there is a temptation to skimp on costs. There is also temptation in chasing profits by taking on a larger volume of work until a builder and those tasked with overseeing the work are spread out too thin.

So we may have inadequately trained building supervisors, overloaded and pushed to the brink where they do little more than just get to the next progress payment as fast as they can regardless of poor quality. We also may have subbies so squeezed on price that they no longer care nor have any loyalty to the builder. Many times I have watched building supervisors walk past glaring defects alongside their area construction managers without caring. When challenged, they try to justify poor workmanship even though they would not accept it in their own home.

As a builder myself, I understand that in any production system there will be defects (you cannot watch everyone all the time), but in a well-structured control and QA system the incidence of defects is contained to random occurrences.

Sadly, what we often wind up dealing with on job sites is a failure on a monumental scale – no control or QA system to speak of, and incidence of defects on a wholesale system failure scale.

This has happened partly because of unchecked profit greed and partly because our building control system does not really enforce the legislation we have. Builders know it; they know they can play with impunity. Many make a profit killing on under delivering on specification, workmanship, construction time and customer service.

You know we have a sick system when under delivering is a part of a business strategy. Systematic under delivery is nothing less than a fraud and is abetted by failure of building control.

Without devaluing work of many good and reputable builders that do deliver, it’s important to note that for your good ticket you could get a donkey ride instead.