When it comes to building inspections in commercial and domestic construction, the most astonishing finding is the blind trust in the builders and the owners with mist in their eyes throwing bags of money at a builder in the naïve hope that they will get what they paid for.

In truth most of them will (almost) but many don’t. Many are short changed – some seriously – and a few unlucky (or foolish) ones end up with a complete disaster, a bad job, a blown budget, wrecked health, and perhaps a ruined marriage. A few even die from stress.

How can otherwise completely sane people get it so wrong? I can only put it down to human nature. I have seen an apartment renovation quote written on a lunch bag and sealed with a handshake. Needless to say, the builder wasn’t registered, the job was abandoned and the owner lost his money. Another shopkeeper entered into a cost-plus contract where he had no means of checking who was on the job for how many hours. He was clueless regarding substantially inflated invoices that could never be verified or challenged.

It gets more serious. A recent estimate to rectify defects to defeat a final claim from a builder in liquidation on a 30-plus apartment block saw the builder soundly defeated. The occupied apartment building had undersized fire doors, incomplete smoke seals, missing fire collars, incomplete fire protection, unauthorised departures from design documentation and unauthorised substitutions (cost stripping). How this building got occupancy permit was a mystery. The building was a death trap and a disaster waiting to happen. Developers had no idea because no one was checking anything.

On another 30-plus apartment block, owners have been putting up with a chronically damp and leaking building for nearly a decade with the builder occasionally turning up with a silicone gun to “fix” the issue. Again, cost stripping was evident, with the builder departing from design drawings and detailing, and some architectural features simply omitted. Balconies were leaking and some units had floors replaced as many as four times.

Poorly constructed and incomplete fire separation walls are commonplace. If you live in an apartment, will you be sleeping easy tonight? Will you wake up tomorrow?

Inspections at the right times could prevent these sorts of problems, and more.

It comes down to misplaced trust in the builder and in the regulatory system, which should protect us but it does not. Trust is a blindfold and a builder’s reputation may be a mirage that could cost you dearly.

But it is not at all about trust. It’s about business. Your investment is your business and you can’t run a business on trust. Will your bank trust you to pay back your loan without making you sign mortgage documents?

Building is an on-site production system and it needs independent inspections and reviews at critical points. Ignore it at your peril. The wise treat these cases like a bank: check, verify, correct, enforce.

You ought to be able to trust building control, but the reality in Victoria says otherwise.

The math is simple: save hundreds of dollars by skimping on independent inspections and you stand to lose thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, and perhaps lot more than that.

  • All good points – but wouldn't be great for someone to finally fix the regulator. The Victorian Building Authority & Wynne have got away with destroying our regulatory building practises to 3rd world levels. It would be less risky buying an Indonesian grass hut than any purchase in Victoria.

  • The problem is as bad or perhaps worse in NSW. In my 30 unit building in Willoughby, the Strata Committee has documented nearly $2million in building defects, including exposed fire escapes and chases, missing water proofing and damp protection, single brick wallls where double brick is required, and faulty tile installation on patios. After years of negotiation and foot dragging by the builder, we have filled with the courts to recover rectification costs. Despite its shoddy record, the builder submitted another property for an property industry award and won. We need both local government regulators and the property industry to lift their games.

    • Several years ago the NSW Office of Fair Trade had a special licence work category for Building Consultants. They then got rid of it so anyone can bestow themselves with that title. Most recently the Minister, Victor Dominello, backflipped on his previous decision to follow other Australian states and territories by abolishing the occupational licensing requirement for hairdressers. He decided that it was a far more important consumer protection issue to have a good $50 hairdo than ensuring the state supply compliant, safe and amenable $1,000,000+ home and apartment buildings. Good thinking Victor!

  • All these problems are well known and have been ignored for years. Successive governments – both Labor and Liberal – have failed to take appropriate action in Victoria and are complicit in this disaster. I am afraid that it will probably Lacrosse mark 2 with deaths for any real action to be taken by politicians who should be taking steps to protect public safety. However, until then the gravy train continues for the dodgy builders who abound in the construction industry.
    The city apartment where I lived while we renovated our property had major defects: windows the body corporate instructed should not be opened due to the possibility that the window might fall out and drop on an unsuspecting pedestrian below. When there were high winds, the windows whistled like kettle in your bedroom. I have two work colleagues who have purchased with apartments riddled with water problems, resulting in flooding and mould growing inside their apartments. Given the many examples of buildings failure to comply with essential safety measures and building surveyors signing off on non-compliant building, many apartments are death traps. Knowing what I know now, I would never stay in an apartment again.

  • If you think hiring a professional is expensive wait until you hire an amateur! Wynne, Digby both crooked, out of their depth? Sadly, only a matter of time before a catastrophe.

  • We had a problem with the workforce in building little cottages.
    Overnight we have gone from building cottages to building very detailed buildings that need every part done right; when we do not have enough people in the industry who can read and write.
    I remember a three storey apartment building that had every element done as if it was a water fountain. Water came through the roof, the walls and even the ground floor. The builder and the trades did not understand anything about how a building functions, or left the thinking to someone else. The sad thing was the Architect and the Engineer created designs that were begging for problems to happen.
    There are many good people in the building industry but not enough to meet the demand for quality.
    There are many quality jobs everywhere, I have to restrain myself from kissing the hands of some people for their fine workmanship and efforts. A good building looks new forever.
    The problems start on the "drawing board" with complex detailing that do not have a tolerance for material and the skill levels of our workforce. Detailed and complex work needs twice or three times the money, but every body pretends it can be done with less.
    Fire rating of buildings that is done by the most unskilled parts of the workforce has to end. We need skilled and responsible people to supervise the construction of buildings. A builder does not belong in an office.
    No inspections for fire rating is a nightmare; as is taking the CSIRO out of the building industry.
    The political system is about short cuts and about the next election; not about creating foundations for a nation.
    Undermining education of the Australian workforce is Government policy in every state.

  • I agree Branko. Owners are trusting, just as the Govt intended. CAV, etc. the messengers of spin – pretending 'warranties' and 'guarantees' exist. If never involved in building, owners are thus forced into ignorance. They would not throw their money away if they KNEW the high risks and most would opt not to build – or buy buildings erected in the last 25 years. No information is available for prospective owners to check on builders, with past histories all hidden – google search and they are nowhere to be found, or try the Austlii List where most VCAT cases, even when a 'Final Hearing' happened, these not put up for anyone to see! In short, it is impossible to do 'buyer beware' homework and Govt policy is to NOT protect owners. But paying for a consultant is very problematic. Many have no qualifications or any 'registration' – they are not required, and anyone can become an 'inspector'/'consultant'. In my own case there were three 'consultants', none registered as anything in 'building'. This means I could hang out a shingle today – and as it happens I do actually know quite a lot about building! However, many operating individually or as a franchisee (hundreds of these across the country) have never been on a building site! Yesterday a cook or cleaner! Added to this, the 'registration' process is meaningless and a registered 'builder' is a guarantee of nothing. In your example you pointed out the mystery as to how that Building was awarded an OP, but in the industry it is called "the Surveyor is a God" – many are in the pocket of the cowboy 'builder'. Mystery equals money, non-compliance 'certified compliant'! All comments here are accurate and Charles' comment on non-education as Govt policy may be the most disturbing.

  • I've just spent a week of unpaid work for a friend investigating why his 83yr old mother's single storey brick veneer unit, built 10yrs ago, is cracking. Turns out the developer elected to go owner builder employing a "mate" who was an unregistered builder. They cut corners at every turn, from the documentation to the construction. The cost to put the developer into liquidation and make a claim on the builder's warranty through VCAT, is approximately $30k. The Engineer is dead and in any case his incorrect classification of the soil type doesn't mean he wasn't compliant with the law so there is little recourse to professional indemnity. The architectural drawings were shamefully minimal, but the law seems to allow a novice builder to build off these. The building surveyor outsourced inspection to a sub contractor, who missed building mistakes and omissions, but will be hard to pursue because so many of the problems are below ground or covered up and the destructive investigations are prohibitive. The only winners will be the lawyers and the "professional winesses".

  • Thank you all for your responses. Massive steps need to be taken to fix our building industry and its not going to happen quickly and perhaps not in my lifetime and perhaps never ( because of lack of political will and resistance from vested interests with their snouts in the drink) and I am an optimist. Apart from fixing regulations and enforcement, better training, we also need to shift customer's public opinion for them to realise that their investment is their business and treat it as such.
    Since the government is unable and unwilling to protect consumer, consumers will grow old waiting or they can be proactive and take steps to protect themselves. My experience based on four stage inspections during build: pre slab, frame, pre plaster and pre final together with pre contract review indicates it is a sweet point between price and value. It by no means is a silver bullet for everything and there are still blind spots but overall it has worked for my clients with us generally getting from a-z with minimum of fuss, resolving issues as we go.
    There are still dangers around and as Anne says there are not too many really good consultants around so a due diligence is required but with a bit of homework you will find one.

  • I notice that no-one has mentioned the 2 largest problems with obtaining independent building consultant inspection; namely: 1. Virtually none of them has anywhere near a thorough definition of defect (and remember defects is what they are looking for), and 2. Each has a mind-boggling list of disclaimers to do with limiting access and what the report covers (via the pathetic Codes AS 4349 series for Inspection of Buildings)… which when added together mean that most building consultants end up finding less than 25% of the actual defects in the buildings… if that.

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