The Great Australian Dream: Spin, Lies and Fantasy 9

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Monday, September 21st, 2015
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Victoria’s ‘Great Australian Dream’ industry is supported and stimulated by spin, lies and fantasy.

The building companies’ spin includes the ‘dream’ as a star fantasy feature. The standard slogans include ‘Build your Dream into Reality,’ ‘Create Your Dream Home,’ and ‘Turn Your Dream Home into Reality.’ Conjuring up aspirations, the ‘dream’ inspires the values of achievement and success, but its potency is as a persuasive ploy, primarily aped to attract beginner building clients.

For more than 250,000 Victorians each year, however, this ‘dream’ will prove to be a fallacy – one accompanied by enormous financial detriment, much distress and causing immense devastation to the lives of owners and their families.

The word ‘dream’ has become a classical choice in construction’s make-believe world of marketing. Acting like a magic magnet, it is a password proffering promise, asserting that the ‘undreamed of’ fairy-tale is feasible. Through the display homes, ‘castle in the air’ dreams are converted into ‘castles on the ground’ – the hitherto out of reach, made to seem reachable. The vision is tangible and touchable: many spacious rooms, multiple bathrooms, a dedicated home theatre and outdoor living with a stunning garden, structural plants and no weeds! It looks charming, seems tantalizing and for many, it proves irresistible. As for the many negative elements that nurture the building industry, these are all camouflaged, rendered invisible to even the most circumspect clients.

One dream-into-nightmare reality

Alison and Mark reckon they are "at least six figures down" because of the delays. Photo: Chris Hopkins

Alison and Mark reckon they are “at least six figures down” because of the delays.
Photo: Chris Hopkins

Mark and Alison Attard’s terrible tale appeared in The Age on August 16. Written by Clare Kermond, it was titled When your Dream Home becomes a Nightmare. Sadly, this family’s sinister story is all too familiar, with the warning of the ‘dream’ heralding an injurious outcome.

When they signed to build, Alison was pregnant with her third child. Since the home was to take less than a year to build, renting a place to live in seemed manageable “before their dream home was to be ready.” The baby is now nearly three years old and the Attards will still not be in the house for months.

“We felt going into it, what a great contract we have, we’ve got all this protection, we’ve done our homework,.” Alison recalled.

She added that they had signed with a registered builder “who came well recommended, made sure their contract included clauses for delays and checked that the builder had insurance.”

This is the same nightmarish story most owners relate.

The truth is that these owners did their homework to the extent that one can in such a shameful system. They also had the registered, insured builder – an ‘Award Winning Builder’ no less! The contract had been checked. But, the term ‘registered’ builder is meaningless. The ‘well recommended’ testimonials are often from the builder’s relatives or those doing the recommending are paid for their affirmation. Concerning the contracts, these favour the builder, making owners exceptionally disadvantaged, literally left helpless. And since the overwhelming majority of owners cannot ever claim the ‘warranty insurance,’ it is worthless.

Almost from day one, delays were generated. With the cowboys, this is the custom – a different take on ‘custom builders!’ A year on, when the builder had been paid 90 per cent of the money and the building should have been finished, the implications of the ‘dream’ they had been spun fully unfolded. Another year passed and the builder did no work. Again, this is the common scenario. Take most of the money and run – because you can!

As Kermond said, the couple’s “last three years were a horror story of delays, building problems, legal battles and hundreds of thousands of dollars that they’ll never see again.” From dream to despair, the full-scale nightmare is the irrefutable reality!

How the nightmares are facilitated

The alliance between Victoria’s building companies and the responsible Government officials has allowed builders to operate without restraint. Building companies have been allowed to manufacture spin, fabricate falsehoods and breach all building and consumer laws. In fact, the Government departments and agencies have actively assisted in promoting the illusion of ‘consumer protection.’ Here are just a few of their achievements now on the public record:

  • ‘Arranging registration’ for builders when the majority should not have been ratified – with information on bad builders being virtually impossible to track down, including all reports on ‘registered cowboys’ from 2012 and 2013.
  • Building up a false sense of security regarding ‘regulatory compliance’ – Prue Digby, CEO of the VBA announced that audits are the VBA’s “core regulatory function” as if regulatory compliance is far more common than it actually is.
  • Stating in the VBA Annual Report of 2013-2014 that “The VBA has made it a priority to rebuild relationships with industry and consumers” and “Senior VBA staff have met regularly with industry and consumer groups” when in reality, many consumers feel let down.
  • Removing information from public access – the VBA has removed all chronicles of the 20 years of the Building Commission and deeming the Building Commission’s history now to be “irrelevant.”
  • CAV has reported on ‘consumer satisfaction’ in its annual reports, when these findings were contradicted by findings from the Auditor General in 2013!
  • Expenses for VBA’s 2013-2014 operations were $42 million, the highest ever, with Digby saying the costs were for “delivery of regulatory development activities, practitioner registration, compliance activities, building dispute resolution, building industry research, informing consumers and industry and internal systems improvements.” It is incumbent on us to ask, was this money well-spent, and did it actually lead to strong regulatory and protection measures to serve consumers?

The fairy tale dream has propped up the industry and rewarded plenty of beneficiaries. But the dream has been packaged falsely, delivering delusion in place of the ‘dream’ and inflicting nightmares on innocent, defenceless consumers.

Despite their duty of care, officials – wittingly or not – were collaborators in the spin, lies and fantasy, conning consumers into buying what was not really for sale. They have let down those for whom they were responsible, and ultimately they are culpable.

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9
  1. Jay

    That is a nice little hate rant that lumps all builders and construction companies into a single negative based on one example and blanket statements. Absolutely useless without any suggestions on improving actual problems or issues faced in the construction industry.

    • Mark Whitby

      Jay,

      I believe that example is one of well over 5000 similar stories Anne could write about. It might come across as a rant, but I wouldn't go about saying that because Anne has a heap of facts at her disposal as per her other articles if you've read them

  2. Certainly, there are many problems with Victoria's building regulatory system, as has been laid bare in various reports from the Ombudsman and Governor General. Most definitely, too, there are a lot of cowboys.

    However, I do think we have to be careful in demonising the industry and its regulators too much. Whilst there are no doubt a significant number of unscrupulous operators who cause genuine trouble for consumers, I'm sure the vast majority of builders and tradespeople do at least try to do the right thing and do the job properly.

    Likewise, whilst problems with the former Building Commission and current VBA are well documented, no doubt the majority of people working within these organisations do strive to do their job adequately and properly.

    With regard to the genuine cowboys, I wonder what the solutions are? That the industry has problems is well documented, but I wonder how we can get practical, workable solutions in place.

  3. Anne Paten

    Jay, I must respond to your comments. This article was not constructed on a "single negative". If this one case had been selected as the basis to generalize on owners' experiences and to show how the building industry operates, then your opinion of a "hate rant" may have been justified. But this is definitely not so! In your bid to negate, you have ignored the compelling evidence presented and on the public record. Your comments are in contradiction to what has been widely validated as legitimate fact. By contrast, this article’s narrative is founded on authentic actuality and established reliable facts accumulated from a wide body of evidence of genuinely trustworthy sources. The horrendous experience of the Attards, the trail of destruction that followed when the builder absconded and the injurious consequences for the owners, is sadly the reality for 40% of owners who sign to build in Victoria each year.
    Perhaps the truth seems too shocking for anyone to find credible? Perhaps the impact on so many lives is too difficult to fully comprehend? Or perhaps the truth has to be negated and denied publicly in the interest of propping up the industry, the dysfunctional ‘governance ind

  4. Graeme Doreian

    Great article Anne, more 'system' incompetence, with 'everyone covering for everyone' at the expense of the consumer.

    My Dad had the first display home on the Mornington Peninsula Victoria, being a second generation tradesman in the building industry he was disillusioned with the bosses he worked for over the years, and started his own business, doing EVERYTHING, working on the job, with his tradies, the paper work, mum supporting him, typing all the paperwork, no pre printed forms etc like now.

    My dad was asked to join the Master Builders Reg no 665, having to confirm numerous details of his experience, and with three other builders endorsing his membership. In those early 1960's it was an honour and privilege to join, not now anyone can join, with the legal system ensuring the builders are protected and the consumers ripped off in the majority of cases.
    Relevance any 'Tom, Dick or Harry can massage the' system' and be a builder, some with no trade experience, these are just managers, managers it appears, along with the Government system protecting each other with no conscience. The is 'no honour' in the whole system which is destroying people, keep up the good work Anne.

    • Brett Bates

      It's great to hear a success story and you can be very proud of your dads achievements in the cottage building industry. However, your comment "Any Tom, Dick or Harry can massage the' system' and be a builder, some with no trade experience, these are just managers, managers it appears, along with the Government system protecting each other with no conscience" is inaccurate. Back in the 1960's home construction design, materials and the trade skills involved were simple by comparison with today. Contract administration and the complexity of the legal and regulatory environment in which the housing sector operated were almost non-existent 50 years ago. Indeed, anyone could call themselves a builder. The trap that people still fall into is that their 'builder' may have a good grasp of a particular trade – usually carpentry in home building – but that won't necessarily make them a good builder! The failure listed in this article is all about the builders inability to 'manage' a construction program, acquire and allocate resources and act on contractual obligations including dispute resolution mechanisms. These are all 'high end' skills that are far removed from being competent in joining timber or sticking bricks together. In no way do I disrespect skilled building trades persons as they are vital components to the construction sector. But they are and will become much less important particularly as prefabrication technologies gain ground. Much work today is really site assembly, not construction. We have moved on and need a high quality, rigorous national training and licensing regime to make sure all builders are highly trained managers equipped to handle contemporary construction matters. We don't have that at the moment

  5. Martha

    No one should have to live the nightmare that these dodgy builders and what they are allowed to get away with! Where are our laws when we need them? Why are these builders allowed to still be registered? These builders are continually getting away with it and have friends in the trade that assist with all their lies by providing them with reports that are false! Mandatory inspections for every single stage of the builders work should be made a law in Victoria. This would be a big step in eliminating some of the nightmares consumers are living!!!

  6. lesley

    Obviously there are good builders in the building industry and I sincerely hope that when two of my children have finally saved up enough money to get a home loan to build their houses, they are lucky enough to get one of these good builders. I feel very sorry for the Attards and the situation they have found themselves in. Even if there was only one building disaster, that is one disaster too much. I would think that the good builders would also want problems in the industry to be seriously attended to, so that their good names and reputations were not tarnished by the cowboys that have been referred to in the article. One should be able to rely on the regulatory system that is currently in existence but from what
    I have read in the past, it would seem that it is not working or perhaps it is not enforced. If problems are not attended to by the appropriate authorities, then the problems get worse, not better. We need a strong building industry to help our economy, to have houses built that are going to last the test of time, just like my father's house did, to house the Attard's safely and all the other consumers just like them. I am going to downsize soon and I want to have faith in buying a new property, and hope that the person who has built it, built it with integrity and pride in their finished product.

  7. Mel

    Great article Anne, and most definitely not a hate rant. Unfortunately I have heard of, or know firsthand many stories similar to the Attards. The effect that bad builders have on homeowners and their families cannot and should not be discounted. Time to stand up!