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.