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Sydney - Silicone Valley for Builders


"We have a problem with waterproofing in the bathroom. Would it be possible to fix it?"
"Yes, we can fix it. We will apply silicone."

"There is job to attach a roof to the terrace properly."
"Cool. We will do it by applying silicone."

"The window frame is installed without flashing."
"That’s OK. We will fix it with silicone."

"Bathroom doesn’t have any waterproofing."
"No worries. We will apply silicone."
...

I have talked to a building quality specialist during the most recent (third so far) inspection of the same property where builders can't rectify their lousy work.
The inspector said "it seems like builders in Australia build homes like it never rains here".

It’s not fair to all builders of Australia to state that the quality of their work is not up to any acceptable standard. For sure many builders are good professionals and do their job at the highest quality level.

However around 8000 complaints to NSW Department of Fair Trading per year about the bad quality home building is terrifying! It means that Department of Fair Trading has to deal with minimum of 40 complaints a day! From my personal experience the complaint may take more than three years to progress, which doesn’t guarantee successful resolution. A brief look at statistics suggests that the number of complaints is increasing:

http://www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au/biz_res/ftweb/pdfs/About_us/Publications/Annual_reports/Year_in_Review_1314.pdf

In addition to that, many people don't even bother submitting complaints to Department of Fair Trading and rectify defects at their own expense.
In my opinion, following factors (among others) contribute to promoting Sydney as a Silicone Valley:

1) Growing prices and high demand drive incentives for developers and builders to cut costs and build faster using cheaper materials and technologies and to omit important steps to do quality control during construction that cost money, but contribute to the building quality and safety and good living of the occupants when the building is complete.

2) Ability for the same people who do the job to certify their work. I have personally seen it when tradesperson comes to the site and declares that he can certify his own work. What is the value of certification then?

3) The process of defects rectification allows the builder to wait without any activity and do "testing" of the problem if the issue is complex and then apply just a patchwork here and there (using mighty silicone where it is useful or not) to pretend the problem is solved when really it’s just disguised.

Example. Department of Fair Trading orders some builder to fix waterproofing issue within two weeks and sets the deadline. The builder doesn’t even turn up to do anything within those two weeks and at the last day calls the property owner and requests home contents insurance to cover the costs of work to rectify the problem. The owner says "No", because it’s the builder’s responsibility and statutory warranty and builder "agree" on a new date to come and fix the problem. This date is already after two weeks that is ordered by Fair Trading. Also the new date doesn’t guarantee the builder will fix the issue as agreed and it may take up to several months until the problem is rectified. In this situation technically the builder is agreeing to do the job so for owner it is just waiting until the problem is resolved and not much you can do about it. So there is no responsibility for delaying the works and doing the work in a dodgy way.

4) There is no personal responsibility for incompetence for builders and their tradespeople. I see an effort to increase penalties for unlicensed work, but what about licensed builders and tradesmen who persistently under perform?

5) The reconciliation process set up by legal system is very painful, complex and lengthy. This is unacceptable, because it doesn’t help resolving the problem, but makes it even worse.

6) Majority of property owners who experience building defects that should be covered by statutory warranty, don’t usually spend time and effort on the process of rectification because of length, complexity and not guaranteed results and prefer to fix the issues at their own expense. Such attitude makes it easier for builders to do what they are currently doing, because they don’t have to worry about quality.

I think there is a growing need for implementation of quality control and enhancement framework for home building industry in Australia – especially in NSW where I live and witness the situation. We have much more interesting ideas to work on as a society rather than fixing lousy buildings with silicone.

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