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Defects – a different perspective

There’s negativity in the strata industry at the moment with media coverage of the high-profile building defects; Opal Towers and more recently, Mascot Towers in Sydney.

But while it is difficult to comprehend the magnitude of emotion – not to mention the inconvenience and frustration – felt by owners and residents of these towers, it is also important to note building defects are not just found in apartment complexes.

“The same issues can happen for a house or an apartment, regardless of building type or size. But buying from a reputable developer or builder is key.

“A great tip as part of your research is to go to other properties by the developer or builder and inspect the quality of workmanship. Check the finishes and talk to residents if you can. These companies are in the market for the long haul, so their processes and systems most likely have been tried and tested in the marketplace,” says Lee.

While it didn’t make front page news, earlier this year a prominent home building advocacy service secured a significant victory after assisting a pensioner to resolve a building drama with his home.

The pensioner, who had mobility concerns, had faulty building work done to verandas in his home, where the balconies were not properly waterproofed and some of the material used to support the balconies was deemed “inappropriate for use”.

The result meant that not only was the homeowner unable to access these outdoor parts of his home, the builder’s subsequent attempts and failures to fix the issues, meant the homeowner had to constantly open his house to outsiders – years after the construction work should have ended.

Having negotiated with the builder on the pensioner’s behalf the advocacy service managed to get the builder to cough up a settlement in the homeowner’s favour 18 times higher than what was originally offered by the builder responsible.

In 2017, there was a case where a leaking roof was deliberately concealed by a property owner selling their house which was not picked up during the pest and building inspection. The sellers had painted the house just prior to putting it on the market, ensuring it was almost impossible to detect there was a leak.

When the potential new owners undertook a thorough inspection of the property, the issue was identified. In the end the old owners offered to repaint the ceiling but refused to fix the roof as they claimed it was a pre-existing condition.

Cases of this type are just some of the many defects in stand-alone housing that building advocacy services are being asked to assist with each year.

The truth is that while building defects in strata properties consumes much of the media’s attention, owing to the number of residents impacted, building defects are a common occurrence across all different types of housing stock – whether new builds or older established housing.

Whilst we are not condoning this and no doubt industry and government have a role to play in giving consumers greater peace of mind, it is the very nature of construction projects that at some stage failures in design, workmanship or materials will arise.

In stand-alone homes this may take the form of rotted wood, inadequate ventilation, poor drainage, failing heating and cooling systems or environmental hazards such as lead-based paint, high levels of carbon monoxide, toxic moulds, plumbing problems, or even asbestos. Electrical safety issues, water intrusion or roofing issues can also become an issue for new homeowners if not adequately investigated.

In apartment buildings, these may be waterproofing within the apartment, water penetration from outside, cracking to internal or external structures, tiling problems, lack of fire safety measures e.g. sprinklers with inadequate water pressure, defective plumbing, defective balcony balustrades, or inappropriate or incorrectly installed materials.

It is for this very reason that statutory warranties are in place to cover defective works for both stand-alone homes and apartment buildings, though cover varies from state to state.

The only sure-fire way for prospective buyers to go into a purchase with peace of mind is by undertaking due diligence prior to signing on the dotted line.

This means checking carefully the sale contract which contains all pertinent information about the property, including where potential easements are located and listing any possible encumbrances.

It also pays to check with the real estate agent prior to purchase about the history of the property.

However, by far the best money any potential homeowner will spend is to undertake a pre-purchase building inspection to get independent and objective advice about the physical state of your potential home as without expert knowledge of construction methods and materials, many defects in stand-alone homes are easily concealed.

For apartment purchases, whilst a building inspection report will only cover off your apartment and not the common areas, it’s still a good idea to get an independent assessment.

A strata inspection report will include minutes from recent Annual General Meetings which will potentially highlight any areas worth further investigation such as defects and remedial works. You can then ask to see any specialist (e.g. engineering) reports that have been done or mentioned in the minutes.

It is advisable to engage a good conveyancing solicitor who will be able to provide further guidance on critical areas and help decipher contracts that what can be in the hundreds of pages.

If you’re buying into a bigger established building, it’s worth befriending the onsite building manager as they are the eyes and ears of the building.

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