If our local industry is not forced to change now, an outside force will inevitably make the change for us.

This truth bomb hit me during a mid 90’s presentation to the multi-millionaire owner of one of Australia’s largest ‘affordable’ home builders. I proudly tabled a value-for-money, product guaranteed waterproofing proposal. I got floored with the response:

“My obligations as a builder are for seven years to ensure the houses are defect free. I employ a maintenance guy for $35K/year to go to all these homes that have leaks and he takes a tube of silicone and keeps plugging up these leaks until the 7 years is up. After that period, it’s no longer ‘builder defects’, so there is no sense in me spending more money upfront for every house I build.”

This remains my building industry ‘welcome-to-reality’ moment.

Because a major home building CEO thought liked this, it immediately explained why his sites were full of cheap materials, installed by very average workmanship, with no pride in the final product. There was one simple objective; to make the easiest money off the poor bastard that got lulled into a price for a home that would soon become a money pit.

This exemplifies the multitude of similar attitudes I’ve encountered around the country over the years. Managing client problems for seven years, effectively remains the industry definition of after-sales customer care. We are building homes for families the way cars, phones and computers are made - with built in obsolescence. While homes should be a generational thing, they also consume a lot of materials and energy to build in the first place.

Why are we accepting mediocrity?

The situation throws up a lot of questions about how we have reached this point where near enough is good enough. Can we blame our tradies when they are being screwed down on jobs, while their costs rise?

Is this why the quality of materials are often barely satisfactory?

Is this why old methods and materials are still used, because ‘green-friendly’, ‘energy efficient’ or ‘innovative’ is perceived as higher cost?

Are we oblivious to quality - and only equate it to premium constructions?

My waterproofing businesses has led me around the globe. In 2004 I spent time on Frankfurt building sites in Germany, and was blown away the quality of concrete & masonry works.

The attention to detail with all 2nd fix trades right across windows, tiling, doors, plastering was astonishing. And this was before appliance installations. Rock solid. First class.

I’d concluded these were premium housing projects. But I was wrong. The builder was targeting first home investors and student housing rentals as affordable living. How could he compete building with this level of quality?

Double glazed windows, double door seals, quality waterproofing membranes in wet areas and kitchens, floor to ceiling tiling in wet areas, sealed outdoor pavers and additives in the internal renders. This was all costs without compromise, but how was it affordable?

He pointed to other sites in the street. They were all built the same way. What he was building was fairly average by German building standards. After telling him my story and Australia’s seven year liability, his response stills rings in my ears.

“German builders don’t work around ensuring no defects for 5 years, we work to ensure the building lasts 50 years. If someone claims faulty defects against what we build, it is our reputation, so we ensure the building lasts as long as we’ve been here.”

Germany builders are liable for defects for only five years from their handover date. What they come with is a completely different mindset. Superior quality because quality is a given and is demanded. Shortcuts and short term are not part of the psyche.

After what I’ve seen in Europe, we cannot claim building a house is cheap here. The reality is, Australia is exceptionally expensive across many areas and does not reflect the actual cost. The pricing reflects what the market is prepared to pay.

And, currently, that price is very high when you factor in sub-standard materials and workmanship.

Do we understand the real cost of building? Not just the upfront build cost. But the ongoing cost to maintain/repair. The actual cost to the buyer, communities and environment? The amount of reworking, new materials to repair defects and ongoing maintenance is substantial and is a cost, that in the long term, is one that we cannot afford.

Nothing will happen until tougher regulations force the industry to demand buildings to last. And that the market demands more value, by understanding what ‘great’ looks like. With the current mindset, mediocrity stays alive and kills progress.

Ultimately, I believe that if the industry does not change, it will be severely disrupted by smarter global competitors, because a time will arrive, when energy prices become a greater concern, use of materials will be more heavily scrutinised and other market forces will conspire to lift the standards.

If our local industry does not begin the change now or not forced to, then inevitably an outside force can end up making the change for them, fuelled by disgruntled consumers and customers who know they are getting short changed.

You can see this happening in many different industries, so sooner rather than later, the same will happen to the construction industry. The time is now to build without compromise.