Buyers buying apartments in Sydney will find it “almost impossible” to detect if their new home is faulty due to poor supervision and building culture, a new report has found.
The UNSW Sydney and University of Technology Sydney study reviewed strata schemes registered between 2008 and 2017 and found evidence of errors within 26 per cent of the schemes.
However, this probably underestimates the size of the problem, as the researchers noted that about 51 percent of the projects had flaws among layering schemes with more robust documentation.
The most common recorded errors were water problems, which researchers estimate are present in 42 percent of the better report schemes.
“Over the last 20 years, there has not been a thorough process of gathering information about the quality of buildings and documenting problems with buildings,” says lead report author and planning law expert Dr. Laura Crommelin.
“So at the moment it is almost impossible for an ordinary consumer to properly investigate what they are buying – and this is in a system based on the idea of ’buyer beware’.”
She noted that even the expert team of researchers had a hard time figuring out which projects had defects and which type raised issues of easy access for ordinary buyers.
“The drive to build more buildings faster has been a huge part of the urban planning orthodoxy for the last 20 years, not only in Sydney, but in all cities where the development of higher density rather than ongoing urban sprawl is seen as a way to deal with population growth,” she said.
“But with the pressure on speed and reduced costs and the trend toward deregulation, high-quality oversight and documentation may be among the first things to fall by the wayside.”
It comes after a building in southwest Sydney was almost evacuated due to concerns it could collapse.
An engineer described the Canterbury building as possessing serious structural defects, but Public Works Advisory has since said that there are.
Information available to sellers but not buyers
The researchers also found that where information is available, it was often easier to access for sellers than buyers.
And it’s a specific housing problem.
While the buyers of large commercial buildings are often powerful companies with the power to defend their own interests, the buyers in residential properties are individuals.
“In the apartment market, you have a very significant balance of power between the sellers – in this case developers – and the buyers, who are essentially a fragmented group of individual buyers,” Crommelin said.
“They are not coordinated, so there is a lot more room for them to either take advantage of or make decisions that are not in their best interest.”
The evacuations of Opal Tower and Mascot Towers in 2018 and 2019 led to the creation of the building commissioner’s office.
A found that 39 per cent of layer buildings in NSW have “serious faults”. Of those, only 15 percent had been reported to Fair Trading.
The building commissioner is tasked with reforming the construction industry, but Crommelin believes the government still needs to do more.
For example, developers should provide buyers with user-friendly building manuals, and the building inspection scheme requires significant reinforcement.
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