Worthless buildings and worthless building guarantees

Kerre McIvor writes

Within a year or so, the husband and I will downsize our home and our lives, like so many other baby boomers.

We want to make life simpler and that means giving up the much-loved family home and looking for an apartment.

We don’t want a house and a garden that needs constant attention. Like thousands of silver-haired ones before us, we want a low-maintenance, lock-up-and-leave to give us more freedom when it comes to our weekends.

But I’m very nervous about leaving our home. Not because of the wonderful memories we’ve made here but because the little cottage is bombproof. It was first registered in 1898 and it is constructed of hand-hewn kauri.

Sure, we had to renovate it a few years ago but that was only the bit that had been tacked on to the original cottage in the 60s.

As the builders showed me, all the work done in the 19th century had well and truly stood the test of time.

Now, as we begin the job of looking for our next home, the ghost of leaky buildings lurks over my shoulder. The evidence of systemic failure within the building industry is all around me – I drive past four low-rise apartment buildings to get to my home. Three are covered in plastic while builders tear out the rot and try to make them liveable.

And now we have a housing shortage that has prompted exhortations from the Government and council for developers to build more homes, quickly. That has put pressure on all sectors of the building industry and that scares me.

There aren’t enough qualified tradies, there are time pressures and manpower and materials are being sourced from all around the world.

That isn’t a problem provided the people and the products are up to scratch.

But news this week the steel being used to hold up four bridges on the Waikato Expressway wasn’t good enough did nothing to dispel my concerns.

Apparently Fulton Hogan and HEB Construction, the contractors, were told the price they paid for the 16,000 tonnes of seismic steel they imported from China was too good to be true but they went for the cheapest bid nonetheless. Of course they did. And now they’re paying the price.

So how do I know, when I visit beautifully designed, luxuriously appointed apartment building showrooms that the construction is sound and the materials are compliant? I’m relying on other people to do the right thing and, as we’ve seen with the leaky building crisis, they don’t always do that.

We’re about to put our life savings into what will probably be our last home and we can’t afford to get it wrong.

I would love the building to come with a warrant of fitness – one I could read and understand and one where every person involved in the construction took responsibility for their part of the process. The suppliers guarantee their materials; the tradies guarantee their work.

I couldn’t give a rat’s bottom about imported German kitchenware and Italian light fittings. I just want the building to stay upright and for it not to rot, something my Grey Lynn cottage has been able to do for 120 years. I doubt whether the buildings built today will be able to stand the same test of time.

Even apartments, which should be nothing more than a concrete box with some plumbing, electrical and Internet aren’t up to scratch with noisy, leaky and drafty apartments turning into unsellable millstones.

If there is any kind of housing crisis, it is a crisis of confidence where buyers are unable to ascertain the true quality of a building until it is too late to do anything about it.

As for guarantees, we all know how the building industry has gotten around that since forever.  The building company starts a new company every year and liquidates the current incantation.  So when 10 years down the track someone calls on the guarantee, the company that built your home no longer exists.


– Kerry McIvor, NZ Herald

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