The unfolding investigation into severe defects across four new apartment blocks within the Lachlan Line complex at Macquarie Park has highlighted a broader issue of substandard new constructions affecting the real estate scene both in New South Wales and across Australia. This situation comes at a time when the country is grappling with a fierce rental market crisis, putting the younger and more vulnerable segments of the population at risk of trading one set of problems for another when opting for brand-new apartments.
Michelle May, principal of Michelle May Buyers Agents, expressed concerns over the allure of escaping the rental market, which may lead hopeful homeowners into the damaging pitfall of purchasing overly new or off-the-plan properties. “The Australian Dream may be out of reach for many, but it doesn’t mean that if given the choice, we wouldn’t gladly swap our two-bedroom apartments for a house with a yard. Those who choose to buy apartments do so primarily because they’re the only type of property within their reach,” May pointed out.
The cautionary tales of the Opal Tower and Mascot Tower, where residents faced nearly four years of adversity with authorities before having their strata debts and mortgages nullified to restart elsewhere, serve as stark warnings. Those not encumbered by a mortgage in similar situations, however, found themselves considerably short-changed.
A recent government survey in New South Wales disclosed that over half of the newly registered buildings since 2016 have been plagued by at least one serious defect, with repairs averaging costs of $331,829 per building. The study by the Strata Community Association NSW identified waterproofing and fire safety as the most common severe problems, with approximately one in ten buildings also exhibiting structural and enclosure issues.
The trend of rising complaints to NSW Fair Trading, touching on poor construction quality, property damage or loss, deceitful conduct, and unlicensed traders, underscores the construction industry’s ongoing crisis. With thousands of construction businesses folding—effected by a 75% increase in failures over the past year as per ASIC figures—the construction sector has experienced its highest insolvency level in a decade.
Despite the NSW Building Commission’s efforts to address the issue since its establishment in December 2023 by expanding its staff to manage the growing workload, consumers remain at the mercy of a beleaguered industry. Those purchasing new houses are often left to contend with unsatisfactory work, expensive repairs, or even legal disputes.
In light of these developments, there’s a shift towards heritage properties. Due to their craftsmanship, location in established communities, and potential for appreciation, these older properties are seeing an increase in value. Unlike modern apartment complexes, older buildings typically feature lower strata fees and individualistic designs, offering more space and flexibility for renovations.
The saga of faulty and unsellable properties leaves a trail of devastated lives, with little indication that property developers will be held accountable for this egregious form of misrepresentation. May suggests, “A discontinuation of private certification, where builders and developers pay for their projects to be signed off on, a clear direct conflict of interest, would be a far more effective way to stop these developments from ever getting to the stage where structural engineers are calling for immediate remedial works as they assess buildings in danger of collapse.”
This leaves prospective property buyers in a precarious position, navigating a treacherous market on their own in the hunt for a place they can call home. Amidst developer greed and governmental complicity, the journey towards homeownership remains fraught with obstacles and uncertainty.