The best endeavours to prevent problems will never guarantee that the building will proceed without any problems. Each state has building tribunals set up under the various government consumer bodies e.g Office of Fair Trading (NSW). In the end the builder will have to be accountable to a tribunal set up to allow owners a fair hearing. Details on taking actions are available from these departments.
The following guiding principals for building problems and disputes will minimize the stress and reduce delays in getting back on track.
1. Keep the lines of communication open Most disputes are complicated by a communication breakdown. No matter how bad things get you should endeavour to keep the discussion constructive. Do not blame the builder’s staff directly. You do not want them to see themselves as the problem – even if they are. You want the builder to focus on the possible solutions to a building problem not defend themselves personally. Do not allow personality conflicts to arise if at all possible. Take time to cool down and phone back later. It may be the builder’s fault but pointing that out will not help getting it fixed. Try and control discussions by asking appropriate questions rather than dictating your terms.
2. Remember that the builder or his staff also have bad days Friday afternoons and Monday mornings are not good times to raise problems unless they are critical. Do you really have to discuss it today or can a written note serve the same purpose? It is easier to follow-up a previous note than try and explain things afresh when the hearer doesn’t really want to hear it again. The last phone call the builder had may have been from a client berating them or to a supplier or tradesman letting them down.
3. Document all discussions in a construction diary All contract documents should be kept handy in a construction file. Add copies of all correspondence, variations and colour schedules in one place. Written confirmation to the builder of any instructions on concerns will greatly assist in future disputes. Keep a log of any discussions including date and person you spoke to and a brief summary of the discussion including specific things agreed to. This will keep your attention focused in future follow up and will assist greatly in future legal representations if needed.
4. Confirm all requests in writing Building contracts are written documents and any matters that relate to them should also be in writing. The contract sets out specific time frames for certain notices and instructions to be provided. You should read the contract first before taking any action. It is always easier to refer to past correspondence than past discussions as there is less scope of ambiguity. Subsequent insurance claims or tribunal hearings demand written communication to have taken place.
5. Stay objective Principals can be expensive to win and will complicate the dispute process. Always remember that you only have one real objective – to get the home you have paid for finished on time. Don’t try to win on other issues ahead of this objective. When an issue is likely to delay the building and not add to the finished quality – maybe you should drop it before it gets out of hand and affects the major objective. Always remember that houses are “hand made”. Blemishes and imperfections are almost unavoidable. Ask yourself “Will this item affect my enjoyment and the future value of the home?”