After you placed the deposit, followed the progressive payments, signed up for a 30-year housing loan, and finally collected the key to your new home, a big surprise is awaiting for you – the bare unit is totally different from the showflat you can recall.
Wait, there are more surprises on the way.
You inspect the walls, the ceilings, the floors, the windows, the doors and the kitchen/bathroom fittings. You know that something is wrong. But you just don’t know where and can’t tell how.
You know that you must start renovation work as soon as possible in order to move in two months later. You are also told that you only have 1-year warranty period to report all the defects. The developer say they only accept lodging of defects in an online system.
How to report when you have no clue about defects? Is there a checklist given by the developer? Anyone can show you what a defect means? How can a layman like you describe a defect in technical terms?
How serious is the home defect problem?
Do you know that there are as many as 400 to 600 defects on average in any newly TOP unit?
These defects range from scratches and damages on the surface, unevenness, misalignment, malfunctions or missing items.
Besides the aesthetic aspect, many defects have far more serious consequences.
Remember the story of the DBSS project Trivelis in Clementi? Residents sent over 300 emails to complain about defective stove knobs, rusty dish racks, stain-prone kitchen countertops, poor quality laminate flooring, shattered shower glass panels, wardrobe without shelves, rusty lift doors and flooding corridors.
In 2011, a third of the owners at Emery Point complained about leakage of rain water. The car park had 280 points of leakage and the swimming pool was built with dangerous sharp edges. The residents decided to go to court to sue eight parties involved in the defect dispute, including the developer, main contractor, sub-contractors and architect.
Two years ago, residents of the Seaview Condo sued the developer, the main contractor, the architect and the electrical engineers for $32 million for all the defects in the project.
What went wrong here?
Do you notice that we seldom hear complaints about bad quality properties in the olden days?
There are a few reasons why there are so many home defects in newly TOP projects these days:
1) Unskilled foreign workers;
2) Poor workmanship;
3) Tight completion deadlines; and
4) Low building quality standards.
More explanations can be found in Ku Swee Yong’s book Weathering A Property Downturn – Defensive Plays for Real Estate Investors.
Today, we see higher incidences of residential properties completed with shoddy workmanship, even within prestigious developments in the luxury districts. Some defects are not obvious at the TOP handover and may remain hidden for more than a year. For example, sloppy waterproofing will lead to seepage or sewerage issues and poor installation of dry partition walls will reveal cracks after more than a year.
Bad workmanship is not just getting more apparent in private residential developments. Some of the recent incidents in public housing discussed in Parliament included: defects and design flaws in DBSS (Design, Build and Sell Scheme) flats such as Centrale 8, Pasir Ris One and Trivelis, and BTO (Build-To-Order) flats in Chua Chu Kang, Pungol and Bukit Panjang. Residents complained about overly narrow corridors, cracked walls, plaster slabs falling off the façade of HDB blocks, uneven flooring, leaks and overflowing toilets.
Perhaps we should postpone our building awards to be handed out only after the homes are completed, and have proven to provide comfort and enjoyment for the residents for more than 10 years. Government agencies, designers, architects, developers, builders and property managers need to raise their standards on build quality for investors and home buyers.
Helping homebuyers to help themselves
Inspecting, lodging and rectifying home defects is a time-consuming and labor-intensive job. Tan Wee Kwang, Director of Absolute Inspection, told me that he only managed to have 2 off days during Chinese New Year in the whole calendar year.
There are too many poor quality projects, too many TOP units waiting to be inspected, too many defects found in a TOP unit, and too many owners who have no clue.
There will be a total of 9,415 new private residential properties expected to be completed by the second half of 2017. Besides private homes, there are new HDB and BTO flats waiting for their TOP soon. And we are not even counting the resale properties that need to be inspected too.
The only solution to solve this problem in the long-term is to educate home buyers and property investors about construction quality and building defects.
When I worked with Wee Kwang for our first Home Defects Inspection Workshop last year, we made the mistake of doing the workshop in a newly-TOP project. We were planning to go for a site visit in one of the units to show the participants the ‘real’ defects.
While we were going through the presentation content in the Function Room, the residents saw our slides through the full-length glass windows. Many stood outside to “join” the workshop. Some “crashed” into the workshop and asked to sit in. A few came to say that they were facing all the problems we listed there and asked us for help.
We will be holding the Home Defects Inspection 1-Day Workshop again on August 26. We have learned the lesson and this time the workshop will be held at the National Library Building so that we will be able to learn comfortably and peacefully through the defect photos and videos.
Sign up early and don’t miss it again this time!