Dream home nightmares

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Several Officer first-time home owners’ incomplete houses are up to 50 weeks out of contract with a Langwarrin-based building company.

Some Pro-struct Property Group houses remain half-built, while others do not have so much as a concrete slab after almost two years of “excuses” and “unexplained delays”, clients say.

Residents have told the Gazette that the home and land packages were sold to them through Turnkey Homes’ display homes based in Cranbourne East, with no mention of Pro-struct until the signing of the contract.

Jenny and Tony Colvin’s Henrietta Avenue property in Officer remains a shell and is yet to enter the ‘fixed’ or ‘completion’ stages of its construction.

Ms Colvin said Pro-struct had been described to her as the parent company and that Turnkey Homes was a sales arm.

“Building works began in January last year. Our house should have been completed by last August. It is still not complete and we are 48 weeks out of contract,” Ms Colvin said.

“Over the last two years we have made numerous calls to Pro-struct and sent many emails. We have repeatedly asked to speak with the directors but they have not responded.

“Communication with anyone at Pro-struct is poor at best. We are not the only customers in this position with Pro-struct.

“On the way back from my husband’s father’s funeral, we passed the site and talked to the bricklayers.

“About 10 minutes later, I had received an invoice for the lock-up stage, so we refused to pay because we knew it hadn’t been completed.”

Ms Colvin said Pro-struct had attributed the delays to the late land title which the company said had put it behind schedule.

“The land was due to be released and settled in May, but wasn’t until September. But all the other houses in our street started popping up.

“They can’t use that as an excuse. If anything, it gave them four months to get their permits up to date. It should have worked in their favour.”

The couple lodged a complaint against Pro-struct to Consumer Affairs in July last year, which Ms Colvin said achieved little but bi-weekly email contact with updates that she described as “inconsistent”.

Berwick resident Bridget Scott also purchased an Officer-based home and land package through Pro-struct two years ago.

She is now 49 weeks out of contract.

“It’s hard to plan your future. I’ve been working two jobs to meet both my rent and mortgage payments, working long hours and picking up weekend shifts,” Ms Scott said.

“I have two weeks to foreclose on my loan but my 12-month construction loan expired last year. They’ve given me one month’s extension, so I don’t even know what happens after that.

“In May this year I was told that my move-in date would be 10 June but that didn’t happen. Nobody bothered to contact me. What if I’d paid for a moving truck or taken time off work to move in? There’s just no care.

“Because I’m renting at the moment, I’m supposed to give a month’s notice. But I can’t trust when Pro-struct tell me the house will be finished. I’m on my own. It’s a single income. If I did give a month’s notice, I’d be homeless.

“Since buying my land on Egerton Street, Officer, all the other houses have gone up around us and mine and the other nine or so Pro-struct properties in the vicinity aren’t finished and some are empty blocks that have never been started.

“I know one couple has actually moved into their half-finished home without benchtops and cornices.”

Ms Scott said she was aware of about 15 other people who had purchased home and land packages through Turnkey Homes and Pro-struct, including about nine near her Officer property.

She said most had cancelled their contracts and she knew of two people who had, after much persistence, managed to get their deposits back.

Berwick resident Kate Sharp said she considered herself “one of the lucky ones” as she terminated her contract before a slab was laid at her Simon Avenue site in Officer.

“I’m yet to get my deposit back and, to be honest, I don’t see it happening,” the 29-year-old said.

“As a first-time buyer, this was meant to be a solid investment. As it turned out, it wasn’t.”

The firm’s lawyer Lance Guymer responded on behalf of Pro-struct Property Group’s directors.

“We are instructed this (Jenny Colvin’s) project is at fixing stage, our client is waiting for that payment and anticipates completion within approximately six weeks,” Mr Guymer said.

“Bridget Scott’s home is completed and the occupancy permit is about to be issued, our client expects handover to take place shortly.

“Our client Pro-struct Property Group Pty Ltd has been involved in the construction of homes in Victoria for over 20 years, its directors have vast experience in the area and take pride in their work and delivering quality homes to customers.

“Unfortunately it is the nature of the industry that delays can often occur through issues which are very difficult for a builder to control, such as delays in the release of land during subdivision stage, shortages and difficulties with subcontractors. The staff of our client, including site supervisor, are regularly in contact with Ms Colvin and Ms Scott.”

Avoiding home traps

Barrett Walker Lawyers solicitor Tristan Weston said that for most people, building a home was the largest financial investment they would make in their lifetime.

“It is important that you look beyond the high-pressure sales pitch, the glossy brochure and the perfectly presented display home and understand all of the fine print in the contract,” he said.

“If you don’t understand everything in the contract you should not sign it.

“Many building contracts can easily exceed 100 pages in length and most contain damages clauses in favour of the builder that can penalise the home owner for breaches of the contract up to 20 per cent of the contract value.”

Mr Weston said there are a number of steps future buyers can take before signing a contract with a builder including:

i) Checking the builder’s eligibility for domestic building insurance at the Victorian Managed Insurance Authority website.

ii) Searching whether the builder has been found to have engaged in misconduct via the Victorian Building Authority website.

iii) Searching the VCAT Building and Property case list to see if the builder has been taken to VCAT by a dissatisfied client or regulatory body via Austlii.

iv) Paying a small fee to an online information broker website to search whether the builder has been bankrupt, sued for breach of contract or defaulted on their legal obligations in the past.

v) Considering seeking legal advice prior to signing the contract.

Originally published at Pakenham Gazette or Cranbourne News.


About Alana Mitchelson

Alana Mitchelson is a journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow her on Twitter at @AlanaMitchelson.

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