New site to shame dodgy builders


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COULD this become the TripAdvisor of residential property?

Anyone who has purchased a new apartment in Australia knows just how much of a lottery it can be. Seemingly reputable developers can throw up poor-quality smash-jobs which bear little resemblance to a display model.

Lax building standards combined with dodgy certification processes have turned Australia’s apartment boom into a defect-ridden ticking time-bomb for insurers and homeowners.

Meanwhile, opaque and inconsistent wording in sales contracts means “quality finishes” in the final product often end up several grades lower than the gold-plated showroom standard used to reel in off-the-plan buyers.

Yet despite widespread concerns of dodgy developers, prospective home or apartment owners often go into the largest financial commitment of their life without all the information they need.

A new website wants to apply the TripAdvisor model to property, giving users a platform to rate and review apartment and home builders, as well as individual apartment blocks.

“The apartment finishes did not match the display apartment set up for off-the-plan buyers 12 months ago,” writes one owner of a Gladesville unit, rating the building a two out of five.

“The workmanship on the building and construction of the apartment complex is poor.”

The site, Unlock Property, has been in soft launch for the past six months, with around 100 reviews posted. The site’s founders won’t give out traffic numbers.

Karo Esmaili and Kevin Reeve, both 33, hope that over time it will become a powerful database of information on apartment buildings all over the country.

“Long-term we will have all this data — what is the health of the building, the quality of construction, soundproofing, fixtures, strata — that will essentially translate to a health index,” Mr Esmaili said.

“At the moment, outside of paying for a strata report, you don’t have access to that level of information online.”

Mr Esmaili said the information would be especially valuable to people buying off-the-plan and house-and-land packages.

Mr Reeve said after 12 years in the property industry, and with a father as a builder, he could see the looming disaster from poor building standards.

“I’m not saying the substandard quality is across the board. Some developers are doing the right thing,” he said. “[The site] is not only to share negative info but also positive — who are the good guys?”

NSW Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Victor Dominello, who recently ordered a crackdown to prevent exploitative practices by developers, welcomed the initiative.

“The NSW Government is pursuing a range of reforms to the real estate and property sector that promote innovation,” he said.
“We are living in the digital age and this website is a great example of using innovation to increase transparency in the marketplace to benefit consumers.”

The site uses a similar model as TripAdvisor, where developers pay $99 a month — currently its only revenue source — to register on the site, giving them the ability to communicate with people who leave reviews.

The pair hopes the increased transparency and accountability will lead to improved industry practices. “Brand reputation is key in this industry and Unlock Property will encourage that,” Mr Reeve said.

To help weed out dodgy developers, Mr Esmaili said Unlock Property does its own investigation work by connecting shell companies to the main developer that commissioned the project.

He said they had not received any legal threats or requests for take-downs yet, but “naturally we’d be silly not to” expect it to happen.

“The site has built-in dispute resolution,” he said. “If it’s a valid request from a developer to have a review taken down, we work with the reviewer to gather additional evidence.

“Ultimately if a request for take-down is relevant we’ll work with the developer — [but] we’re committed to protecting the integrity of the site.”

Online Source

The Indian Telegraph Sydney Austrlaia

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