When is building variation not a variation

Recently I have been helping a couple with theit build with critical stage inspections. I did pre contract review, pre slab inspection, frame inspection and pre plaster inspection. It was plain and uneventfull sailing with the issues picked up during inspections attended by builder and resolved. And then it happened.

Builder constructed a large round stormwater pump and retention pit smack right in front entrance when in the drawings it was shown tucked away neatly on one side. Owners were furious complaining back to the builder. Builder at first ignored them the offered lame excuses, could not build pit right next to the side fence, too hard, we might have hit some rock and it would have been extra. The real story is that when the plumber came to site to install drainage pit, the location had large pipe of builder’s rubbish. So the plumber merely moved it across for his convenience. Builder arrogantly behaved as if they had right to change location of the pit (which incidentally was part of engineered drainage) as they like to their convenience and without owner’s consent.

But there was more. I then discovered that owners were served (unknown to me) with a post contract variation of 12K for the engineered stormwater draiange system. Not knowing better and without asking me they paid. I took one look at it and said Nah! This was not a variation as the stormwater system was already included in the contract.

I also advised owners that builder is not allowed to vary contract works wothout owner’s consent and in this case for his convenience.

I then composed email tha t owners sent to the builder

“I have reviewed your documentation and visited the site. I am able to confirm that the drainage installation is not nonconformant to the contract drawings.
I am able to confirm that variation does not comply with requirements of DBCA1995 and is therefore not valid
You should write to the builder and ask why is variation required and why was your consent not obtained beforehand”

And Voila!

Builder knew the game was up and immediately cancelled the variation and refunded 12K. Builder then arranged on site to construct decking and steps over entry and in front of the dwelling to owner’s design and satisfaction at builder’s cost.

Having your expert in the cloud whilst you build could save you more than money.

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Building Expert in the cloud, what’s that?

I have been helping people who are building with stage inspections at critical points for over a decade now but there is another major advantage. That is having your expert in the cloud looking down and looking after you. What does that mean? It means that if you have any questions or you seee anything on site you don’t like you can always ask and get an answer. That is certainly a lot more different than an inspector coming to site, emailing you a report and he is gone, his job is done.

I always say to my clients, I am your expert in the cloud and you are my foot soldier on the ground. Let me know what happens and I can help you. It works out to be a neat and productive partnership.

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Building Dispute Mediation – better than Hollywood

Building Disputes are not one of those things  you look forward to and as expert witness I go to many to assist my client during negotiations. What you see is financial tragedy of two parties embroiled in emotional blankets and it it’s usually all day stressful drudgery.

This one was much the same, my client a builder was in dispute with owner about substantial amount of money, the relationship destroyed it was heading to be ugly acrimonious venting of grievances. Owner was hell bent on bankrupting the builder to get to the insurance and brought his lawyer along and I wasn’t looking forward to what was to come.

Then mediator walked in and it was like on the set of “The Bold and The Beautiful”, a ringin for Dr Tyler Hayes (played by beautiful Hunter Tylo )

As someone with weakness for beautiful women that are also smart (I should know I have one) I knew I would be in for a visual feast at least but there was more to come.

As the day wore on I watched as she read the two adversaries with remarkable acumen and with deft timing working incredibly hard brought two immovable rocks closer together inch by inch. As the day was ending, fatigue set in and just at the right moment carrots were thrown in. This brought opportunity to get them a bit closer and then “Bang”. She smacked their heads together and the signatures were on the agreement. Well done Bravo.

My client was happy, he avoided the bankruptcy and could go on and make up his loss in a few months and put all this behind. I was happy because I was treated to a memorable performance and when she thanked me for my important contribution I left with a longer lasting smile.

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When do you tell the truth?

Some time ago I was in the office busy with some report writing when I overheard a call coming in from potential client requesting a building inspection. Our office manager went through the routine explaining what we do and asked about particular problems with caller’s property. Somehow  the conversation ended on the topic of truth between the parties and the caller asked if we always tell the truth. The answer of course was yes, always or at least whenever we can. The question was then put to he caller. His answer was

“Only when I have to” almost proudly.

Well, that told me a lot about the caller and the red flags went up. Some people are pathological liars and lying is their way of life.Worse still it is not the things they say but also the things that are withheld.

As someone who writes reports for a living I knew this caller would be a problem for me because essential element of my report is the veracity of information supplied by the client. I knew this was not a nice person, is potential trouble and I too could become a victim..

Making an eye contact, my office manager read my mind and politely told the caller that we would not be able to help him.

The best troubles are the ones you have the wisdom to avoid.



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Slab Heave Melbourne, Negligence goes on and on!

I am engaged for stage inspections for a new two storey residence in point Cook built by a volume builder. What many people do not realise is that spot inspection of critical points in construction is not the only purpose and benefit of stage inspections. There is also an opportunity to see whether builder is following his other obligations in relation to site drainage during construction. This is very important because of potential for foundation damage and slab heave due to poor drainage on reactive soil foundations such as this.

This is what I found during frame construction and after frame was completed

DSC_8091 DSC_8093 DSC_8489


DSC_93795 It is clear that builder has been catastrophically negligent in the construction of this home in breach of his warranties and the Australian and engineering standards. What did I say?


 The builder’s site management of surface drainage is unsatisfactory and urgent attention is required.

 Builder is negligent in the matters of site drainage because foundation material has become flooded and may become damaged. Builder should be reported to VBA for failing to follow appropriate standards in regard to site drainage with a request that his conduct be inquired into.

So what happens now?

If foundation damage occurs there will be ample evidence on file including photos of builder’s negligence which will assist in any future proceedings.

How many times have I come across serious slab damage and when I ask owners for records and photos during construction, there is nothing. It makes it difficult to help them get repairs or compensation.

We provide expert building stage inspections at critical points in construction with monitoring of builder’s obligations in relation to site drainage and other matters.

Your call

For the best building inspection and advice call 03 9742 6121, we cover greater Melbourne area



Posted in frame inspection, New Home Inspections, pre final inspection, pre plaster inspection, Pre Slab inspection, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Dispute mediation- bring out your guns and win!

Some time ago I wrote about dispute mediation that left my client with less than satisfactory result http://www.buildingexpert.net.au/blog/dispute-mediation-bring-out-your-guns-or-else/

Recently however I was assisting another of my client’s in a dispute of virtually the same subject.

Fourth building owner was seeking compensation from owner builder for allegedly defective building works. The claim was for around 70K and owner had expert report prepared by a competent building consultant. The claim essentially was for building leaks, foundation movement, rot in weatherboards and external painting.

After my inspection I came to a conclusion in my report that owner’s claims could not be sustained.

Hearing was held and joint re inspection of property with testing was ordered by VCAT. After the re inspection I reported as follows:

  1. 1.     Summary of the opinion or opinions of the expert:

 a)    The inevitable conclusion following extensive flooding, pressure hose testing which failed to confirm any leaks and the flexible camera inspection that failed to find any damp spots is that the balcony is well constructed and weatherproofed and has withstood eight years of use and other natural severe weather events. Consequently the allegation of defective balcony waterproofing in my view is not proved and the claim for rectification works is untenable.

 b)    Dampness found on the lounge room ceiling in the location of the stain is not explained by alleged balcony leaks and is likely to be from other causes, perhaps related to render cracking caused by foundation movement as a result of lack of property maintenance (see lower photo on Page 8) or due to owner related alterations (installation of sunscreens). However it is not my intent to speculate other than to point out there are other possible and credible explanations unrelated to defective builder’s work. It is for the applicant to prove the defect and it is not done so.

 c)     Whilst it is confirmed that the ends of the weatherboards are not sealed (and yes they should have been) no rot whatsoever was found. Instead it was found that the rot corresponded to wall opening (from air conditioner installation) that allowed water entry and under gutter leak. The weatherboard rot was most prevalent on the western façade where exposure to weathering is the greatest. As a qualified and accredited timber pest inspector with over 5,000 property inspections I have no hesitation in declaring that the rot in weatherboards is caused by lack of paint coating maintenance and the lack of property maintenance. External paint coating longevity is min. 36 months that means that this property dilapidation is caused by approximately of five years of paint coating neglect.

 d)    Water ingress into the garage is alleged to be from defective workmanship but I have found render cracking over the offending area caused by foundation movement that in my opinion is the cause of water ingress. As this is due to property maintenance neglect the builder’s defective workmanship in my opinion is not proved.

 e)     It is incomprehensible that the crack to the rear wall is still the point of claim when clearly the offending downpipe causing structural damage is on the adjoining property.

 f)      After reinspecting this property, I have no reason to change my opinion on any of the matters and repeat my previous opinion:

 Owner who has not maintained property within occupancy permit conditions and who has not carried due diligence prior to purchase has complained of latent building defects on a property that has had successive owners and had other works carried out (other than the builder) by persons of unknown qualifications.

After inspecting the property I have considered all twelve claims and concluded that none could be proved as latent defects under builder’s warranty.” 

Faced with impossibility of proving the claim owner gave up and both parties walked away with minimal cost settlement.

My client was saved from a big payout to a predatory owner, however a reverse result could have easily been occurred had my client not been well prepared and well supported with expert report.


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Frame Inspection- there is more to it than you think!

Last Saturday I inspected a two storey house frame. It had already passed mandatory frame inspection and looked pretty good. I did not find any significant defects to report except that upper level Rumpus room had excessive bounce.

When I was walking it was shaking and then I remembered few years ago about a court case. In that case a house owner (it was a multi million dollar home) sued the builder because his chandeliers rattled when he was having his dinner and someone walked over the room above.

In this case you can just imagine kids jumping around in Rumpus room and the ceiling below bouncing.

I had a similar potential problem few years ago, building an upper storey extension, so what happened?

Well it seems that some modern building materials such as engineered timber beams have lower resistance to dynamic loading than hardwood. That is to say that even if on paper they pass all the requirements of static loading design (strength and deflection) they will bounce around.

The real expertise is about what to do. How do you fix it? This is where experience comes into it and I have recommended two stage fix.

The first stage was to improve stiffening and bracing followed by re inspection to see if that did the trick. There was actually a very good chance that this inexpensive fix would be all that was required.

If not then selective insertion of additional structural members in the right locations and the trick is what and where.

The good thing is that at this frame stage owner had the opportunity to fix his floor at the time where it was easy and relatively inexpensive.

The message of this story is that you can have your house built and everything passes mandatory inspections and it will still be wrong and you won’t know until it’s to late or too expensive to fix.

This is where depth of inspection experience can help you avoid construction problems.


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Buying property without inspection? Don’t

Just a few days ago I was contacted by a lovely young lady with a disaster on her hands.

She bought a unit without pre purchase inspection and although she knew she shouldn’t have but at the time a lot was going on with her very sick parents and her own health issues that she missed a beat. Nevertheless he gave a contract to her solicitor for checking.

As it happens, neither her or her solicitor read the contract and she was unaware of engineering report in section 32 that found structural damage recommending underpinning and a replacement of tree root damaged sewer. Her cooling off period expired and she had unconditional contract.

To make matters worse, blocked sewer caused her toilet to flood inside unit and outside and bathroom walls begun to crack;

This is what I reported:

1. A summary of the opinion or opinions of the expert:

a. It is clear that engineering recommendations have not been carried out and from the plumbing report that plumbing blockages have not been fixed.

b. This unit has defective sewer drain that cannot be fixed until it is replaced.

c. Sewer drain at the time of inspection was blocked and leaking.

d. The unit is at risk of severe internal sewer flooding from the unit above due to blocked drain.

e. Strong smell of raw sewer gas is sickening and unhealthy.

f. Vendor’s attempts at fixing are nothing more than a cosmetic makeover and are unsatisfactory.

On the basis of the above, I have no hesitation in declaring that this dwelling is substantially defective and unfit for occupation until engineering recommendations are carried out and completed.

In email to me this is what unfortunate purchaser said:

Dear Branko,

Thank you for the report. It is indeed damning of the property and its state of condition.

Unfortunately, I did have to settle yesterday or I would have had to get a court injunction 10-15K and pay penalties to the owner.

I have requested the final bill from the solicitors who I have used from the beginning – including sending the contract which included the engineer’s report.

After that I can put everything in the hands of my new solicitors who can then pursue the negligent parties that I engaged to read the contract of sale.

As the repairs are urgent I would appreciate your ideas – should I email the report to the Body Corporate itself or lodge it straight with VCAT to get an order to repair.

Meantime I have to service the mortgage on this apartment which is unliveable. I will be collecting the keys in a few days and hope the sewerage has not already swamped the bathroom.

Again, many thanks for your report,


Name withheld

There you have it, this lady is not well and this is a double whammy  ” talking about being kicked when you are down”

Caveat emptor- get your inspection before you buy

Your call!

Posted in Pre-Purchase Inspections | 4 Comments

House restumping, how to get it wrong

Recently I inspected a home that has been restumped so badly that owner would have been better without it and kept his $18,000

Not only has the contractor failed to level the floors (as promised and required) but the floors have since subsided and wall cracks have appeared.



This is what I said in my report:

Inspection Findings:

Upon restumping, the owner would expect solid, even and lasting floors in the dwelling. This is not the case here. Uneven and subsided floors were found with wall cracking and broken line of weatherboards.

My investigation found that despite the builder’s registration limiting him to work not exceeding $12,000.00, he contracted for $18,000.00.

Contracting in excess of $18,000.00 requires that the owner be given a copy of Home Owners Insurance. That has not been done.

Reblocking and restumping is structural work requiring a building permit. A building permit was not taken out and stump hole excavations were not independently inspected via statutory mandatory inspection as required. This means that all work performed by the builder is unreliable and in violation of the Building Act 1993.

Owner is now in unhappy position of not only having ruined home floors but also delaying his renovation, facing dubious prospects of getting his money back from the contractor and no home owners insurance.

Proper contractor assessment and review would have prevented the current situation from developing. Do you think that owner should have spent around $550 for a pre contract advice?

Your call!


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Pre slab inspection, its nice to see a good job!

Yesterday I inspected slab preparations for concrete pour today. It was a pleasure to see completed preparations that were neat and indicated that skilled and experienced concrete crew was there:

DSC_0186 DSC_0155


 At the time of inspection, preparations for slab pour were complete and there were no significant reportable defects. The neatness of preparations indicated skilled and experienced concreter crew.

Expert Opinion:

No further comment required


 Next inspection at frame stage

The only other comment I have is that there was no termite protection. In checking I found that Greater City of Dandenong is not a termite declared area so termite protection is not mandatory, but do you think termites know municipal boundaries?

If I was engaged for pre contract consultation, as accredited and experienced timber pest inspector I would have recommended that termite protection is included.







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