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Shifting the tide

HIA opinion piece

Shifting the tide

HIA opinion piece

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Our industry has received a range of negative stories directed our way over the past 12 months. These stories tell only one side of the story, rather than highlighting all the fantastic work our industry does. It’s time to shift this narrative and embrace the positive.

Simon Croft

Chief Executive, Industry & Policy

Recently, I experienced three situations that left a lasting influence on me. They reinforce the impact of negative sentiments from media outlets, governments and other commentators. They also help erode confidence in newly built buildings in the community and profoundly impact our industry. Here are the three instances I’m keen to discuss and analyse.

Case No. 1: Clients’ satisfaction 

At a recent barbecue, one of the attendees told me about his friend’s poor experience building a new home. With others chipping in, they recounted various media stories on builder insolvencies, defects, and delays.

When I asked this group who else had built or renovated a home in the past few years, a few spoke up. I then asked how their individual builds went.

Nearly all recounted their joy in their new home or major extension. They talked about their builders and tradies, who went over and beyond for them. That was despite a challenging environment due to COVID-19, supply chain disruptions, and material and trade availability.

So why do many people only discuss builds that have gone wrong rather than successful outcomes occurring every day?

Our industry builds around 200,000 homes per year with majority resulting in successful delivery for homeowners.

Case No. 2: Media twists 

Shortly after, I became aware of a small- to medium-sized building company placed into administration, involving an individual I knew well and interacted with over many years.

While I’m not downplaying the potential impacts on affected homeowners, contractors or other parties, as with any company going into administration, there are no winners. It can be extremely difficult for all involved.

Many media stories paint builders or company directors as wealthy developer types who will just start up a new company the next day. However, in most cases, there’s a considerable human side to this — it’s important to remember that the builders and others involved are people, too. This experience profoundly impacts them, their families, friends and future livelihoods.

HIA members can be proud of the homes they made with their own hands.

Case No. 3: I built that! 

Lastly, a prominent TV commentator asked HIA, ‘Why would anyone want to go into being a builder, given small margins, high risks placed on business given significant capital outlay over the life of a project, fixed deposits and stage payments, and the negative sentiment of the home building sector currently?’

The positive sides of our industry are often overlooked – the extensive career opportunities on offer, the ability to be your own boss, and the positive feeling we get in our industry. We look up at the end of the day and say, ‘I build (or contribute to) that!

I still drive past houses I built or was involved in years later and tell my family (and anyone who listens!) about the project, its challenges, details, and unique elements. I always look on with pride.

I still meet with owners for whom I worked many years ago. I’ve also enjoyed referrals following these projects. Many builders I speak to share similar experiences; they discuss that same joy from their projects over the years. A project brings groups of individuals together with a common goal of completing that home.

Not all industries or jobs enable you to achieve this, and our members can be proud of the homes they made with their own hands.

Impact of negative sentiment 

The impact of this negative sentiment weighs heavily on the minds of many builders. I’ve had many personal conversations about this with members recently.

It also erodes consumer confidence, evidenced by the low numbers of new housing projects coming down the pipeline.

HIA isn’t downplaying the issues of higher-than-normal builder insolvencies over the past two years and the effect of this on homeowners, contractors and suppliers. Many contractors and suppliers were caught up and potentially lost or are owed money resulting from a company going into administration.

Nor are we suggesting that some issues associated with deposits and insurance – or defective building work carried out – are acceptable in our industry.

However, since Australia builds around 200,000 homes per year on average, the majority results in successful outcomes. The notion of widespread non-compliance paints a misleading picture of the industry.

If the government is serious about seeking to build 1.2 million homes over the next five years, they need to maintain our current workforce.

Finding inspirational stories 

HIA sees thousands of outstanding projects and innovations from members and businesses every year, in particular through the HIA Housing Awards. This is in direct opposition to the scenarios painted by specific media sectors.

When speaking at the recent Building Ministers Industry Forum, I explained that ministers must help change this narrative. They need to tell positive stories rather than use our industry as a punching bag.

Furthermore, if the government is serious about seeking to build 1.2 million homes over the next five years, they need to maintain our current workforce, as well as attracting more skilled workers and new entrants into our industry.

To do so, they need to paint a picture of a positive, flourishing industry rather than paint the whole industry with the same brush. The continual introduction of more reforms on builders and our industry, and increased complexity and additional costs to the construction of homes, is also not helping. Ministers have the tools at their disposal to place a pause on some of the major reforms under consideration.

This would allow the industry to take a collective sigh of relief, letting them get on with building homes and improving their business.

This would be without the need to continually look over their shoulder at what new laws and changes are coming to adapt business practices, change work procedures and adjust plans, specs and factor into extra costs on projects.

Promoting positivity 

This year, HIA will undertake communications and awareness programs to highlight and promote the great, positive work our industry does. This will go beyond our exceptional award winners. We will focus on businesses and individuals who are doing great things every day and the future leaders of our industry.

To be involved or to offer suggestions that would provide a positive take on our industry, email us.

First published on 22 March 2024

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