From 'Wild West' to Gold Standard: How NSW's Building Commissioner Revitalised a $24 Billion Industry
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From ‘Wild West’ to Gold Standard: How NSW’s Building Commissioner Revitalised a $24 Billion Industry

Buyer confidence returns to the multi- residential market as certification kicks in

By Mercedes Maguire
Wed, Oct 25, 2023 9:46amGrey Clock 4 min

There was a time not so long ago that the NSW building industry was referred to as the Wild West. One in 10 new residential apartment blocks in NSW had serious defects and there was no way to tell the good developers from the bad, as buyers crossed their fingers and hoped for the best when choosing a new apartment. As NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler joked, people buying new apartments had less consumer protection than someone buying a toaster or washing machine.

Add to that the scenes that played out on the nightly news of the thousands of residents evacuated from their Sydney Olympic Park apartment block on Christmas Eve 2018 as it threatened to collapse, followed by the 130 residents given hours to flee their Mascot apartment months later.

Into this scenario stepped the first ever NSW Building Commissioner, David Chandler. In just four short years, he has managed to bring a new transparency and confidence to the $24 billion industry. As one industry expert put it, “he managed to turn the Titanic around” not only because of the positive changes he brought to the industry, but the speed with which he did it.

“I remember back in the day the barbecue conversation was ‘You wouldn’t buy an apartment built in the last 10 years’,” says Urban Development Institute of Australia NSW CEO, Steve Mann.

“That was probably not right but there were enough problems for that to be a reasonable conclusion for consumers. We lost the confidence of consumers and no industry can afford to do that.

“So, although that was just true of the fringes (of the industry), we had to hone in on those fringes and reign it in.

“And that required very strong leadership.”

It is almost universally accepted in the building industry that one of the most positive changes in recent years is the introduction of the independent Construction Industry Rating Tool (iCIRT). It allows consumers buying a new or off-the-plan apartment in NSW to check the credentials of the company delivering the work.

So far, more than 200 companies have been rated through an independent and rigorous process, which experts claim is giving consumers the power to choose wisely, for the first time ever, who builds their home.

“Consumers are now asking for iCIRT ratings when visiting display units,” says Karen Stiles, director of the Owners Corporation Network of Australia. “And savvy real
estate agents are now focused on marketing rated developments.”

Fabrizo Perilli, the NSW president of the Property Council of Australia, calls iCIRT a “catalyst for change” in the multi-residential property industry.

“We are yet to see consumer confidence and the purchasing of apartments return to pre-COVID levels, however we anticipate this to improve as more and more developers and builders adopt the iCIRT rating,” he says.

“In the current market, trust, transparency and certainty are paramount for buyers and investors.” Perilli adds it’s also an effective way for developers and builders to differentiate themselves from their peers when communicating to purchasers who are rightly seeking an additional layer of certainty and peace of mind.

NSW chapter president of the Australian Institute of Architects, Adam Haddow, says Chandler’s cleaning up of the industry benefits not only consumers, but all elements involved in the building process.

“From an architect’s point of view, the checks and balances that Chandler has been able to put in has reigned in some of the challenges we felt with the construction of apartments,” the director of architecture firm SJB says. “Before Chandler came in, a lot of things like materials could be swapped out during the construction process and we had little control.

“He brought in more constraints over what can be changed, so you just can’t swap brickwork for aluminium, for example. Most new apartments in NSW are sold off the

“plan and consumers commit to buying an apartment on the info provided during the marketing phase. Now there’s more consumer confidence that they will get the product they committed to.”

While Chandler’s four-year role was due to expire in August, the Minns Government has encouraged him to stay on until the new Building Commission is established by the end of 2023.

The Building Commission was a Minns election promise to ensure quality building and an increase of supply to stem the ongoing housing crisis that has dominated public debate in recent months.

Despite the positive changes, Mann says the apartment sector is “in turmoil” in terms of supply. At its peak in 2018/19 new apartment builds represented almost half of all new housing stock, delivering around $33,000 apartments a year. Mann says that number is down to around 10,000, highlighting a crisis in housing shortage.

“We have a whole lot of economic challenges,” he says.

“There has been layer upon layer of challenges, through the COVID years, the financing of these big projects and construction costs have become more difficult.

“But with the deep affordability challenge we’ve got, apartments must be the big future, it has to be.”

President of the Strata Community Association of NSW, Stephen Brell, agrees.

“The government has predicted NSW needs 30,000 strata lots per year just to keep pace with current demand and given that we are falling behind, that is a challenge for the government and for the planners,” Brell says.

“With affordability, in Sydney in particular, being very expensive the Minns Government has a focus on medium-density living, particularly around the major transport hubs of Sydney. As Sydney is bounded by national parks to the north and south, mountains to the west and the ocean to the east, the only way is to go up.”

Brell adds the future of the apartment sector in NSW looks bright because Chandler is not only looking to improve the quality of new builds, but also to maintain the existing stock.

“By 2030, 60 percent of strata schemes will be more than 30 years old so we need to focus attention on existing buildings, of properly maintaining them,” Brell says.

“We have to make the industry resilient going into the future.”


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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Auto dealers across many parts of the country say electric vehicles are becoming too hard a sell for buyers worried about the range, reliability and price of these models.

When Paul LaRochelle heard Ford Motor was coming out with an electric pickup truck, the dealer was excited about the prospects for his business.

“We thought we could build a million of them and sell them,” said LaRochelle, a vice president at Sheehy Auto Stores, which sells vehicles from a dozen brands in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

The reality has been less positive. On Sheehy’s car lots, LaRochelle says there is a six- to 12-month supply of EVs, compared with a month of gasoline-powered vehicles.

With automakers set to release a barrage of new electric models in the coming years, concerns are mounting among auto retailers about whether the technology will have broader appeal given that many customers are still reluctant to make the switch.

Battery-powered models have been piling up on car lotsdealers say, as EV sales growth has slowed in the U.S. this year. Car companies have been offering a combination of discounts and lower interest-rate deals in an effort to juice demand. But it hasn’t been enough, because buyer reticence extends beyond the price tag, dealers say.

“I’m not hearing the consumer confidence in the technology,” said Mary Rice, dealer principal at Toyota of Greensboro in North Carolina. “People aren’t beating down the door to buy these things, and they all have a different excuse why they aren’t buying one.”

Customers cite concerns about vehicles burning through a battery charge faster in cold weather or not being able to travel as far as they expected on a single charge, dealers say. Potential buyers also worry that chargers aren’t as readily accessible as gas stations or might be broken.

Franchise dealerships fear that the push to roll out new models will inundate them with hard-to-sell vehicles. Research firm S&P Global Mobility said there are 56 EV models for sale in the U.S. this year, and the number is expected to nearly double to 100 next year.

“I start to think, you know maybe we should just all pump the brakes a little bit,” Rice said.

A group of dealers expressed their concerns about the government’s role in pushing electric vehicles in a letter last month to President Biden.

A Toyota Motor spokesman said the majority of dealers have become “increasingly more confident in their ability to sell Toyota EV products.”

At Ford, the company’s electric-vehicle sales are rising, including for its F-150 Lightning pickup, but demand isn’t evenly spread across the country, according to a spokesman.

Dealers say that after selling an EV, they sometimes hear complaints about charging and the vehicles not always meeting their advertised range. In some cases, customers seek to return them to the dealer shortly after buying them.

“We have a steady number of clients that have attempted to or flat out returned their car,” said Sheehy’s LaRochelle.

While EVs remain a small but rapidly expanding part of the new-car market, the pace of growth has slowed this year. Electric-vehicle sales increased 48% in the first 11 months, compared with a 69% jump during the same period in 2022, according to Motor Intelligence. Sales remain concentrated in a few states, with California accounting for the largest chunk, S&P Global Mobility data found.

The cooling growth has raised broader questions in the industry about whether car companies face a temporary hurdle or a longer-term demand challenge. Automakers have invested billions of dollars to bring more EV models to the market, and many analysts and car executives say they remain optimistic that sales will continue to expand.

“Although the rate of growth has slowed recently, EV demand is clearly moving in the right direction,” said General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra on a recent conference call with analysts. A combination of more affordable model options and better charging infrastructure would help encourage more people to buy electric vehicles, she said.

There are also varying views within the dealer community about how quickly buyers will adopt the technology.In hot spots for electric-vehicle demand, such as Los Angeles, dealers say their battery-powered models are some of their top sellers. Those popular EV markets also tend to have more mature public charging networks.

Selling an electric car or truck outside of those demand centres is proving more difficult.

Longtime EV owner Carmella Roehrig thought she was ready to go full-electric and sold her backup gasoline vehicle. But after the 62-year-old North Carolina resident found herself stranded last year in a rural area of South Carolina, she changed her mind. Roehrig’s Tesla Model S got a flat tire, but none of the stores in the area carried tires for a Tesla. She ended up paying a worker at a nearby shop to drive her home.

Roehrig still has her Tesla but bought a pickup truck for long road trips.

Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“I have these conversations with people who say we’ll all be in EVs in 15 years. I say: ‘I’m not so sure. I’ve tried to do it,’” Roehrig said. “I think you need a gas backup.”

Customers who want to ditch their gas vehicle for environmental reasons are sometimes hesitant, said Mickey Anderson, president of Baxter Auto Group, which owns dealerships in Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado.

“We’re in the Colorado Springs market. If this is your sole mode of transportation, and you’re in a market in extremes of elevation and temperature, the actual range is very limited,” Anderson said. “It makes it extremely impractical.”

Dealers representing around 4,000 stores across the U.S. signed the letter in November addressed to Biden, saying the administration’s proposed auto-emissions regulations designed to promote electric-vehicle sales are unrealistic. The signatories ranged from stores owned by family businesses to publicly held giants such as AutoNation and Lithia Motors.

“Some customers are in the market for electric vehicles, and we are thrilled to sell them. But the majority of customers are simply not ready to make the change,” the letter said.

Some carmakers are pushing back EV-rollout plans. GM said in mid-October that it would delay the opening of an electric pickup plant by a year to late 2025. In response to weaker-than-expected consumer demand, Ford said in late October that it would defer $12 billion of planned spending on electric-vehicle investment.

Since September, dealers on average took more than two months to sell an EV, compared with 40 days for all vehicles, according to car-shopping website Edmunds.

While discounts have helped boost sales of some electric vehicles, they also have led to repercussions for some current owners because it reduces the value of their vehicles, dealers say.

“Most people don’t have the confidence to buy an EV and know what it will be worth in 10-15 years,” said Rice from the Toyota dealership.

It may take some time for the industry to adjust because it is still in an early stage of switching to electric vehicles, Sheehy’s LaRochelle said.

“We’re asking for this market to grow organically,” he said.


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Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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