The Unconditional Blog

The impartial voice of the industry


UK migrants to NZ – a good knowledge of local building issues is vital

Posted on: August 7th, 2008 | Filed in Architecture & Construction, Buying / Selling a home

Only last month we had the Dutch reporting on how our houses were so cheap and now this month we have an article in the respected UK Guardian newspaper telling prospective migrants to be wary of buying houses in NZ. On the one hand such profile is encouraging, clearly with economic and social issues in the UK, NZ is attracting attention for people looking for a new life; however more accurate reporting of facts would help as this UK article has some significant inaccuracies.

I therefore thought it would be beneficial for UK readers to get some clarity on specifics raised in the article:

  1. “The market is certainly going through a difficult stage. In the past three years interest rates have risen by 3%, the price of petrol has doubled and inflation is bordering 4%, but people’s salaries have not kept up with inflation” – the first three facts are correct and reflect most countries, but to say salaries have not kept pace with inflation is not true.
  2. “New Zealand is currently plagued with a unique phenomenon called leaky homes” – I think a plague would be significantly overstating the facts – there are a large number of homes impacted to a greater or lesser degree in some areas of the country, if they amounted to 10,000 I would be surprised – that would be around 1% of all homes, hardly a plague. Also leaky homes are not a unique phenomenon, the Canadians in British Columbia experienced such an issue in the 90’s.
  3. “The problem (of leaky homes) is down to the architects, builders and councils – and also because the forestry groups promote untreated pine and the Building Industry Authority mistakenly approves it.” – untreated pine was used up until 2003, since then changes to Building Industry regulations have made treated pine mandatory. In additon a raft of other stringent regulations concerning weather tightness have been implemented as well as new Building Act.
  4. “It’s important to check what materials were used in the construction of the house. Look out for exterior walls made of single-layered bricks supported by a wooden frame. Also, while wooden weatherboards were once common they have now been replaced by cheaper alternatives. These are fibre or cement sheeting, mostly known as Fibrolite, Hardiplank or monolithic cladding. (Hardiplank is known to have contributed to the leaky homes syndrome.) Check for roofs made of galvanised steel and tiles of bitumen, pebble or cement. These materials, while saving on cost of construction, often compromise the durability of these houses”. This is a bit of a muddle, brick veneer on a timber frame is very common form of NZ construction of single level homes, built to design specifications they should provide no problems at all, in fact many UK homes are brick veneer (double brick) on a timber frame.
    Timber weather boards are still used, however the new form of fibre cement board under the brand of Linear are highly durable and not just a cheaper alternative. This form of weatherboard is a recent development. Fibrolite, Hardiplank and other monolithic cladding are used much less these days than in they were in the 90’s.
    A vast number of NZ homes have galvanised steel roofs, this is a part of NZ and have been for many decades, equally bitumen or concrete roof tiles, all of these options if well maintained provide a very durable system.
  5. “That’s not all. In New Zealand, a lot of insurance policies don’t cover termite damage or structural problems, making repairs expensive” – we don’t have termites in NZ, we have bora which can be a danger. As for insurance I think you would not find any significant difference between NZ and UK.

Whilst I don’t think the article was designed to be alarmist, it could have been interpreted that way, the best advice which I am sure any prospective buyer would do, whether a local buyer of new migrant is to get a detailed building inspection report, after all a $1,000 report is a small price to pay when making an investment of $400,000.

Article Discussion

  1. Ross Brader says:

    Even banks now put links on their websites like this

    I noticed this on a NZ Bank website:

    Built to last – or a pile of problems?
    Buying a home? How can you tell it’s structurally sound? Consumerbuild shows you how to spot ‘leaky home’ syndrome – and how to avoid buying into other potentially expensive repairs and maintenance problems. Before you make that offer, check out Comsumerbuild. It could save you a pile of problems.

  2. Great advice – thanks Ross

  3. Kent says:

    I have to completely contradict your reply. I absolutely think UK (or any other foreign) buyers should be made aware of the issues in NZ and the article in UK should have gone much further. 10,000 leaky buildings – who are you kidding, even if your figure was true ( I suspect it is at least 5 times this figure )but what made me laugh is the accepting attitude you have surely it’s 10,000 too many isn’t it – why are you making excuses for it? If Canada has the problem then its ok for NZ to have the same problem – that’s ok then.
    You think treated pine stops buidings leak – that was another corker comment – have you seen rotten treated pine….I certainly have on 2 and 3 year old houses….you have to look at the design and the flashings thats where the leaks are – fundamentals are wrong.
    Houses that are hundreds of years old in the UK don’t leak like 10 year old houses do here. It is a lottery here with the generally shoddy building standards, based on ‘faddy’ new materials pushed by builders merchants and marketing companies and not getting the basics right because some Architect wants to expand his ego and try something new. Who puts a plastic/rubber roof on a 2 million dollar house……..get real. The roof is the most important part of a house..duhhhh. There are roofs on million dollar houses being roofed in NZ with materials that the industry in UK has banned – house Insurance companies won’t insure them – what does that say?
    What is even worse is the systems that should be in place to protect buyers are rubbish and are completely self-serving. Agents wanting only ‘unconditionals’, promotion of Auctions(for the same reason), building inspectors who wouldn’t spot a leaky home if they tried(notice I used the word wouldn’t and not couldn’t anything for an easy buck) and Valuers who ask you what you are paying and make sure the value matches – it is slap dash. You mention building Inspectors but what do they care – if they don’t spot a problem they are not liable in any shape or form. So what is the incentive for them to do a good job, the most you can sue them for is to get your money back ……not much compensation when you have a $ 400,000 investment that is going to cost you $ 100,000 to repair.
    Oh yes this is the final and ultimate self serving irony those same builders who built the house badly in the first place get to charge you another 100k to fix the problems LOL.

    UK Buyers beware be very aware….., what you read in that artical its worse far far worse I can assure you.

  4. Kent,

    Thanks for taking the time to share these thoughts and views. I think the title of the blog post is most relevant – a good knowledge of local building issues is vital – I think that message is clear, there is always a buyer beware requirement for any property purchase in any country.

    The UK article used the phrase “plague” as in “plague of locusts” which implies a very high percentage. NZ has a housing stock of 1.6 million of which around 200,000 were built during the period when regulations and practices by some builders / architects etc were suspect, that means 1.4 million properties were not built in that period – they represent 88% of all homes.

    The issue is serious and all in NZ see it as serious – I did not mean to be-little the issue.

    I completely concur that the blame lies with a combination of architects, manufacturers, builders, subbies, as well as local authority inspectors.

    We could dwell on the why, the problem is it happened. The issue is (1) we are all now paying for it one way or another – taxes and rates and insurance premiums and (2) Buyers need to be aware – for that reason I think your comments add to the better understanding and appreciation of the issue.

  5. Sebastian says:

    Alistair says: “a good knowledge of local building issues is vital”.
    You do not face the full implications when you say that. Let me paraphrase:

    “Before buying a house in New Zealand it is necessary to study local construction techniques over the last century… become a surveyor first… because you cannot trust builders, local government, surveyors and estate agents to do their jobs competently or honestly.”

    If you don’t do that you run the risk of missing design and construction flaws left by the ‘professionals’. It is a sad testament to the building industry’s incompetence that so many people feel that is necessary. It is also patently impossible: identifying water ingress isn’t a job for which the public should have to become amateur sleuths. Temporary masking of problems during dry summer months, when most sales are conducted, is easy.

    The Guardian article in the UK was advice to buyers. Buyers are investigating properties that are for sale. What proportion of the properties for sale suffer from construction problems? What we can be sure of is that it is a lot higher than the proportion of problematic houses relative to housing stock as a whole.

    It is the nature of any market for many people to sell buildings in need of renovation… or those causing disappointment… in the same way that you would sell a car you were unhappy with. I would not be at all surprised if the word plague is wholly appropriate for the percentage of poorly made houses on the housing market in NZ.

    Lastly, this catastrophe didn’t come out of nowhere. Building cultures are established over a long time. If this kind of thing is taking place in NZ you can be sure that there has been a lot more poor quality construction and maintenance occurring over quite some time. It is a shame to learn that NZ is being held to Britain’s example when the British building industry is itself infamous!

    In 1988 Margaret Thatcher raised building regulation standards in the UK to levels that approximated those current in Sweden in the 1930s!

    It’s time for a little professional pride in the NZ housing industry.

  6. Sebastian,

    Really appreciate you taking the time to share these observations. I think your final sentence is appropriate, we should take a pride in the NZ housing industry – I have personally worked in it for 3 years and have a lot of respect for the excellent skilled individuals I met and had dealings with during that time.

    I am surprised by your comment stating that the only person you can trust is a surveyor. I think that is a little too much of a generalisation – sure they are by the role they play largely impartial; however to tar all of the others as being untrustworthy is unfair and far from the truth.

    I would also contend with your assertion that many people sell houses in need of renovation – many people sell many houses for any number of reasons. Whilst I would have no idea what the proportion is, I would say selling because a house needs renovation is potentially very low – more likely many people sell when the renovations (make-over) is done. Now you could be right to question the quality of comprehensiveness of that work!

    It is interesting your reference to UK and Sweden, two countries I have lived in and can attest to the quality of house building there and equally would say UK building is in general only OK, much like NZ.

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