THE costs are continuing to mount for would-be new home owners caught up in the collapse of Privium Homes which has experts shaking their heads in disgust saying more could and should have been done.
Frames and building supplies have been stripped or left to rot and fences removed from vacant blocks of land and build sites throughout the Hunter for which people have shelled out their life savings to purchase from Privium Homes
Those whose builds have begun, some of which are near completion, say they have had their letterboxes, windows, fencing, insulation, water tanks, doors, bricks and other building materials removed from their homes and build sites, or abandoned to the elements. Others at lock-up stage are unable to retrieve keys following the closure of all of the company's offices.
Meanwhile, they are being told they have to play a potentially protracted game of 'wait and see' before they can engage new builders or move forward, and so are stuck in no-man's land while they watch the cost of materials, builds and houses continue to rise.
Their next moves are dictated by the outcome of the administrator's investigation and what the majority of creditors decide. The administrators, FTI Consulting, appointed by director Robert Harder on November 17, have no idea how long that might take and say they are unable to comment publicly until after the first creditor's meeting on November 29.
But Privium clients are being told that even if Privium Homes and related entities go into liquidation, they may maintain rights to the plans within people's contracts, so they cannot proceed with the plans they have taken months to agree on.
"We are waiting to hear back from the administrators to see if we have to source our own builders or if they are going to appoint one," one client said.
"With the large price increases on housing materials and the low insurance percentage payout (we are likely to get) I wonder if we will ever get our homes built," another affected home owner said. "We are going to need a miracle."
Deanne Batger and her husband Michael Smith, who have a half-built home at Raymond Terrace, have been told they will be better off ripping down the existing timber frame and starting again. In the meantime, they need to find a second rental, and are looking at rent increases of up to $230 per week, as well as up to 30 per cent more for the home they want to build.
"It's just heart-breaking," Ms Batger said.
Mitchell and Cassandra Rose are looking at quotes at more than $75,000 over their initial quote, and are being told that their insurance will cover only 20 per cent of the value of incomplete works.
"I'm a little worried we will still be out of pocket," Mrs Rose said. "I went through a broker and she's saying that all her clients are having the same issues because of the substantial under-quotation of Privium ... which rings true."
Her half-built home has a frame but no roof, but the way forward is far from clear.
"I just need the administrators to give me access to the site or rescind the contract," she said. "I got an email from them saying along the lines of that they wanted to sell off the company's assets and they don't know how that's going to affect our plan with the new builder. Legally the contract is still with them and they need to determine whether or not they will regain their licence or sell their contracts to another builder. All I want to do is put a roof on."
"All I want to do is put a roof on."Cassandra Rose
Sub-contractors, among the hardest hit, are also scrambling to recover what little they can, retrieving assets they have not been paid for, or trying to reach an agreement directly with home owners.
Martin Fouracre is the managing direct of fencing suppliers 1300TempFence, which has provided temporary fencing for about 80 Privium sites throughout the Newcastle region.
He said they had been paid for some sites, but not for others.
"So like many suppliers, we will suffer a significant loss," he said.
"Privium have paid us a certain number of months in advance for some jobs. Some of the more recent jobs they haven't paid us for because they stopped paying a month or so go. And a couple are monthly hires so they haven't paid them as well."
He is asking people to pay from the date the administration started, or from when it expired, and is giving people a couple of weeks to make up their minds. "We don't want to take the fence away and just leave properties exposed," he said.
And it could all have been avoided, says John Murray, the former CEO of Master Builders Australia and the author of a 380-page report for the federal government into the construction industry.
The collapse of yet another construction giant, without governments putting in place appropriate protections, was amoral, he said.
He has recommended the introduction of statutory trusts to the construction industry, which could work in a similar way that it does for real estate and travel agents. "In many instances the builder doesn't pass on payment (from home owners) to subcontractors and uses that money to fund other projects, or uses it as if it were his own," Mr Murray said.
"I came to the conclusion that to address the high incidence of insolvency in the construction industry - and it is highest in that industry by far - the only way to protect was to impute any money the builder receives as trust money - held on trust for the sub-contractors, so that when a builder doesn't pass on the money or becomes insolvent or misuses the funds ... that's a breach of trust.
"Then when a liquidator is appointed they can't touch the trust funds because it's not the builder's money. But there's been enormous push back on that recommendation. The argument has been will create lot of red tape and a lot of administrative burden.
"I was the CEO of Master Builders Australia in the 1990s, that was the argument that was trotted out by my organisation, and it's still the argument that's trotted out in 2021, and it's persuaded politicians who for all intents and purposes have kicked the can down the road.
"But for the lack of political will, many fine subcontractors continue to experience unnecessary financial stress. And Privium is yet another example of the long litany of the woes that befall the industry and politicians simply don't implement that recommendation and that's very sad.
"Every time I see that I get very annoyed because the solution is there and it is not being implemented. Why should sub-contractors be unwilling lenders of interest-free loans to builders? No one's given me the answer to that."