Negotiating the minefield of building defects
For strata managers, the realisation that Australia has a severe defects crisis crystallised well before Sydney’s Opal or Mascot Tower covered almost every news outlet in the country. In one form or another, managers have been dealing with the plight of defects for years.
As defects become an increasing part of the national agenda, the role of builders, supply chains and strata managers becomes increasingly important.
Highly tumultuous, multi-year defect processes rely on various experts to act as trusted advisors with fixed goals: helping property owners make informed decisions about rectifying their building and guiding the process of recovering costs from the those deemed responsible.
The defects process, however, is highly technical, and strata managers need to be prepared on how to communicate and guide without blurring the lines of opinion and pseudo-legal advice. A theme of this professional readiness echoed through the 2019 SCA Strata Convention held in late October.
A panel discussion featuring some of the industry’s most experienced in managing defects, like Dynamic Property Services branch manager, Lauren Shaw, outlined some of the most important processes for navigating through a defects process.
Have a communication plan
The communication plan is the cornerstone to a successful process. A defects crisis can mean, at a minimum, financial vulnerability and, at a worst-case scenario, total displacement. Regardless of where defects lay on a scale of bad to catastrophic, strata managers must engage early with the committee and let property owners know how they can expect to receive communication.
Establishing a communication plan early means painting a picture of what the process looks like and setting up an environment of where expectations are managed from the beginning.
Think outside of the box
When it comes to the communication touchpoints of a defects process, channels should empower property owners and allow them to go on the information journey. Providing a range of communication channels helps cater to the spectrum of potential engagement with different mediums. It is not uncommon to find individuals, particularly those in distress, drastically prefer one medium over another.
What’s more, be open-minded and rethink your meeting formats. Set up for success and informative sessions by trying different meeting styles that are more akin to dealing with defects, such as a town hall meeting style.
Introduce hard facts early on
While easy to shy away from, pragmatic professionalism — in the form of introducing property owners to challenging concepts and hard facts early on — is beneficial. Outlaying that expensive litigation and technical reporting are often required in the defects process, introduces the financial realities of the process.
Socialising outcomes, such as a settlement process or a discontinuance of proceedings and having honest financial conversations about what these entail upfront, means owners are well-prepared by the time they are voting on which direction to take.
Delivering difficult concepts early means the strata manager is genuinely acting as a trusted advisor, rather than being reactionary and introducing tough ideas and issues as they arise. Professional pragmatics, while balanced with acknowledgement and empathy, helps the committee manage emotion and increases their chances of rational decision making.
Never lose sight
With City Futures Research Centre reporting, from the scope of their work, that 85% of buildings built since 2000 have one or more defects, we can see the defects process will become an increasingly significant role in the lives of property owners.
Given defects are highly technical and lengthy processes, it is crucial strata managers don’t lose sight of their obligation to navigate property owners and committees to a point they are happy with and that benefits their building. It can be useful to drawback to the relevant experts at the different stages of the litigation and defects path.