Upset and deeply disappointed

by Burnt

My wife and I had Alternate Dwellings build a modified Old Mill to lockup stage. We had seen some unfavourable reviews of their finishings, but it sounded like the structures were OK, and we thought that we might avoid shoddy finishings by just getting them to build to lockup. The quotes we got from other builders for a lockup build were too high, so a modified kit home seemed our only option.

(These unfavourable reviews have subsequently been removed from the internet, which makes me think Alernate Dwellings has threatened the websites that allow these reviews with legal action. One moderator did tell me in 2010 that he'd had to remove reviews of AD since they were potentially defamatory, and I know AD Dwellings has lawyers--I've talked to them on the phone! I guess it's up to those of us who have been burnt to keep re-posting our opinions wherever we can, whenever we notice they have been taken down, in order to warn people.)

Our logic was 'you get what you pay for' and we couldn't afford a more expensive builder, so we thought we'd get something rough enough. After all, there is a system of building inspection and a building code to comply with. I got a lawyer to read their contract, which gives them far more money for the early stages than is usual in a contract based on the HIA one. We wrangled over this and I got some concessions from AD, but ultimately had to live with them getting too much money too early on.

I wish we'd avoided Alternate Dwellings entirely. 'Trust your misgivings' is my new motto. The structure itself is shoddy. The frame is not square in important places and is out of plumb in others. The ceiling rafters on the ground floor slope significantly, though they should be level. A number of door frames have been bent into crooked shapes, a large sliding door opens the wrong way and they wouldn't fix it. Most gutters don't drain properly. The upstairs window frames sit in place but have not been properly fixed. Triple grips were used to hold rafters upstairs but in most places they were only nailed to the rafter and not to the wall!

We threatened to take AD to the VTAC tribunal, which handles building disputes in Victoria, to get them to follow the plans after they built the front, back and side gutter of the house according to the unmodified Old Mill design. After all, we'd paid them a lot of money for the modifications. The threat of VTAC was enough to get them to fix those things (which were largely cosmetic), but they fixed some of them shoddily.

The frame is more of a concern, though it does not seem unsafe at this stage. The building inspectors, who were from the same Gippsland district as Alternate Dwellings, signed off on each stage as complete, and we were bullied by the construction manager into making payments for the footings before completion. We accepted the building inspector's certificate of completion for the frame even though it later became clear that parts of the frame are not square and parts are not plumb. We did have our suspicions, but didn't have the time to make them do it properly--renting in Melbourne is too expensive when you're also paying off a mortgage.

I actually walked around with the building inspector on his final inspection before lockup stage, and he told me everything that would need to be fixed before the certificate of completion to lockup build could be issued by his employer. A couple of hours later I received an emailed certificate of completion, issued by the building inspection firm who employed him to Alternate Dwellings. There were no builders on site that day; none of the things on the inspector's list had been fixed.

Post-build, we've sent Alternate Dwellings a list of the things that need fixing, in accordance with the terms of our HIA contract, but have had no response in over 6 months. We've done our best to fix these things ourselves.

I'd be very skeptical about the origin of these (few) positive reviews of Alternate Dwellings you read, since the construction manager and managers (in Victoria at least) seem to follow a certain pattern of aggressive behaviour, judging by the negative reviews on this site, and on other sites (subsequently removed), and I find it hard to believe that anyone found them pleasant and helpful.

Get independent building inspections, whoever you build with, especially at the footings and frame stage.

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