PHOTO: At first, Master Builders fobbed them off by saying the couple sounded like disgruntled customers.
A stalemate lasting more than a year is finally over for Dave and Gemma O’Neill now that Stonewood Homes has agreed to extensive remedial work on their home.
The O’Neills were completely broken by the battle with the national brand and its local franchisee. They’d signed a $900,000 deal in early 2020 for a luxury new build just north of Dunedin, and had paid more than three-quarters of the sum to the company. But the build failed multiple inspections requiring significant deconstruction to put it right.
The local franchisee in Dunedin is Graeme Sneddon. When the problems with the build were first raised in 2021, he attended a meeting on site with the owners and Dunedin City Council.
Sneddon followed up with an email guaranteeing that he would do all the necessary work. The couple took him at his word and sold the house they were in to move into temporary accommodation in a motel. At the time they had a month-old baby, Henry. Henry has just turned two, and the family home still isn’t ready.
The issue was the lack of agreement on the scope of works required to rectify the problems.
Dunedin City Council supported the couple by putting them in touch with Building Inspection firm Flanders Marlow. The report they produced was quite damning, concluding, “We are of the opinion that the majority of, if not all the works undertaken require corrective remedial works to ensure that they meet minimum acceptable trade practice standards and comply with the minimum standards set down in the Building Code”. The council’s inspections had also failed many aspects of the build including the concrete slab foundation, roof, framing, cladding, joinery and weather tightness.
The couple knew it was a huge job. Flanders Marlow was asked to assess the scope of works offered by Stonewood Dunedin and described it as “deficient in detail” with “no clear direction”. But how do you get a builder to come to the party? The O’Neills say they tried everything they could.
After getting nowhere with Sneddon, they turned to the Head Office of Stonewood Homes.
The couple say managing director Gregg Somerville was reassuring, saying that receiving anything less than what had been agreed on was unacceptable and would be put right. This gave the couple hope, but when he flew from Auckland to Dunedin to see the home, they felt he dismissed their concerns, saying friends and family would be looking at the view they had rather than the house and not to worry.
Housing advocacy group Home Owners and Buyers Association NZ (HOBANZ) often receives complaints like this.
President John Gray says delay tactics can be used to wear homeowners down, such as requesting extra reports or opinion.
Companies may also make light of problems that are a serious concern. In some cases, homeowners turn to Master Builders for help, especially if they’ve invested in a Master Build 10-year guarantee. But Gray says approaches to the industry association often lead to further disappointment as little action is taken.
This was the case for the O’Neills. At first, Master Builders fobbed them off by saying the couple sounded like disgruntled customers. They say the Master Builders representative also told them not to bother sending in their reports. Dave persevered with further calls and eventually, Master Builders agreed to look into the case. However, the action taken was to initiate another building report by company Maynard Marks, a report that still hasn’t been seen by Dave or Gemma.
‘The system is just broken’
The delays were now costing the couple dearly. They’d moved into a long-term Airbnb and were paying rent as well a mortgage on the new build. They were also paying for storage for their furniture, and for the reports into the failures. They considered the legal route but decided it was too expensive and could be years before any agreement was reached.
Dave didn’t know where to turn.
“I just feel like I’ve failed my family. I can’t do anything about it – the system is just broken. The fact we’ve done everything right and we’re just getting rolled.”
So the couple came to Fair Go.
Fair Go followed up with all the parties involved to try to understand how the situation had arisen and why no progress was being made.
Dunedin City Council told Fair Go it had been working with Stonewood Homes to rectify the build. It appreciated these attempts were unsuccessful and proceeded to issue a Notice to Fix, clearly stating the work needed to remedy the problems.
Master Builders also said it had been working on a solution. However, it did apologise for its initial treatment of Dave when he called.
Sneddon admitted the problem was that he couldn’t agree with the couple or the Council on the work needed. He apologised too, adding it had been a difficult time for himself and his team as well.
Thankfully, Stonewood Homes’ head office recognised that the situation needed addressing promptly. Again, it said it had been working towards a resolution. But now it was willing to acknowledge it should promptly commit to work that would meet the requirements of the Notice to Fix and ensure the home is completed to a high standard.
It’s news that the O’Neills found hard to take in at first explaining.
“We’ve been putting up with them telling us for over two years that they’ll sort something out.”
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