The Future of Housing Quality…

We recently learned of “The Future of Housing”, an upcoming conference being hosted in Metro Vancouver on May 8, 2009, by the Canadian Home Builders’ Association’s BC chapter.  The conference will be bringing together a diverse group of builder and real estate insiders to focus on the issues facing the housing market today and into the future.

One of the featured speakers is Andy Brethour, President of PMA Brethour Group, Toronto, ON, who has the following message on his website: “It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn’t.”  Andy is right; “Do it Right the First Time, Every Time”, has been at the root of every quality initiative for decades.

Looking at the consumer survey results of the Homeowner Protection Office (HPO) in British Columbia we are quickly reminded of just how bad things continue to be.  However, if the HPO was measuring the right quality coordinates, like J. D. Power does, publishing the results would be a complete and utter embarrassment for the entire home building industry.  Unfortunately for British Columbians, J. D. Power survey results are unavailable.

Home builders experienced dramatic increases in the cost for supplying real insurance coverage after the collapse of BC’s New Home Warranty program in the late 90’s.  Due to the legitimization and proliferation of construction quality defect claims and litigation, the transference of responsibility, and the subsequent restrictions on the scope of insurance coverage, the industry focus shifted to limiting liability and construction defect risk management, rather than building good quality in the first place being the focal point.

This led to builders in BC adopting misguided goals such as:
• Reduce the possibility of, or be in the best position to prevail against, any claims or litigation that do arise.
• Benchmark a  risk management program against minimum standards of the building code.
• Obtain the best insurance coverage and pricing terms from underwriters by adopting risk management best practices.
• Use new approaches to insure residential construction risks.
• Develop contract clauses that reduce risks.
• Lobby government to limit liability for the industry.

As a result, the 2-5-10 warranty insurance program in BC is basically useless for homeowners, and the HPO is failing miserably to fulfill its legislated mandate of consumer protection in a meaningful way.  What the HPO narrowly defines as defects is outrageous, but there again, so is using “minimum standards” as a benchmark in this day and age. 

It is disgraceful that the home building industry lags so far behind in understanding and applying real quality principles and practicing proper quality management; that is, quality as defined by every other industry in the world.  It seems the building industry has missed, the quality initiatives that transformed the expectations of consumers, and the quality levels attained throughout industry in general the past 30 + years. 

The global inroads made in modern quality actually started even before the 8o’s with Dr. Edwards Deming and Joseph Juran.  Despite proven results, popular concepts with powerful solutions, such as, “Zero Defects”, “Total Quality Management”, “Six Sigma”, etc., have been overlooked by the building industry right across the country.

Andy’s message: “It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn’t,” is at the root of the “Cost of Quality”, a universally adopted concept that became mainstream after 1979 as a result of Phil Crosby’s best selling book, “Quality is Free”.  Let’s hope this is the same powerful message that Andy, and his fellow speakers, deliver to those attending the conference.

It is regrettable and shameful that the leaders of the building industry still represent and tout work practices and standards from the dark ages that carry with it the need for additional layers and costs to the process for consumers, and while failing to deliver good quality construction.

Industry (and government) consulting with consumers is often a thinly guised claim on many initiatives that has really never properly taken place. To bridge the growing gap in delivery between the industry capabilities and customer expectations will require some of the existing models that are broken to be dismantled and replaced.

When was the last time the CHBA, HPO, Tarion, UDI, or other building industry types, showed any serious interest in properly engaging the consumer in some really meaningful dialogue?  Is the building industry really ready or even interested to change?

It would be refreshing to see such a conversation started, but then it requires some incredible leadership from the building industry that has not been seen to this point.

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