Sunday, November 14, 2010

In every dream-home, a-ha take*

Here in the Shire, the Leaky Burrow soap opera is still staggering on from episode to episode. The script-writers just have no idea that it's time to kill off all the characters in a volcanic eruption and call it a day.
The saga started in 1991, when the gubblement of the day had the bright idea of unshackling the construction industry from the Gordian Knot of red tape, and cutting the dead hand of over-regulation that was holding back the engine of Hobbit Ingenuity, by revising the Building Act. Builders -- previously constrained in the materials and construction methods they could employ -- could set about constructing houses from memory metal and condemned vat-grown meat if they wanted to, and excavating high-density hobbit holes using techniques borrowed from barrow-wights.

No-one could have foreseen that enough cowboys to populate Montana would set up shop -- mostly Southrons and dubious types from the desolate northlands -- promising prospective customers that soggy weetbix** was a water-resistant cladding material while "spackling over the cracks" was an innovative new weight-bearing element. Post Offal profits surged because the backs of so many envelopes were being used in lieu of normal architectural diagrams. Nor could anyone have predicted that umpteen thousand would-be home-owners would be too gullible to apply the usual rule about "things that sound too good to be true"; or that when the dream homes failed the basic requirement of accommodation (i.e. to keep the rain out), the offending builders would put their companies into liquidation and plead the poor mouth when approached for compensation. The salted pineapple trade comes into this somehow, possibly as a cheap roofing material.

When it's a single home-owner grumbling about the way his cut-price home has become a water-logged fungal mound of oozing mildew akin to a mouldering leprous hulk from a William Hodgson story, it is easy to explain that his plight is a natural consequence of greed and stupidity. When there are enough of them, though, the media and eventually the gubblement join in the search for Someone Else to Blame. It also helps when enough of the out-of-pocket home-owners are moneyed bastriges who had been promised $12-million mansions for only $6 million.

After a number of court hearings and digressions in the Explaining Voice, the "Someone else to blame" turns out to be the city councils, because council-employed Building Inspectors had been tasked with certifying that these buildings had met the ill-defined standards so vaguely adumbrated in the Free-Market-emphasising 1991 Building Act revision. This is why Hobbiton ratepayers are landed with a liability of perhaps $87 million (and a likely 6% rate increase) to compensate about 2115 hard-done-by leaky-burrow owners.

It turns out that one of the people suing the council for not stopping them buying crap buildings is the erstwhile Mayor of Hobbiton, Kerry Prendergast:
Ms Prendergast and property developer husband Rex Nicholls bought their fifth-floor apartment in 2002 for $1.73m. The apartment's current rating value is $2.8m.
I am not making this up. Kerry is suing the council for its inaction at a time when she was in charge of it, and when the dangers of leaky burrows was already apparent enough for prudent buyers to check construction quality themselves.

Meanwhile, in another role, Prendergast has been negotiating with central government about how much the latter should pay of the compensation package for the noisy wealthy out-of-pocket people. If she wore any more hats she would look like a totem pole.

Anyway, the answer to this crisis is probably more deregulation.
* "This is not my beautiful house" was also considered as a title.
** There is no 'a' in weetabix. The judges' decision is final. Correspondence will not be entered into.


Unknown said...

Stonking post, one question, is deregulation regulation by another name?
The danger we all face is that Some Others is a tribe that should always be made to pay...and the persona is always paid in cash.
Note, I don't even understand myself what I just wrote ;-)

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

When there are enough of them, though, the media and eventually the gubblement join in the search for Someone Else to Blame.

But of course!

How long before Mayor of Hobbiton, Kerry Prendergast, comes to these Untied States as FAUX Nooze newest pundit?

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

I don't see how this helps me.

Smut Clyde said...

ZRM is personally to blame for any stories of bad architecture.

Mayor of Hobbiton, Kerry Prendergast
Now ex-mayor. She left office in an amusingly ungraceful manner, blaming defeat on the transferable-vote electoral system (which meant that opposition to her was not necessarily split) rather than on her own can't-be-arsed-campaigning sense of entitlement to the job.

Emma said...

Wow! The, uh... orcs... over here in the US are still fighting, um... the other orcs? In the banks? In Sauron's Dark & Nameless Banks, for the right to not be foreclosed upon merely because they each took out loans which any ten of them would not have been able to pay unless they hit the scratch off-ticket lotto collectively and as individuals. The question of building materials has yet to arise. (Although I'm sure it will.)

On the other hand, when my uncle moved to Texas two years ago, he wasn't even able to donate his old and essentially value-free house to Habitat for Humanity, because of the black mold in the basement. So, there's that.

(My uncle is also an orc, like all good Americans.)

Great post, by the way.

Smut Clyde said...

I was more concerned with being snarky than being fair. A lot of the people who were sold a crap house were not gullible, or greedy; they just made the mistake of trusting the builders to know what they were doing, and trusting the government to keep the bastards honest.

15 years on, most of the small cases have actually been settled. The cases that are left are mainly multimillion-dollar apartments that are still hanging around because the aggrieved owners have lawyers and refuse to accept any of the partial compensation packages they have been offered so far. So I am facing a 6% hike in the rates to ensure that a handful of millionaires are not left out of pocket, and I'm not well pleased about it.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

trusting the builders to know what they were doing

well, there's your problem.

Substance McGravitas said...

Ho ho ho!

Smut Clyde said...

He he he!

Hamish Mack said...

One wonders if it was not a giant plan to create a sustainable industry by making buildings out of glued up sawdust and then having to replace them every 5 years?

mikey said...

Have I mentioned that the Hayward fault runs directly under my sofa?

At some point, you just can't build a house like a bunker.

Can you?


zombie rotten mcdonald said...

you can, mikey, but it would be miserable.

But there is, ideally, a workable median between "Bunker" and "card-house with random electrical fires"