December, Deregulation and Dust

Author: Siska Concannon, Marketing Manager, Unitex.

Is it really that time of year again? Ensue headache…why not, may as well start early.

In case you thought otherwise, I’m not even talking about Christmas. It’s that time of year when people are either winding down or beyond manic, more so the latter these days. Being in Marketing and the Building Industry means I have a list, longer than I like to think too much on, of details that need finalising and projects that need completing all by December 21. Not really the fun, silly season then it would seem.

I guess I should be happy – I am fortunate enough to do a job I love for a company that prides itself on its commitment to its customers and staff, and most importantly, I believe in and respect…not everyone can say that. So I do get irate when I see companies sully the industry with their immoral practices and poor product offering. I may be playing with fire here, but after watching the recent ‘Tele-Movie’ on the real life events of the Australian Asbestos scandal called ‘Devil’s Dust’ (ABC, 11-12 November 2012), it made me angry that not all the companies involved in this scandal were named and shamed but also that this industry is not more tightly regulated.

Following the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) the world wide banks were put under a microscope, Government organisations were created to police the deals and practices of said banks and heavy penalties were sanctioned. Whilst some could argue that the rate of suicide increased, the banks were not directly to blame for this – in other words their product didn’t kill these people. Yet, a company product has (and continues) to kill people and they only get a slap on the wrist. No jail time. No bankruptcy. No anything. Not to mention the other companies involved, with larger mines that have not even faced a slither of reprimand for their involvement.

Not sure if it is a numbers game? Perhaps as it is not on a global scale? Is 60,000 deaths not enough (estimated number of Australian asbestos related deaths by 2030)? Guess the Government doesn’t seem to think so. This industry is one of the most deregulated industries going, and for an industry that manufactures, sells and constructs possibly the most fundamental item all individuals rely on, it is baffling to me why it is still not heavily regulated.

What I hope comes out of this, including an apology to the victims and their families as well as those directly accountable to stand trial, is that there be heavy regulation in this industry. Not lip service like the current system. Quality manufacturers invest in proving their product worth, and proving they have the goods to back up their product marketing statements – the government body placing ‘regulation’ on these products happily take the money, but do nothing to enforce the requirement. To me, this is not enough.

In the meantime I hope that what changes is that the Australian public realise the value in only selecting, nay demanding, high quality products. Now this is not some insensitive marketers statement to make a sales pitch out of a shocking and devastating event, but more a plea. Whatever brand you choose to use on your house or project – know the quality, know what value you are getting out of it, research not only the company but the products. Ask to speak to customers and get their feedback, listen to the experts in the field (Twitter, blogs, Facebook, word of mouth, talk back radio – that don’t receive kick-backs).

This is your project, your life and your money, don’t give it away to a sub-standard company for a sub-standard product.

I would love to hear your feedback on this issue – what has been your experience? Do you agree or disagree that the industry needs more regulation? Your thoughts shape the way this blog continues, so please provide feedback, comments and questions below.

To Renovate or Sell…That is the question

Author: Siska Concannon, Marketing Manager, Unitex Granular Marble Pty Ltd

Whether it is where Australians work, shop, play or live the Building and Construction Industry performs an integral role in Australia’s economic development and is highly responsive to trends in the business cycle and household spending. With manufacturing constituting 8.75% of the Australian workforce, third in line directly behind the Construction industry (9%), this industry is not only economically integral but also highly volatile.

So it was with some sigh of relief that I read yesterdays article by ‘The Australian’ journalist, Sarah Danckert (‘Building approvals on the rise’) confirming that residential building approvals increased by 7.8 per cent in the last month (an increase of over 12% from September 2011). The relief was not purely from a business perspective (which, let’s face it, is always important) but also from an economic one – this means Aussie’s are spending, and spending in the right areas, which is fundamental to keeping Australia profitable and out of the grips of GFC nightmares.

I of course am interested in what is happening in the building and construction arena, and not wanting to be a ‘Negative Nancy’ or ‘Cynical Cindy’ but did pose the question as to why. Why has this change occurred? Is it purely down to Reserve Bank interest rate changes (and so not really a long term solution)? Or are Australians feeling more confident and secure economically? So I did a bit of probing….

It seems Melbourne housing industry isn’t actually doing that great, which is problematic…if you are looking to sell that is. RP Data research director Tim Lawless has been quoted as stating that ‘Melbourne’s apartment market had shown the greatest weakness over the month and could worsen as thousands of apartments under construction were completed’ (The Australian, ‘Property prices slump in most capital cities’, Nov 02 2012). With apartment prices dropping 6% and housing decreasing by just over 4% it would seem it is not a great time to sell. Although I remain optimistic that this is merely a down cycle, and prices will rise again, I cannot help but believe this is a result of an over-inflated market bubble….as Newton’s law of gravity states – what goes up, must (eventually) come down.

What is interesting is that home renovations are on the increase. It was recently reported that more than half of Australia’s homeowners plan to renovate in the next four years. Makes sense considering the market – if you can’t sell it, you might as well create what you want with what you’ve got.

I recently placed a Tweet out to our followers attempting to start a discussion on this very topic – asking if they are, or are considering, renovating over the next 12 months…and if so, what their biggest renovating challenges are. Admittedly I didn’t get much of a response, which either means my tweet got lost in the list of tweets that would pop up on followers timelines (it is estimated the average Australian Tweeter follows 100 people and brands) or none of the @UnitexAUS followers are renovating. But I am determined to find out what the Aussie market is doing, and in doing so creating more relevant information for our Blog readers, which is my ultimate goal.

So let me know in the comments section below – whether you are a specialist, in the trade or a home owner, your input is greatly appreciated and will assist me in providing you with the most relevant information and discussions for your building and renovating requirements.

The WOW Factor

A few weeks ago I was invited to attend one of the biggest horse racing events on the Australian calendar – Melbourne Cup. Now, there are not many out there (possibly slightly more females than males) that have left organizing their ‘look’ till now…alas I fall into that minority. Whilst on any other occasion this would not pose such a great problem, it does here. This is predominantly down to the fact that I am Melbourne based, and this is the biggest social event of the calendar so the ability to find a look within budget, my style and unique becomes a challenge that not even Felix Baumgartner would attempt.

As any woman will tell you (and some males), the sheer horror of seeing another woman (or male) in the exact same outfit is, well, mortifying. If your own knowledge of your ‘look’ twin isn’t enough, then comes your friends attempt to comfort you, “you look so much better than he/she does”. All this is just too much anxiety for what should be a fun day.

It can be argued that after the 5th Champagne, the care factor would have reached undetectable levels so really no damage done (although your liver may tell another tale). However, the same cannot be said for every similar situation. Your house is always there, and unless you are constantly drinking Champagne (to which you may want to reassess your health status), it is hard to ignore the truth, especially if it looks exactly the same to your neighbours and your neighbours neighbours facades.

The Spring Racing carnival is all about the competitive edge, and I am not just talking about the actual races – who looks the best in what, who will make more of a fool of him/herself, who has the best marquee/lunch to go to and which corporate has the best event and secures the biggest celebrity guest. But what it always comes down to is the look, or as terminology we use – the façade. Whether that be in relation to an event or what someone is wearing, the competition is fierce and always on.

So why do we place such importance on how we look, making sure our look is individual and have that WOW factor, and yet we are more than happy to follow the status quo when it comes to our house facades.

Everyone wants to pick a winner, and placing bets on your home to make sure it looks pleasing but will also bring in a nice return is important and imperative, however that doesn’t mean it has to look like most houses you find throughout your local areas. Individual design matched with surface effects and different features (ie rough cast) can and does achieve that elusive WOW factor…and let’s face it, who doesn’t want to have the best dressed house on the block.

 

We appreciate your feedback on this subject, and also welcome suggestions for future blogs – please leave your comments below.

Carbon Tax…and Underground Homes

After watching what could only be the 1,000,000th repeat of Roland Emmerich’s ‘Independence Day’ it got me thinking about our little planet and the possibility of having to live in bunkers to escape evil alien spawns. Not really, but it did get me thinking about what future we are leaving our children and our children’s children. Not wanting to get all ‘tree hugging’ on you, but the world is changing and how we live has changed dramatically.

It is hard to escape the media, or at least what they want us to see, and you would need to be living in an underground bunker to not be aware of what we are watching. It may not be aliens (but to some the financial markets may as well be) but watching their crippling demise worldwide, some of us feel about as useful as those American civilians running for their life from said aliens. Not only has the financial markets taken a sharp dive, but we must also contend with the ice melting at faster rates than ever before – in hindsight, maybe ‘2012’ was a better movie analogy.

So it would be assumed then that the Gillard governments ‘Carbon Tax’ would be a great way for Australia to start minimizing our impact on the globe. Great in theory, not so much in practice. The problem with this tax is that it doesn’t actually do anything for the planet, and does even less for the Australian economy. Whilst I don’t want to get into a political debate, Direct Action does seem the best option to tackle this world wide dilemma as the Carbon Tax purely discourages Australians and the rest of the world from buying Australian Made. Remember the big ‘Australian Made’ campaign not too long ago – keep Australian jobs in Australia? Well it is still around (I did a Google search, and they still have a website), but unfortunately the very institution that set it up is the very institution forcing us to go overseas!

When it comes to the manufacturing industry – building products specifically – you can’t get much cheaper than Asian imports (Chinese specifically), which is fantastic for the Chinese economy and even better for your back pocket, but (and there is always a ‘but’) not so great for the long term future of your house or commercial project. The age old saying ‘you get what you pay for’ still holds its weight in this example, and believe me, we have seen it time and time again. When purchasing from abroad for cheaper products, and problems happen (to which I can almost guarantee they will), the company will either no longer exist or the product is not manufactured anymore and defect upon defect is seen. However, to actually find a company that is Australian owned and manufactured in the building game is also a rarity as local prices and consumer demand for cheaper prices (and as such reduction in quality) has forced these players out of the game. So not only has the Carbon Tax discouraged international business for Australia but has also discouraged local business for Australia, at the cost of quality….so what is the solution?

With the upcoming election next year how about our Pollies come up with a grant that not only helps the planet and the economy but also benefits the people they represent. Why not instead of the first home buyers grant (which is abolished anyway), we look at ways to incentivise those building a home or commercial project that is energy efficient? A grant that brings benefit to those building with the lowest embodied energy content in the house structure. So this would mean that bricks and steel frames are out, glass must be minimal as it is all made with energy (molton silica), timber frames are in as they are locked up carbon and modified concrete will also be ok.

Another option would be to build underground – not sure how feasible that will be, but will save energy. Or perhaps we should change our desire to live in 200+ square meter homes that are currently the average size being built, and live in tiny houses of 60 to 70 square meters? Again, saves some energy there too.

Or perhaps we look at what the rest of the world (Europe and America in particular) have been doing for decades and in so saving a lot of energy, through insulating surfaces. Insulating surfaces (ie Base Board cladding saves more energy loss (multiple times over in fact) than it costs in energy to manufacture. The locked in carbon from a Base Board cladding system is sustainable for around 60-100 years, and with payback currently at 7 years it is a 9 to 10 fold reduction in energy waste (not to mention the savings on heating and cooling bills – impressive would be an understatement). Providing this type of incentive would require Australian manufacturers to provide quality and accredited systems with guarantees that can be produced for verification (along with the Architects/Building Designer plans) of energy saving structure and design. This would keep our economy strong by keeping Australian accredited manufacturers first in line for buying decision and guarantee quality as well as providing guaranteed longevity to the home owner and/or developer, not to mention actually providing a positive solution for our planet and its longevity.

 

Interested in knowing more about the nationally accredited Unitex Base Board System? Contact us directly with your enquiry here, or have a look at the Unitex Base Board brochure here.

We appreciate your feedback on this subject, and also welcome suggestions for future blogs – please leave your comments below.

Big Brother comes to Melbourne suburbia

Author: Siska Concannon, Marketing Manager, Unitex Granular Marble P/L

I was struck by an article a colleague presented to me this week (Barclay, A, Boroondara Review Local, ‘Council outlaws mock mansions’, October 03, 2012) on the Boroondara councils unanimous ban on rooflines to, in short, discourage neo-Georgian and French provincial houses from being constructed in residential areas. It struck me for two reasons, but both reasons centered on the issue of a home owners right to dictate style and taste on their own home.

This Eastern suburbs city council covers an array of prestigious suburbs, and much sought after addresses in the Melbourne inner eastern area, and has achieved this through immaculate house facades and the timeless classic look of neo-Georgian and French provincial homes. However, regardless of your taste and whether you agree that the neo-Georgian and French provincial look is timeless or even your version of attractive, the point is that councils are looking to have the power to tell you what style is yours and what look your property will have. Now, I cannot speak for everyone, but this lack of choice in one of the biggest investments you will make in your lifetime seems almost not worth it. We might as well stay in the rental game, as it would seem that soon we may have as much rights there as we would in owning our own home!

Whilst the ban in question is specific to sloping rooflines, there was a comment by Cr Jack Wegman to A Barclay urging that the council also ‘redefine period reproduction to discourage “detailing such as mock-Georgian and mock-French Provincial”’. So it begs the question if taste and style is subjective, and as Australian’s we live in a ‘free society’ (or at least relatively free), who has the right to force their beliefs on us? In this case, and especially when it comes to our basic right to express ourselves in and through our private domains – our home.

Now this may open up a can of worms, but what I am mostly concerned with is a persons right to decorate their home facades to their taste and style, which not only says to everyone that views the property, this is a reflection of our style, but more importantly that you have complete ownership over your dwelling – inside and out. When the statistics show that 70% of Australian households own their own home (80% of these being high income owners) this issue is of considerable importance to a vast majority of us all.

After speaking with many experts in the housing industry and listening to focus groups on this matter, opinion is still very much pro choice. Stylish facades are in-vogue, however what constitutes style is where the discussion gets juicy, as no two people 100% agree with the other, but isn’t this the very definition of style – subjective opinion.

One of the experts I spoke with went onto say “take an uninformed child for a walk down the streets of Melbourne and ask which houses are considered beautiful and every time the answer will be the old-world style of rendered facades with architectural profiles and entrance columns”. He went onto add “In the late 1880s to the mid 1930s companies like ‘Hopkins Plaster’ had over 2000 Artisans crafting all the various stylish buildings in Australia that are, today, listed by the National Trust, and some even awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status, and are required to be preserved. These buildings are of Edwardian, Victorian and Georgian style and generally I do not hear these ‘commentators’ calling these listed buildings (ie The Windsor, The Royal Exhibition Building etc) copies or ‘mock’ designs.” Another expert added “Who is the arbiter?! Who says a ‘mock’ brick veneer or ‘mock’ Californian bungalow is better than a ‘mock’ classic style?  The homeowners are the arbiters and currently they are saying they want classic styles and our builder customers agree”.

When I attempted to be somewhat of a Nancy Drew and approached the Boroondara council to provide comment on what this new vote involves for the residents in question, they were very forthcoming and helpful in their response to clarify that the design guidelines aim is to “ensure new development fits in with the character of the streetscape, and in some cases the guidelines discourage period reproduction design where this is inconsistent with the housing styles in the area” and basically to prevent misinterpretation of ‘mock’ Georgian and ‘mock’ French provincial design.

Whilst I do understand that more often than not, one does not just buy a house, they are also buying into a street/community and all the foibles that come with it, and it can be said that there still involves choice as one can choose to not buy in the particular street if they believe they are being restricted. However, my concern is if this is accepted now for certain streets – heritage or not – where does it end? Will eventually the home buyers’ choice be diminished as councils build strong cases against individual design for more and more streets and areas? Are our Architects and Building Designers going to be forced to follow template designs and thus any form of creativity be squashed? Will we find ourselves in our own ‘Truman Show’ (as a side note, great movie!)? I can only hope we as society do not let this happen.

As a former Premier of Victoria once said “The home owner feels that he/she has a stake in the country, and that he/she has something worth working for, living for, fighting for.” So let’s kick out Big Brother type legislation and regulation and continue the fight to own our own home and be able to dictate what that home looks like.

 

We appreciate your feedback on this subject, and also welcome suggestions for future blogs – please leave your comments below.