Insolvent Builders & Home Warranty Insurance (“HWI”)

For many individuals or couples one of the biggest purchases in their lives will be the construction of a new home. Unfortunately over the years there have been many residential home builders that have gone into some form of insolvency administration and ceased to trade, leaving home owners with an incomplete home and lots of worries.
We are frequently appointed as Voluntary Administrators or Liquidators to residential home builders where they are insolvent. In one recent matter, there has been an instance where the HWI policies were not adequate to cover all costs incurred in completing the homes. We highlight in this article some important considerations customers should give if such an event occurs.

HWI is taken out by the residential home builder and is designed to cover customers. From 1 July 2010, the NSW Self Insurance Corporation, trading as the NSW Home Warranty Insurance Fund, took over as the sole provider of home warranty insurance in NSW. QBE Insurance (Australia) Limited and Calliden Insurance Limited were appointed as insurance agents of the NSW Self Insurance Corporation, through a contractual arrangement.

Importantly HWI provides a set period of cover for loss caused by defective or incomplete work in the event of the death, disappearance or insolvency of the residential home builder.

From 1 July 2002 a key element of a HWI policy is that it must indemnify beneficiaries (i.e. the customer) for non-completion of work due to early termination of the building contract. Insolvency of the residential home builder typically results in the termination of the building contract.

Critically from 1 February 2012, a HWI policy:

  • is required to be obtained where the contract price is over $20,000 or, if the contract price is not known, the reasonable market cost of the labour and materials involve is over $20,000; and
  • must provide cover of at least $340,000.

Relevantly claims for incomplete work are limited to 20% of the contract price (up to a maximum of the cover provided under the policy). It is this aspect that we believe is not always well understood by customers and indeed the residential home builder when insolvency occurs. We have set out below a recent matter we were appointed to highlight how HWI works when an insolvency event occurs resulting in the termination of the building contract.

Facts

  • Contract value for construction of home $300,000;
  • Costs paid as at insolvency event by home owner for first stages of construction $100,000;
  • Invoice issued by residential home builder for work completed but unpaid $25,000; and
  • Balance outstanding under contract at time of insolvency event / Liquidation: $200,000.

At the date of insolvency, the Insolvency Practitioner is often provided with a debtors listing relating to progress claims made by the residential builder. The recovery of each debtor is not always straight-forward and an accurate position regarding what the customer may owe (if any) can only be determined once the HWI is finalised. This can take many months to determine.

Given the above facts, the HWI and customer position unfolded as follows:

  • Following the liquidation of the residential builder, the customer lodged a claim under the HWI policy.
  • The Home Warranty Insurer arranged for an external consultant to inspect the dwelling to confirm / quantify the amount of works required to complete the contract.
  • The customer also had to prove to the Home Warranty Insurer the quantum of payments made to the residential home builder under the contract. In this case no “cash” payments had been made, but in circumstances where this occurs, this can create issues.
  • Three (3) quotes were obtained from different builders to complete the works. The Home Warranty Insurer then approved one of the builders to complete the works.
  • The certified costs to complete the dwelling were $250,000. Therefore, the customer paid the balance of the original contract price being $200,000 and made a claim for the additional $50,000 under the HWI policy.
  • In this case as the additional cost to complete the dwelling was less than 20% of the original contract price, the HWI covered the additional $50,000 that was required to complete the construction of the dwelling. Therefore there were no monies collectible under the outstanding progress claim in the Liquidation.
  • HOWEVER, if the certified costs had been for example, $285,000 (thus meaning the additional costs were greater than 20% of the contract price), then the customer would have had an uninsured loss to the extent of $25,000 that would have to be met from their own funds. In the particular insolvency administration concerned, there were 3 customers who ultimately had uninsured losses ranging from $25,000 to $60,000 per customer. Not insignificant!!

Unfortunately when an insolvency of a residential home builder occurs, it may take several months to work through this process and it will only be at the conclusion of the building contract once all of the costs are known, that the Liquidator would be in a position to determine if there is actually any debt owning by the customer.

It is important that customers get the right advice as to their position when their builder has been placed into some form of insolvency administration. We caution customers who want to go off miss-informed and complete the dwelling themselves as once this occurs they are likely to jeopardise any ability to claim on HWI.