In the wake of reports that some housing projects used substandard construction materials, several consumers are pinning their hopes on the Consumer Protection Board.
But in fact the CPB, the last resort for unhappy homebuyers, may not be needed if developers pay more heed to quality from the start of construction to unit delivery, industry veterans say.
Earlier this month, concerns about construction quality were stirred by the case of Kristopher George Houston, who was shocked to find pieces of foam and rubbish inside the wall of his unit at The Base Sukhumvit 77, a newly completed condo project by Sansiri Plc.
The case highlighted two major issues developers are tackling in the midst of a property boom and mounting labour shortages: quality control (QC) and after-sales service.
Pumipat Sinacharoen, chief people officer and deputy chief financial officer of the SET-listed developer AP (Thailand), says a house involves more than 1,000 pieces in one supply chain and construction is complicated and labour-intensive.
"Defects both trivial and huge cannot be avoided," he said. "But the keys are a quick response and after-sales service to end the problem as soon as possible and make customers happy."
Rule No.1 is don't ignore any cases.
"Problems blow up on the internet and social networks because of the developer's slow approach to taking care of customers and addressing the problem," said Mr Pumipat.
Customers will not be happy if their call is ignored. Their frustration grows if the problem cannot be solved within a few attempts.
"If we want to expand business, we need to make sure that our service team and internal system are ready for that expansion; otherwise, it will backfire on us and our brand," said Mr Pumipat.
After-sales service is a fixed cost that large developers should cover. AP sets aside 1% of project value as the budget for after-sales service. It has a system of service-level agreements for evaluating customer problems and providing a team to fix them.
"Once we get a call, we visit the unit within one day to assess the problem," said Mr Pumipat. "If the problem makes the unit owner unable to stay, it is an urgent one that we need to repair within 24 hours."
AP delivered 4,000 units last year and expects to transfer 5,000 this year. Of its 1,300 employees, up to 20% are for call centres, QC, after-sales service and property management.
To cope with an increasing number of units to take care of, AP is restructuring after-sales service to be more focused and to speed up internal reporting.
"But it's all back to square one _ the beginning of the problem," said Mr Pumipat. "Construction quality can minimise problems. QC is needed not only at the end product but also for construction."
AP has had a QC process in place for a few years. For example, when a roofing job is over, QC will pour water on the roof to test for leakage.
QC improves construction quality and builds customer confidence. Developers must manage any problem that affects major aspects such as building structure.
Charan Kesorn, managing director of Lumpini Property Management Co, an after-sales service provider for L.P.N. Development Plc, says quality begins upstream. Developers should deliver units to the specifications laid out for customers.
"If we do a product as we promised, the product will confirm itself," he said.
L.P.N. says it finds minimal problems with delivered units, as its contractors have been partners for 30 years or more. The firm has three main contractors, four subcontractors for mechanical and electrical jobs, and two precast producers.
Project management does inspections and QC from the beginning of construction. When a unit is ready for delivery, the salesperson does a final inspection of the completed unit.
L.P.N. has 600 property management staff who also provide after-sales service, with 500 of them at 100 projects comprising 300 buildings and the rest at company headquarters.
After 24 years delivering 80,000 units to customers, L.P.N. says it gets 30 problem or defect reports a day. The most serious cases involve water leakage.
Feedback within 24 hours is provided if the resident cannot stay. If the problem can wait or the unit owner needs time to prepare the unit, repair service is provided within three days.
For a non-serious case that involves other units or requires other unit owners to prepare their units, repairs will take place within seven days.
Thanee Vattanasook, managing director of the project consultant Consulting & Management 49 Ltd, suggested contractors consider profit when getting a construction job. They should also well manage demand and supply side or construction job and their capacity respectively.
"Good quality of construction job depends on project consultant by 50-60% and the rest by contractors," he added.
Suwat Chaopricha, president of contractor Ritta Co, said money is the key to specify construction quality. Most of poor quality of construction jobs are derived from construction price that are too low.
If contractors get good pay, their bargaining power will be higher. They will not buy poor-quality materials, try to control construction quality and be able to pay for labour forces which are highly hunted.
In a construction job, Ritta has four QC processes to comply with. They include method statement which determines construction method; training for both general and particular job; inspection with a test on final product; and inspection for product delivery.
When it bids for a construction job, it will also submit three procedure books as a guideline comprising project execution procedure, safety procedure and quality assurance and quality control procedure.
"With all of these procedures and QC processes, defects will be minimal while construction quality will improve," he added.
About the author
- Writer: Kanana Katharangsiporn
Position: Business Reporter