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EXCLUSIVE: It seemed like the stars were finally aligning for Josh Girle-Bennett and his wife Michelle when the Federal Government announced its $25,000 HomeBuilder’s grant in June 2020.

The couple had moved from Sydney to Orange in regional NSW three years ago, in part because of the astronomical property prices in the city.

Now here was their chance to finally make a move on owning their first home.

“It really spurred my wife to say, hey, you know, we might be able to do something here,” Mr Girle-Bennett said. 

“If we have this extra $25,000, we can do this.”

Josh Girle-Bennett and his wife Michelle, pictured outside their almost completed first home in Orange, NSW.
Josh Girle-Bennett and his wife Michelle, pictured outside their almost completed first home in Orange, NSW. (Supplied: Josh Girle-Bennett)

Two days later, the couple bought a 650-square metre block of land for $215,000.

The couple spent the next six months saving until December of 2020, which was when they needed to sign a building contract in order to qualify for the HomeBuilders grant.

They signed on the dotted line with a few weeks to spare.

But their problems were just about to start.

An ominous warning

The first sign that something was wrong came when Mr Girle-Bennett got a call from the bank.

The council had approved the house plans without a hitch, but the bank also wanted to see a construction certificate, which would show their building work had permission to begin.

For two months, Mr Girle-Bennett tried to chase up the construction certificate with the builder, with no luck.

Mr Girle-Bennett and his wife say they were forced to terminate their first building contract after no work was done in six months. The delay cost them dearly.
Mr Girle-Bennett and his wife say they were forced to terminate their first building contract after no work was done in six months. The delay cost them dearly. (Supplied: Josh Girle-Bennett)

The inexplicable delays stretched on and on.

By the time 128 days had passed no work had even been started on the couple’s home, which was supposed to take 210 days to complete.

There was also still no construction certificate. 

After seeing a solicitor, Mr Girle-Bennet and his wife terminated their contract with the builder on the grounds a clause had been breached which stated work needed to be commenced within 20 working days of council plans being approved.

But terminating their building contract turned out to have several financially devastating knock-on effects, some completely unforeseen.

‘A kick in the guts’

For a start, it meant the couple no longer met the rigid dates and deadlines set out under the HomeBuilder grant.

Mr Girle-Bennet said he submitted his application for the Federal grant anyway, hopeful the state administrators – Revenue NSW – would take into account their genuine intentions to build and the extenuating circumstances which had forced them to terminate their contract.

But in July 2021, the couple received a letter informing them their application for the HomeBuilder grant had been rejected.

Building their first home has come with significant extra financial stress for Mr Girle-Bennett and his wife missed out on two government grants and COVID-19 pushed up construction costs.
Building their first home has come with significant extra financial stress for Mr Girle-Bennett and his wife missed out on two government grants and COVID-19 pushed up construction costs. (Supplied: Josh Girle-Bennett)

“It was a bit of a kick in the guts because the way the letter was worded made it sound like we had made the decision on a whim,” Mr Girle-Bennett.

“But this was done on the basis that the builder failed to meet their contractual obligations.”

“It just felt unfair and un-Australian.”

The couple went on to sign another contract with a new builder in August 2021. 

They requested Revenue NSW review their case but the decision to deny them the HomeBuilder grant was upheld.  

A spokesperson for Revenue NSW said a second contract may be accepted after the closing date if the builder enters into liquidation or passes away, provided all other eligibility criteria was met.

“The HomeBuilder Grant guidelines were enacted by the Commonwealth Government and apply across all states and territories. Revenue NSW does not have the authority to pay the grant where the eligibility criteria has not been met,” the spokesperson said.

‘It was a triple whammy’

Mr Girle-Bennett said he and his wife had been pleased with the work of their current builder and expected to be in their new home next month.

But breaking their first contract set them back financially in more ways than one, he said.

Rubbing salt into the wound, a shortage of building materials during the pandemic meant prices surged during their six-month delay, adding around 9 percent – or $52,000 – to their costs.

This in turn meant the price of their home exceeded the $750,000 cap for the $10,000 First Home Owner Grant by $20,000.

After signing with a new builder, the couple expect to be able to move into their home next month.
After signing with a new builder, the couple expect to be able to move into their home next month. (Supplied: Josh Girle-Bennett)

“It was a triple whammy,” Mr Girle-Bennett said.

“We lost the Homebuilder grant, we lost the First Home Owner Grant and we’ve had to pay extra money in the cost of materials and labour.”

Exceeding $750,000 would have also provided further complications for the couple had they been approved for the HomeBuilder grant.

For contracts signed up until December 31, 2020 a cap of $750,000 applies to all new dwellings. 

The cap was later raised in NSW to $950,000 but the grant reduced to $15,000.

Contact reporter Emily McPherson at [email protected]

Source: 9News

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