The adage “you can’t keep a good man down” applies perfectly to Howard Ryan, who has been down but not out over his drive to clean up the building industry. And, like a true man of integrity, Mr Ryan has bounced back even stronger than before. After all, he wasn’t down on the mat for long.
While this modest maverick’s fight did not send him bankrupt, he did have to sell his family home and some assets, until he was able to build his present comfortable home in Quakers Hill and come back stronger than before. His health also suffered through his struggles, with his weight ballooning and his blood pressure too high for comfort.
Today, sitting in his tidy sitting room, Howard Ryan can shrug off the past with the demeanour of the victor, albeit a modest one.
“I wasn’t ill as such through all the stresses but my weight went up 25 kilograms and my blood pressure was too high, but now the weight has gone and blood pressure is normal,” he said.
He says his wife, Diane, has been his rock, backing him all the way, as have his three sons.
“Diane has always been there for me. We met in high school and have been married for more than 40 years, with three sons and six grandchildren. Family is everything for me.”

But for many years, work as a builder and building inspector took up most of his time, and that was before he started his battle with shonky builders and politicians who did not see there was a problem in the industry.
He is appreciative of all of his supporters, but mostly his family, and he is proud that his sons have followed him into the business.
Mr Ryan’s problems began in the late 1980s during the building boom when, as a home builder, he noticed an increase in shonkiness among tradies and builders.
“I was dragged into it as a builder when I had to correct work done by tradesmen, and I didn’t think I should have to pay for shonky work,” he said.
That’s when his troubles started, with unpaid tradesmen suing him over non-payment. In money terms, it cost Howard $350,000, not a drop in the ocean then or now. But later, his commitment to giving the consumer the best possible homes led to his spending much more money — but with a more satisfying outcome.
“The problem with the court cases was that I didn’t have proof of shonky work, only what the homeowners had told me,” Howard said. “It taught me about the importance of evidence.”
It says a lot about his tenacity, and his tight-knit family, that he does not refer to the financial fallout as a “loss” but rather a “cost” that could be overcome. While selling the family home and assets might cripple a lesser man, to Howard it was just another hurdle to be overcome. It had to be overcome, not just for his sake but for the sake of the building industry and consumer.
For Howard had important work to do — to clean up the industry which has always had its share of good and bad operators — starting with education.

“The training of builders and tradesmen these days is shocking. When I went to TAFE in the 1970s, it was for seven years and now we have builders coming through in six months,” he said. “Then they did away with council building inspectors and replaced them with private certifiers who kept getting it wrong. No one was cross-checking the certifiers’ work.”
Add to that shoddy work from tradesmen coming from overseas, and the industry was in a mess. Having handed over his reinvigorated building business to his sons, Howard started his property inspection business H & K Ryan and Associates, after a need for pre-purchase inspections became apparent to consumers and leading builders and real estate agents.
But his greatest challenge was setting up the online Pre-Purchase Inspections national registry, where certified and licensed builders and inspectors pay a small fee to be registered.
“I had tried to approach state governments, Labor and Liberal, for them to regulate the industry but it all fell on deaf ears so I decided to go ahead with this registry myself and set up my education program,” Mr Ryan said.
Having put more than $1.4 million promoting the PPI, Howard was on a roll to do the best he could for consumers by putting together a comprehensive training program for builders, inspectors and home sales staff.
He runs his courses all over Australia as well as in New Zealand, the USA and England, recognised as a leader in the field and used by leading project builders in Australia. He is also at the coalface of disputes, being an independent arbitrator between builders and consumers, often appearing in court for homeowners, although he emphasises that sometimes the consumer is not always right.
And that goes to the heart of what makes Howard Ryan tick — he does his best to see both sides and does not have an agenda other than helping to produce the best outcome for all.
Someone even suggested he go into politics. When I, the cynical journalist, suggested that perhaps he is too even-handed for that, the diplomat in him gives a wry smile. ❐