Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to review the four stages of approval and describe the process of building certification. It reviews a sample of the inspection and certification records of 109 houses in south-east Queensland and analyses their progress through each of the stages. The incidence of minor faults and failures is examined, together with requests for further information. Trends in these incidents are enumerated, described and analysed with a view to improving the process. Design/methodology/approach: Access to a private certifier's inspection data base was given and 109 houses were randomly selected. All the houses were built in 2010 in south-east Queensland from the Gold Coast, Brisbane and stretching up to the Sunshine Coast. The full range of inspections was conducted to completion. The records of each house inspection at each of the stages were examined, with the detailed notes of each inspection reviewed and analysed. The inspector's notes were often extensive and detailed and the authors condensed these down into the main causes of problems in approval for that stage. Findings: The results provide an insight into the process of building approval with documentation required to ensure its integrity and satisfactory completion. A summary of the results provides an insight into this performance. Practical implications: The building control and certification system is working well and the regulations, codes and trained personnel are maintaining high standards of construction and safety. Social implications: Safer and better quality house construction should lead to greater consumer satisfaction and confidence in the community. Originality/value: This is the first time that such a study of the private certification process has been undertaken in Australia.