Daily Mail

Our new-build nightmares

Shockingly, many new homes have dozens of defects. And as these owners reveal, trying to fix them can be a costly horror story of time and trouble

- By Fiona Parker

MORE THAN three million new homes have been built in the UK over the past two decades. Yet while housing developers have made record profits with the help of government incentives, owners have been left to deal with a litany of problems.

The new-build business is now a £60billion industry, market researcher IBISWorld says. And ministers want to be building 300,000 homes each year by the mid-2020s.

But Britain’s new housing developmen­ts are often full of unhappy residents. Owners complain of soaring numbers of defects — and some are forced to sign non-disclosure agreements before repairs are made.

Others were burdened with onerous leasehold contracts and many face huge bills to remove firerisk cladding. Although the Government pledged to ban the sale of new leasehold homes in England, they can still legally be sold today.

Furthermor­e, homes are being built on flood-risk land and to poor standards of energy efficiency.

So how has Britain allowed shoddy standards to sully its new housing stock?

SNAGGING SHAME

ABOUT 94 pc of new-build homeowners report at least one defect once their property is complete, according to a recent poll by trade body the Home Builders Federation (HBF). Poor plastering, bad brickwork pointing and damaged windows are among the most commonly reported ‘snags’.

The average property now comes with as many as 157 defects, up by 96pc from 80 in 2005, according to specialist­s BuildScan. Over the same period, the price of the average newbuild home has soared by 44 pc to £340,936.

And in recent years, more properties have been built by the 12 biggest constructi­on giants. In 2015, larger firms made up 59pc of the market, up from 31pc in 2008, according to a parliament­ary report. Scores of smaller constructi­on companies went bust in the wake of the financial crisis.

But some experts claim larger firms are more likely to leave homes with scores of snags, as their builders are under pressure to finish developmen­ts quickly and move on.

Delays caused by supply issues in the constructi­on chain and spiralling cost of materials have piled more pressure on the industry.

James Forrester, managing director of small developer StripeHome­s, says: ‘Unfortunat­ely, snagging issues are rife and the big builders are often the culprits. The result is that some homes simply aren’t fit for purpose and, in the most serious cases, pose a real danger to those unlucky enough to purchase them.’

Nicholas Christofi, the managing director of Sirius Property Finance, says lower-quality new-build homes could start to deteriorat­e after just 30 years.

And government schemes such as Help to Buy have also helped firms fill their pockets, by offering interestfr­ee equity loans to buyers with small deposits — if they bought a newbuild property. Critics say builders used the scheme to push up prices.

HEATING LETDOWN

MOST buyers would expect their new-build home to meet the latest energy-efficiency standards.

Last week, the Prime Minister confirmed that from next year, developers will have to install electric-car charging points for new homes. And all properties are now given an energy performanc­e certificat­e (EPC) to tell buyers how energy-efficient they are.

But government figures show that just 2 pc of EPC ratings given to new homes in England between July and September this year were an A standard, the highest score. And while 83 pc achieved a ‘B’, 2 pc received an E and a few were awarded a G, the lowest rating. In Wales, just 5 pc of new-builds achieved an A.

The Government is banning gas boilers in new homes from 2025 — but hundreds of thousands could be fitted in new builds before then.

An energy-efficient heat pump costs about £2,500 to install when a home is being built, and more than three times as much to fit retrospect­ively. And while the Government will begin offering £5,000 grants towards the cost of fitting a new heat pump in England and Wales, new-build homes will not be eligible.

Labour says that if heat pumps were installed in more than 850,000 homes built over the next three years, owners would be spared a bill of more than £5 billion.

Lucy Powell, who was shadow housing secretary until this week, says: ‘It is insanity that we are building homes today that will need to be expensivel­y retrofitte­d.’

A government spokesman says homes built to current standards won’t need extensive retrofitti­ng to reach net zero. New-build buyers in Scotland can apply for up to 75 pc in cashback, capped at £7,500, towards the installati­on of a renewable heating system such as a heat pump.

FLOODING RISK

LOCAL councils are under increasing pressure to approve plans for new builds — and this year alone, approval was given for more than 5,000 new homes to be built in areas at high risk of flooding, according to insurer LV and think-tank Localis.

Floodplain developmen­t rose by 12pc in the past decade, according to the Climate Change Committee.

Owners of properties in areas with a history of flooding, or at high risk of it, are frequently rejected by mortgage lenders. While home insurance

premiums for properties built before 2009 in flood-risk areas are capped by the Flood Re scheme, those built after then are not. And councils are not legally obliged to follow environmen­t Agency advice to not build on floodplain­s.

David Renard, of the Local Government Associatio­n, says: ‘councils reject planning applicatio­ns that are reckless, and are generally opposed to building property where there is a risk of flooding.’

TOO LITTLE HELP

DEVELOPERS are normally obliged to fix any problems with new builds free of charge, as long as the issues are spotted within two years. Between three and ten years after a property was built, the builder usually has to repair major defects that would cost more than £1,500 to fix.

But homeowners can be fobbed off and ignored for months.

Paula Higgins, of the campaign group HomeOwners Alliance, says: ‘All too often, we hear from families who are waiting months or even years to get problems fixed.

‘While some builders will eventually resolve the issue, other drawn-out snagging requests will lead to rows over who is accountabl­e and whether the firm should have to foot the bill.’

Buyers can complain to their builders and, if they get nowhere, take their case to the national House Building council (NHBC), as long as the firm is a member. But some campaigner­s say the NHBC has limited scope to help. It will not force builders to pay out for extra costs incurred, such as for surveys.

Hotly contested snag complaints can be taken to a small claims court, provided the homeowner is claiming back £10,000 or less.

But if this is unsuccessf­ul, you may pay as much as £790 in court fees if you decide not to represent yourself. For families who have spent their savings on a new home, this is often too much.

Last week, the Dispute service was appointed to run a new Homes Ombudsman service, offering free help to unhappy buyers whose builders have signed up to it. the Government says a mandatory scheme will be introduced once the Building safety Bill has received royal assent.

SCANDAL HOMES

NEW-BUILD buyers have also been hit by a series of scandals.

About four million people are unable to sell homes deemed unsafe due to fire-risk cladding. this includes more than a million flat owners who also face crippling bills for safety measures and special insurance.

Meanwhile, some 4.5 million new-build buyers were locked into punitive leasehold contracts, which came with soaring ground rent demands that rendered some homes unsellable.

In 2017, the Government pledged to ban developers from selling new leasehold houses after a hard-fought campaign by the Daily Mail.

A Bill to reduce punitive ground rents to zero for most of these properties recently received its second reading in the commons.

the Home Builders Federation says new builds are boosting local economies and that customer satisfacti­on is ‘extremely high’.

A spokesman also says that new-build homes are significan­tly more energy efficient than older properties.

A government spokesman says it remains committed to banning the sale of new leasehold houses.

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