Category Archives: Snagging and Quality

Help, advice and information on defects, snagging and quality issues with UK new homes.

Persimmon Homes Publish Independent Review

Persimmon Homes has published its “wide-ranging independent review” that began back in April and apparently took over eight months to discover a “lack of a group build policy increases the risk of defects in its houses.” Who knew?

This is the basket case, housebuilding pantomime villain; Persimmon Homes with “no agreed procedures to supervise or inspect its employees or sub-contractors’ work and that staff were only given limited training.

The independent review report was carried out by QC Stephanie Barwise who begins with a legal a disclaimer of liability – “Findings made on an information only and non-reliance basis – no liability or duty is accepted” and recommends that Persimmon Homes “should take sufficient time to formulate and embed a ‘Persimmon Way’ of building”. In the meantime its shares plunged 7.32% on the week. You can read their “Difficult truths” here

So over 8 months since Persimmon realised they have a quality issue that needs addressing, how long will it be before the board take action, start sacking indifferent staff and turn this house building hulk around? If they didn’t know before, or chose to ignore (year after year) what their own customers had been saying, they certainly know now, what is wrong and what needs to be done. But I believe there will be no discernible improvement in either quality or service in the next 12 months because any permanent change of corporate culture could take as long as 20 years and only then, if there is a will and there is a way.

The damning review conclusions:Missing cavity fire barriers Persimmon Homes

Persimmon homes flag“Persimmon has traditionally been more a land assembler and house-seller rather than a housebuilder”

“Persimmon Homes has relied on third party warranty providers for inspection of the key build stages. It is unrealistic to regard the warranty providers as being able to inspect all work stages or even all properties; they do not.”

“Persimmon’s pledge that it inspects the work at all stages of the build process is not currently met.”

“A push for sales masked severe problems in build quality and a lax corporate culture which allowed those problems to continue.”

“Persimmon has a nationwide problem of missing and/or incorrectly installed cavity barriers in its timber frame properties, first discovered in October 2018.”

“Pre-completion procedure may have contributed to a culture of non-observance of certain stages in the process, or a mere box ticking exercise, stemming from a belief that any single stage is not important, as another check or inspection will follow later.”

HBF Star Rating “does not accurately reflect build quality”

“The post-completion procedure is focussed on the obtaining of stars via the HBF Survey results from the answer to a single question, “Would you recommend the builder to a friend”, asked eight weeks after legal completion. The Home Builders Federation (HBF) star rating is a measure of quality as perceived by the customer shortly after completion, rather than a measure of the TRUE QUALITY and safety of the build.”

“Therefore, if Persimmon Homes does want to be, and be known as, a builder of quality homes, its aspirations cannot be realised simply by achieving a four or five star HBF rating”

HBF star rating no guide to qualityNot exactly how the HBF spin it in their survey reports each year. But now we have an independent report that categorically states that the HBF 8-week survey results and star rating “does not accurately reflect build quality” and is therefore, quite frankly, pointless and meaningless.

“we consider that the HBF Recommendation Score is not necessarily the most appropriate measure, since it does not accurately reflect build quality, albeit it is an indicator of customer service”

But that hasn’t stopped the HBF spinning the survey responses as evidence of “improving quality” especially as the survey sole purpose is to “provide data to rebut negativity.”

“The review clearly shows that the surest route to improved customer satisfaction is through the delivery of consistent build quality and service”

Not £250 John Lewis vouchers in return for a “Yes” to Q1 in the HBF 8-week survey?

In response to the independent review report findings The HBF claim:

“The star rating system is an accepted barometer of how homebuilding companies are performing and has led to a step change in how the industry provides customer service. It is not intended to be a technical check on the house, there are a range of other checks carried out on a new-build home, by the builder and external bodies, to ensure the home is built to the requisite building standards.”

Build stage inspections

Persimmon Homes independent review report states:

“In late October 2019 Persimmon set up a working group with a view to determining inter alia the work stages to be inspected. At the time of drafting this Report, we understand that this process is ongoing and that Persimmon has not yet identified the stages it intends to inspect, nor the manner in which it intends to perform those inspections.”

You really do have to wonder why, giving this damning indictment of a lack of understanding of the basic housebuilding process, “not yet identified the stages to inspect” by presumably board directors, this report was ever made public!

Missing Cavity Fire Barriers

Persimmon has a nationwide problem of missing and/or incorrectly installed cavity barriers in its timber frame properties, first discovered in October 2018.

“The problem Persimmon has encountered with missing/improperly fitted cavity barriers is a systemic nationwide problem, which is a manifestation of poor culture coupled with the lack of a Group build process”

Half a job?   Persimmon Homes independent review report states:

“inspections to date have been limited to the eaves, and have not checked for cavity barriers which should be present around doors and windows/in party walls. It recently came to light during this Review that on one site, Persimmon operatives and/or subcontractors retained by Persimmon to remedy any issues with cavity barriers had, on two separate visits to one property, claimed that all missing cavity barriers had been retro-fitted when in fact they had not been.”

So a defect, with potentially fatal consequences, on a national scale is found to be not properly rectified even at a second or third attempt!

“We also recommend that Persimmon Homes carries out spot checks on the site where it was twice incorrectly asserted by different Persimmon operatives and/or subcontractors that the cavity barriers had been retro-fitted”, and indeed more generally”

“It is also a clear demonstration of the disconnect between the award of stars via HBF Survey and true (as opposed to perceived) build quality, since one of Persimmon’s 5 star businesses has the highest incidence of missing or incorrectly installed cavity barriers.”

For all that is in Persimmon’s Independent Review, the fact remains that a fish rots from the head and if left long enough everyone notices the smell! The first thing Persimmon need to do is actually recognise they WANT to change.

The Persimmon independent review report shows “a push for sales masked severe problems in build quality and a lax corporate culture which allowed those problems to continue.” With many unhappy homeowners seeing Persimmon as “crooks, cowboys and con-artists,”

Executive pay and bonuses

Jeff FairburnThe review reports states “The amounts in question were widely perceived as excessive.” Disgraced ex CEO, Jeff Fairburn who received a record £75million bonus windfall, has thus far, according to The Daily Mail, kept his miserly mitts firmly clamped on his ill-gotten bonus millions. This despite having previously pledged in February 2018 to donate a “substantial proportion” to charity via a private charitable trust following public outrage at his then £130million bonus windfall, yet has failed to do so. This was the man who has presided in a decline in the number of NHBC awards for quality won by Persimmon’s 380 site managers, from 21 in 2012 to just two in 2018. Update: In January 2020, it was revealed that Fairburn (53) has resurfaced and bought his way into Berkeley Deveer, a small regional Yorkshire housebuilder having been appointed chief executive after buying a 50% stake in the business.

We should also not forget that current CEO David Jenkinson received £45.5million under the Persimmon long term incentive plan (LTIP)

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those that have too little.” …Franklin D Roosevelt

But when will Persimmon Homes learn?
You couldn’t make it up, just as the review report is published, Persimmon is in the press again having built a brand new 110-home estate precariously close to a collapsing riverbank on the site of an old colliery! It is as if stupidity is being regarded as a virtue!

“Our houses are set back from the bank and are in no danger of moving or being damaged. We have no concerns about our nearest property and no remedial work is required.”   So says Persimmon spokesperson but is it reassuring?

It has to be said though, just how many other plc housebuilders would wish the UK new home buying public to know the ‘warts and all’ truth?  Have Persimmon been foolish?  Will this be its “Ratner” moment?

If Persimmon is genuine in its regret and remorse, it should be paying out thousands to compensate their buyers for their sub-standard, defective, poor quality new homes and giving all those that bought leasehold houses their freehold, as they have undertaken to do on a Cardiff development, without any sneaky management charges, known as  “Fleecehold.”

A Ministry of Housing spokesperson told Housing Today that in future, house builders which did not meet the required standards of safety and quality might not be given access to Help to Buy cash.  If ever there was an indication of the FAILURE of this government, MHCLG and its Minister Robert Jenrick, to tackle shoddy, defective and dangerous new homes this is it! “In future” “Might not” – why not start right now with Persimmon Homes and withdraw their access to Help to Buy?

Persimmon Homes new chairman Roger Devlin said:

Roger Devlin“This review – and the seriousness that we attach to its detailed findings – is an important moment for Persimmon as we continue to build a different business with an increased focus on our customers and wider stakeholders – becoming a business that prioritises purpose as well as profit.”

The detail is in the Devlin!  But only time will tell if he is sincere. Reading this  snapshot of the company’s tarnished history, I believe it is beyond redemption. It should be noted that Persimmon Homes also have history for making similar noises on improving quality and service. In their Annual Report for 2015 published on 22 February 2016, CEO Jeff Fairburn stated:

The Group’s priority is to serve our customers well by providing good quality new homes and great service. All of our team are [sic] responsible for delivering high levels of customer satisfaction….Our sales teams across the business are trained to provide excellent levels of service to our customers.”

“During 2015 we invested substantial resources in new customer focused initiatives to improve our customers’ buying experience and our NHBC/HBF 3 star rating. We have introduced dedicated customer liaison managers on our larger sites, improved communication processes with our customers, introduced new processes to strengthen our build programmes and provided additional resources in our customer care teams. These initiatives are showing some early signs of improvement in our customer satisfaction ratings and we will continue to pursue this agenda to secure further progress this year.”

Twelve months later in the Annual Report 2016, the company again promised to improve:

“During 2016 we have continued to invest additional resources in new customer focused initiatives to improve our customers’ buying experience and our NHBC/HBF 3 star rating. This is yielding further improvement in performance with the majority of the Group’s operating businesses showing progress. Prior to customers moving into their new home we have improved our communication processes with them to provide greater understanding of the progress we are making in constructing their new home. We have strengthened our build management processes to facilitate delivery to expected timeframes. Additional support is being provided through reinvigorated processes to demonstrate the features of the new home to customers, assistance with identifying any small remaining issues on moving in day and providing improved systems and processes for our customer care teams to support the prompt rectification of any outstanding matters. Customer care performance is reflected in relevant employees’ remuneration to support a closer alignment to the Group’s objectives. Whilst these initiatives are delivering tangible improvements in our customer satisfaction ratings we remain determined to deliver further advancement this year.”

Regardless of whether Persimmon actually do really intend to change and do what they say they will this time; the government should take note of this report and instigate a wider investigation, in the form of a public inquiry of the housebuilding industry and ignore attempts at positive spin from the HBF.  It is clear Persimmon have failed all ends up, but I am in no doubt it is not unique. If, as seems likely, the government is intent on continuing with taxpayer subsidies to plc housebuilders via Help to Buy or any replacement, it must make these conditional on ongoing, independently validated and monitored build quality.

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Persimmon Launches Homebuyer Retention Policy

Persimmon announce 1.5% homebuyer retention policy

Persimmon homes - giving greed a bad nameIn a blaze of positive publicity, under headlines such as Persimmon homebuyers can withhold money until faults fixed (well not exactly); the housebuilder everyone loves to hate, has launched what is claimed will be a ground breaking initiative and a first for the industry, in response to overwhelming criticism about the quality of its homes, the obscene corporate greed-fest of executive bonuses and its part in the leasehold scandal,  Persimmon homebuyer retention “allowing buyers to withhold an average of £3.600 per home until all faults are fixed”

Nils Pratley in The Guardian suggests the homebuyer retetention could have been called the ‘Jeff Fairburn memorial clause’ – an eye-catching gesture designed to combat Persimmon’s reputation for corporate greed, as embodied by Fairburn’s infamous £75m bonus.”

A few weeks ago Nils said, in another well-written article: “It’s nice that the housebuilder wants to address its substandard scores for customer service, but shouldn’t this thought have occurred when the executives, Jenkinson included, were racking up their millions?” 

Not forgetting, this is a company that has also now admitted it lobbied government in 2015 to abandon the zero carbon policy for new homes.

In the Financial Times, Persimmon’s recently-appointed CEO Dave Jenkinson said:

“Persimmon is listening hard to all of its stakeholders and we hear the message that we need to continue to raise our game in customer care.

CEO Dave Jenkinson announces Persimmon homebuyer retention

“The initiatives we have already announced, including the action taken in the new year to deliver greater accuracy of anticipated moving in dates by adopting a more targeted approach to the phasing of sales on specific sites and the improvements and investments that we have made in our customer care team, operations and technology over the last few months are beginning to take effect.

“We are now accelerating the pace of change through the introduction of a contracted retention, which will give homebuyers far greater satisfaction at the completion of the purchase.  

“Moving into a new home should be a positive experience enhanced by all the benefits of a new build that is designed for modern living.  We are determined that the experience is not overshadowed by teething problems and providing a homebuyer’s retention is an important step towards achieving this.

Chairman Roger Devlin, said:
“This is a first among the UK’s large housebuilders and I hope will lead the way in change across the sector. This move, and the urgency with which we will introduce it, is a clear and unambiguous signal of cultural and operational change at Persimmon putting customer care at the very centre of the business.”

Other “improvements” include offering maintenance appointments at weekends and out-of-hours opening of customer care departments.

In the big announcement, Persimmon said it “would implement the homebuyer’s retention, by writing into its standard sale contract that 1.5% of the property value (£3,600 on average) could be withheld by the buyer’s solicitor until any faults identified at the point of key release are resolved
Update: During the time it took Channel 4 Dispatches to make ‘Britain’s New Build Scandal’ June-July 2019, featuring Persimmon, the time limit  buyers had to report faults was extended to 7 days.

The homebuyer retention policy, announced in haste, won’t be fully in place until the end of June 2019 – so much for its claim “we are now accelerating the pace of change”! But why wait until June? It’s hardly Brexit! Well, the end of June is Persimmon financial half-year, so homes could be rushed to get them included for the half-year. In addition, Persimmon will need to start building better, much better and all homes completed after the end of June, will not yet be started.

But quite frankly, this could easily be implemented at the beginning of April, fittingly perhaps on April Fool’s day as in my opinion, buyers and the government would be fools if they believe this small sticking plaster on a disgraceful housebuilder that gives greed a bad name, will make any noticeable positive difference for buyers.

Unlike the Barratt 5-year warranty, which despite its exclusions, was a corporate statement of quality: “our product is so good we are so confident we can afford to give our buyers a longer warranty”  The Persimmon homebuyer retention announcement shouts: “our product is so bad, we have decided to allow our customers to withhold part of their payment until we have sorted out defects”

This scheme is also  unlikely to cost Persimmon anything, with any costs being borne by the sub-contract companies it employs.  Retentions are deducted on all sub-contractor payments. Half is usually returned 6 months after the buyer moves in, with the balance normally after two years. The percentage retention is negotiated at the time the contract is drawn up, often used by housebuilders as a bargaining tool to force their sub-contractors to discount their rates or accept payment terms “monthly valuation on account.” Most sub-contractors tend to view any returned retention as a bonus, as it is priced into their rates.

Persimmon homebuyer retention – so what is not to like?
This is not as it first appears. For a start, this only applies to “faults” (I prefer the term defects) that excited and distracted buyers note and report at the time they are first given the keys. Why not make it for ALL DEFECTS notified to Persimmon in the first 6 or 9 months? It should not be limited to just those small, quickly dealt with, cosmetic “faults” which may, or more likely, may not be spotted by buyers on the day they first get the keys to their new home.  This will certainly not be of any help to buyers that later discover they have weak mortar, cracking render, issues with their floors or serious fire safety issues like this 

If Persimmon really are “determined that the experience is not overshadowed by teething problems” why does the company routinely refuse to allow their buyers and/or their professional snagging inspectors access to their homes to check the property before legal completion?

Persimmon "Teething" problem?The homebuyer retention monies are also to be held by the buyer’s solicitor. In most cases this is highly likely to be one that Persimmon has suggested, recommended, or in some cases, even bribed or required the buyer to use. A recent government inquiry found conveyancing solicitors are too close the house builder. There is a clear conflict of interest. The report says: “buyers’ interests ‘cannot be served where they are coerced into using developer-recommended conveyancing solicitors, who rely on repeat business from developers and may not be inclined to put their client’s interest first.”
This is also against the Law – The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, In addition, it also breaches requirement 2.5 of the “limited in its scope” Consumer Code for Homebuilders and SRA rules on conflicts of interest. Yet this has been going on for years! Furthermore, as Patrick Hosking notes in The Times, “there’s a danger the scheme will descend into countless legal disputes, with buyers’ solicitors quickly swallowing up that cash buffer in fees” indeed, as sure as night follows day.

Sebastian O’Kelly, 58, chief executive of the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, told The Times: “Persimmon has an open-ended liability on the snagging issues. If they build something appalling, and so many of our plc housebuilders build houses and flats with major defects, then they have a responsibility to fix them. I don’t think consumers would be able to take much comfort from this.”

So why are Persimmon doing this?
The homebuyer retention initiative comes following statements that the company is to improve customer satisfaction levels after being dogged by complaints about poor build quality. There had been murmurings lately about a buyer’s retention. Paula Higgins from the Home Owners Alliance told The Times last month that her idea of buyer’s being able to hold a 2.5% retention for 6 months “would be a powerful incentive for builders to put problems right”   I told The Times it would be an “administrative nightmare” and that “6 months would be too short.” Unbelievably, I even found myself agreeing, for the first time, with Steve Turner of the Home Builders Federation , when he said that “introducing retentions as the rest of the construction sector is scrapping them is a crude and naïve suggestion that could reduce consumer protection and risks creating a long drawn out legal process – the new homes ombudsman is a better way to help buyers.”  Trade bodies call to scrap retention Retention in construction under review

Pressure from Government – withdrawal of Help to Buy
In February, The Guardian reported that Persimmon’s right to use Help to Buy was under the scrutiny of Housing Secretary James Brokenshire, who was considering stripping Persimmon of its right to sell properties using Help To Buy because of poor satisfaction levels and concerns on the housebuilder’s behaviour. Persimmon has benefitted immensely from the Help to Buy scheme. Nearly half its 16,449 home sales last year were made through the taxpayer-funded scheme.

A source close to the minister said:
“Leasehold, build quality, their leadership seemingly not getting they’re accountable to their customers, are all points that have been raised by the Secretary of State privately,”

Help to Buy, should never have been extended and should now be cancelled on economic grounds but, if the government wants to keep the housebuilders’ gravy train running, originally due to end in 2016 yet twice extended, first until March 2021 and more recently to March 2023, Government should at least attach a few requirements and conditions that specifically benefit new homebuyers.

Persimmon needs evidence to shoe that they are changing their behaviour under the threat of parliamentary time being found to debate this, perhaps even a select committee inquiry. The homebuyer retention scheme, weekend appointments and the changes to customer care availability hours are little more than tokenism to keep government at bay. It looks like a cheap PR job which has given the company some much needed, positive, coverage in the quality national press.

Persimmon’s premium rating by the NHBC and LABC/PREMIER GUARANTEE may have increased dramatically. The homebuyer retention scheme may be being used to reduce their warranty premiums like an insurance voluntary excess.

An attempt to improve Persimmon’s dire HBF 8-week survey 3 star rating
Persimmon rated 3 star for 5 years in a row!Persimmon Homes have been rated just 3 stars for the fifth year in a row. Jenkinson even mentions the “contracted retention, which will, give homebuyers far greater satisfaction at the completion of the purchase” –  in other words early on, just as the 8-week, HBF survey arrives in their post or inbox. Is it really an “unambiguous signal of cultural and operational change at Persimmon, putting customer care at the very centre of the business.” or a calculated measure to improve their HBF 8-week survey scores and 3-star rating? Given Persimmon claims 79% “satisfaction” which is just 1% below the 4 star rating, you would think giving a few £250 John Lewis vouchers to buyers would have been a cheaper option!

A spokesman for the Home Builders Federation told The Times: housebuilders had “delivered consistent improvements in customer satisfaction over the past two years” and he was again not keen on Persimmon’s housebuyer retention saying it “should not be seen as an option for housebuilders generally.”

No doubt with Persimmon now learning how to “play the star rating game” the heavy weighting of their current 3-star rating drag on the overall satisfaction scores over the last 5 years, the overall satisfaction score at least, is certain to improve, even if in reality, the actual new homebuyer satisfaction does not.

This industry’s reinterpretation of defect into snag has been one of the great distortions of the narrative surrounding new homes in recent years. The likes of Persimmon will be more than happy to agree a 1.5% retention – which they are likely never to have any intention of recovering, is cheap when compared to the loss of access to Help To Buy and other possible government sanctions such as a land-banking tax.

A clear indication that Persimmon has got this wrong is their statement:
“we hear the message that we need to continue to raise our game in customer care.” When actually it is the quality of construction and inspection regimes where improvements are required. It is not a case of putting out the fires quicker, but of fire prevention, getting it right first time, or at least before buyers get their keys!

As with Barratt in the eighties, it will take a generation to turn around Persimmon’s reputation, forever historically tarnished by corporate greed, poor quality homes and contempt and indifference to its own customers. Britain’s top site managers won’t want to go there and have their CVs forever tarnished. Those that do, will justifiably demand huge salaries for their sacrifice. In directing attention to the newly moved in and including quality and customer care in site managers’ bonus calculations is a step in the right direction that should improve their HBF survey star rating. It is a recipe that Barratt have adopted with success over nine, 5-star rated years. It is amazing it has taken Persimmon so long to either begin to care about it, or cotton on!

Persimmon Annual Report 2018 27 Feb 2019
Range of new customer service initiatives implemented in late 2018 showing encouraging initial results. The Group is confident these measures will improve its customer satisfaction score once they have had time to take effect”

CEO Dave Jenkinson “A wide range of projects to improve customer satisfaction commenced in late 2018 and the initial results have been encouraging, giving us confidence in our ability to make progress in this important area”

Chairman Roger Devlin: “Alongside that we are changing our pay and incentives to include greater emphasis on both quality and customer care with plans that are more rigorous than we have had in the past.

“Delivering a good quality product for our customers and providing high levels of customer service throughout the home buying process is a top priority for the business. For the year to 30 September 2018, the percentage of our customers who would recommend Persimmon to a friend under the independent Home Builders Federation (HBF) survey was 79%, in line with the prior year and just short of the four star threshold of 80%. The Group has continued to invest in its customer care systems and resources during the year and this will continue to be the case in 2019 as we remain determined to improve customer satisfaction levels.”

But talk is cheap! Persimmon have said it all before!

Persimmon Annual Report 2016 27 Feb 2017
“During 2016 we have continued to invest additional resources in new customer focused initiatives to improve our customers’ buying experience and our NHBC/HBF 3 star rating. This is yielding further improvement in performance with the majority of the Group’s operating businesses showing progress. Prior to customers moving into their new home we have improved our communication processes with them to provide greater understanding of the progress we are making in constructing their new home. We have strengthened our build management processes to facilitate delivery to expected timeframes. Additional support is being provided through reinvigorated processes to demonstrate the features of the new home to customers, assistance with identifying any small remaining issues on moving in day and providing improved systems and processes for our customer care teams to support the prompt rectification of any outstanding matters. Customer care performance is reflected in relevant employees’ remuneration to support a closer alignment to the Group’s objectives. Whilst these initiatives are delivering tangible improvements in our customer satisfaction ratings we remain determined to deliver further advancement this year.“

Persimmon  Annual report 2015 on 22 February 2016.
CEO Jeff Fairburn stated:
“The Group’s priority is to serve our customers well by providing good quality new homes and great service. All of our team are[sic] responsible for delivering high levels of customer satisfaction….Our sales teams across the business are trained to provide excellent levels of service to our customers.”

“During 2015 we invested substantial resources in new customer focused initiatives to improve our customers’ buying experience and our NHBC/HBF 3 star rating. We have introduced dedicated customer liaison managers on our larger sites, improved communication processes with our customers, introduced new processes to strengthen our build programmes and provided additional resources in our customer care teams. These initiatives are showing some early signs of improvement in our customer satisfaction ratings and we will continue to pursue this agenda to secure further progress this year.”

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Are new homebuyers taken in with bogus builder star rating?

Home Builders Federation (HBF) 8-week “Satisfaction” Survey 2018

So six months after the industry’s in-house “customer satisfaction ” survey year-end on 30 September 2017, the HBF have finally released the results. So what do they say to the new home buying British consumer?
HBF 8-week Satisfaction Survey

The HBF claim “Homeowner satisfaction with new homes remains high”

Despite the HBF survey responses being repositioned this year, (with the key question “Would you recommend your builder to a friend?” buried in the third row!) the ongoing failure of this industry to its customers cannot be hidden.
FACT: Whilst the “Would you recommend your builder to a friend?” key star rating question score this year was 86% – up 2% on last year’s nine-year low of 84%, it is still at the same level it was in 2011 so no improvement.

“As output has risen, so quality has fallen – The evidence points to an industry…..which will at times ride rough-shod over dissatisfied buyers”+++ This demonstrated by the fact that 4% fewer would recommend their builder, would buy another new home from any housebuilder.

Credit is due for the slight increase the number of surveys issued and the percentage returned. Out of 156,120 new homes built by housebuilders in the survey year, 93,444 (73%) surveys were sent out to the 127,800 private new homebuyers with 57,972 (62%) returned. Avant, rated 2 stars in 2016 are now 4 star rated in just two years, with a 193% increase in their “sample size” over that period.

The HBF say their Star Rating scheme:
“awards participating members a star rating based on the survey results is now an established barometer of performance and a widely used industry marketing tool. The survey also helps participating members identify areas they can improve and is used by HBF to rebuff unwarranted criticism of our industry.”

“Identify areas they can improve”
Taylor Wimpey have been rated 4 stars for the last 4 years, one of the few housebuilders to publish their actual percentage for the key star rating question – 87% (2014); 86% (2015); 85% (2016) and 88% in 2017. Just a 1% improvement over three years! Persimmon have been 3 star rated every year over the same period.

HBF 8-week Satisfaction SurveySurvey results “used by HBF to rebuff unwarranted criticism of our industry.”

Well they try to. The fact is, 99% of homebuyers reported defects in their new homes to the housebuilder within a few weeks of moving in. For the second year, 41% reported more than 10 defects. Imagine if virtually all new cars had defects? If housebuilders built cars, many would be on our roads with defective brakes and wheels falling off!

Why does the HBF not publish individual builder results for every question?
John Stewart HBF Director of Economic Affairs told me back in 2011:
“From a personal perspective, I think publishing more detailed company results would not have had any more impact on raising customer satisfaction among new home buyers. But it would most certainly have provided food for those who are prejudiced against the industry and simply seek to criticise. I see no value in this.”  

Yet according to HBF chief Stewart Baseley who is by his own admission says he is “a great believer in transparency” – “achieving such high levels of customer satisfaction, whilst delivering the steepest increase in the rate of house building we have seen for 40 years, is a considerable achievement.”
Considerable achievement? Well Bovis are still rated just two stars. This despite building 332 FEWER new homes last year – a drop of over 8% on the previous 12 months, according to the company, to “focus us once again on delivering high quality product and service to our customers.” Bovis have became the only plc housebuilder to be rated 2 stars in consecutive years, with less than half of Bovis’ buyers completing the survey.

Quality and satisfaction are not the same

To many, being “fairly satisfied” does not indicate full satisfaction, yet the structure of the HBF survey adds the “fairly” score to the “very” to get the overall “satisfaction” score the HBF publish.  In addition, a heavy emphasis is placed on the Yes/No responses to “would you recommend your builder to a friend?” It could be argued that many would, give a ‘Yes’ purely on the basis their experience was “not that bad” rather than “terrible” which would be a ‘No’. This is borne out by the result from the second question: “how likely would you recommend your builder to a friend?” with just half indicating a positive response. In addition: “NHBC 9-month customer satisfaction survey scores generally 5-10% LOWER than the HBF 8-week survey”+++ These 9-month survey responses have never been made public!

The HBF claim these latest results: “once again prove the industry’s commitment to achieving the highest levels of customer service and satisfaction. The results have been achieved over period that saw the steepest increase in house building activity we have seen for 40 years.”
Well not exactly. The number of total new homes built in 2017 was 162,490 still below the peak of 168,640 to 30 March 2007. As for the “prove industry’s commitment to achieving the highest levels of customer service” this is a disgraceful statement considering the nightmare that thousands of new homebuyers are suffering across the country, due to the ineptitude of indifferent housebuilders. Tell that to the 11,000* buyers – equating to 8.4% of all new homes completed in 2017 – that make an NHBC warranty claim every year, 30% ** of which are within the initial two-year period when housebuilders are responsible!

In addition to the high level of Customer Satisfaction revealed by the survey, the industry also has its own self-imposed Consumer Code, ensuring customer concerns are heard and that disputes can be resolved through an independent adjudication system.”
Self imposed? The requirements are derived from the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. Customer concerns regarding poor quality, defects and warranty issues are not covered by this Code which “does not appear to objectively to offer consumers a wholly satisfactory form of redress and is limited in its scope”+++

“The survey results and the Code, in addition to a ten-year warranty on all new homes, combine to give new build home purchasers genuine confidence in the product they are buying.”

A survey with results used by this industry to “rebuff unwarranted criticism” and for marketing, an ineffective Code “limited in its scope” and warranties that seeks to bat away claims.
Let’s face it; this in-house industry survey is easily manipulated. All housebuilders can see their customer’s responses in real time on the NHBC portal, enabling them to incentive buyers of their homes to answer positively to the crucial star rating question: “Would you recommend your housebuilder to a friend?”  Furthermore 11,803 survey responses were not used for the sample size of the key question.  I asked the HBF why and they said:
“The Star Rating part of it is just for HBF members. Hence adding up the sample sizes for the Star Rated builders will not get you to the total 57,972 responses as other non HBF members are sampled as we want to get as full a picture as possible. However, every single valid Barratt response counts towards Barratt’s rating; every single valid Bovis response counts towards their score etc. Valid simply means completed by an owner occupier within the 20 week response window. Not one single valid survey was ‘not used’”

The APPG EBE in the report “More Homes – Fewer Complaints” agreed with me that the survey should be conducted completely independently of the industry. “Recommendation 10: Housebuilders should make the annual customer satisfaction survey more independent to boost customer confidence.  We believe it would boost consumer confidence if the Customer Satisfaction Survey is seen to be more independent of the NHBC and the HBF – bringing in a high profile third party to conduct and take ownership of the research….”
The HBF reaction? To attempt to reaffirm via a IPOs MORI review of the survey that said it is “fit for purpose” nevertheless “changes are being implemented in the next survey year.”
It may well be fit for the industry’s purposes, but is not in my opinion, fit to demonstrate rising customer service, satisfaction or that higher quality new homes are being built. In fact it is and always has been, woefully inadequate. Nevertheless, such as it is, it does paint a grim picture of an uncaring industry, hell bent on ever increasing their profits, whatever the consequences for naïve, trusting new homebuyers that believe their spin and hype.

*       NHBC annual report to 31 March 2016
**     Figures supplied by NHBC
+++ APPG Inquiry Report “More Homes Fewer Complaints” July 2016

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No Problem With New Home Quality Says HBF Stewart Baseley

Stewart Baseley, Executive Chairman of HBF interview on BBC Radio 4 Today – Saturday 11 February

Stewart Baseley HBFTrue to form the Home Builder’s Federation [HBF] the industry’s PR and lobby group, conducts a perfect whitewash on the facts as their executive chairman Stewart Baseley trots out a well-used, well-rehearsed HBF rhetoric. The two main points the industry is keen to focus on at the moment:
“promoting awareness of increases in output and rebut negative claims on build quality” are well covered. Mission accomplished! Move along there is nothing to see. Money well-spent? The HBF was funded mostly by its house builder members to the tune of £3,037,449 in the year to 31 December 2015.

Questions to Stewart Baseley, Executive Chairman of HBF
Do you accept there is a problem?
“No I don’t accept there is a problem although clearly there are in some cases that you have highlighted some of those on your report and I totally accept that anybody that’s in a situation where they have got a problem, it’s very serious for them.”

“No problem – some cases”
Fact: As Stewart Baseley knows, the NHBC paid out £90million in warranty claims for remedial works to fix serious defects in 11,000 new homes (an average of £8,181 each) in the 12 months to 31 March 2016. That equates nearly 9% of the 124,720 new homes built in the same period. In the previous year, the NHBC spent £86million on remedial works including £23million on foundations and £32million on superstructures to 11,000 new homes.

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Defective Taylor Wimpey new home causes injury to 10-year-old girl

Enough is enough! What will it take before government finally acts, not only to end the misery faced by the majority of people that buy new homes, but also to drastically reduce the likelihood of another death caused by a defect in a new home? Last week a defect in a Taylor Wimpey new home injures a 10 year old girl.

Oliver Colvile MP

Time for action? APPG Chair Oliver Colvile MP

Since the APPG Inquiry published its Report  ‘Into the Quality of New Homes’  three weeks ago, there has been zero coverage of its recommendations in national media. On a personal level, I have written to every single one of the 650 MPs asking for their support and to lobby the DCLG for the introduction of a New Homes Ombudsman. Just one MP has replied so far. Is anyone prepared to do anything before someone else is killed in a defective new home?

On 15th October 2005, a four-year-old boy died from chest injuries after a 50kg (110lb) stone mantelpiece over a fireplace fell on top of him at his Persimmon-built family home in Coulthard Close, Towcester.

In February 2008, Elouise Littlewood was 26 when she died in the flat she owned with Notting Hill Housing Trust built by Barratt Homes at their Bedfont Lakes complex in Hounslow. A post-mortem carried out on the body found the concentration of carbon monoxide in her blood was 77 per cent. Her lodger, Simon Kilby, was left with permanent brain damage after he was discovered unconscious on the sofa.

Only this morning I learned that on 28 July 2016, a radiator had detached from a wall and had fallen on 10 year-old Gemma Fever in the kitchen of the family’s Taylor Wimpey new home at their Rackenford Meadows development in Tiverton, Devon.

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More homes – Fewer complaints : APPG Inquiry Report

APPG Inquiry ReportMPs call for the DCLG to set up a New Homes Ombudsman in APPG Inquiry Report published on 13 July 2016.

At long last seven months after the last evidence session on 14 December 2015, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment (APPGEBE) has finally published the findings and recommendations in the report following its: “Inquiry Into the Quality of New Build Housing in England”

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House builders are cheating new home air leakage testing

Since 2006, Part L of the Building Regulations – The Conservation of Fuel and Power in England and Wales – has required mandatory air leakage testing of new buildings including homes. These regulations were further revised in 2010. But this does not mean every new home will be subject to an air leakage test to comply even under the latest 2010 Part L.

What is air leakage testing?

Air Leakage TestingAir leakage testing basically checks that a new home is air tight and will not let in draughts or provide a route for heat to escape through gaps in the structure. After sealing up all required vents to windows and extractors, air is then drawn out of the home via a large fan in an external doorway, with the pressure monitored for a set period of time to produce a measurement of the amount of air that leaks back into the home being tested.

So you would think that since 2010, all new homes would be relatively air tight, free of draughts and cheap to heat as a result?

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BBC Radio 4 ‘You and Yours’ – What needs to be done to protect consumers in the housing industry?

BBC Radio 4Earlier today, BBC Radio 4 You and Yours interviewed Oliver Colvile MP, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry into the Quality of New Build Housing in England, looking into measures that would improve the quality of new-builds and how to give greater protection to new homebuyers.

Oliver Colvile MP told the programme:

Oliver Colvile MP“I am afraid I’ve had an awful lot of constituents who have come to see me and talk to me about how they don’t feel they have got the product which they thought they had actually bought.”

“The consumer wants to see, they want to actually see something that is going to deliver a quick and easy resolution as far as their contractual decisions have been made. After all, when we go and buy a new home it normally is the most expensive thing biggest investment which we make in the whole of our lives, for them [HBF] to be complacent I have to say, to say its 85% [satisfied with their homes] well what about the 15% then who have actually had a fairly a bad deal out of it. The other thing as well is that I don’t think the house builders generally understand that they’re dealings with the person who is buying it [the new home] isn’t necessarily always particularly brilliant. The consumer feels that actually somewhat concerned that they are actually banging their head against a brick wall, by trying to get the builders to take some notice of all of this.”

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New Homes Ombudsman should be set up – An APPG Inquiry Recommendation

In his speech at the JCT Parliamentary Reception on 17 May 2016, APPG EBE chair Oliver Colvile MP highlighted the main findings of the Inquiry and some of the main recommendations, in particular that a New Homes Ombudsman “should be set up.” stating “this would mediate disputes between consumers and their builders or warranty providers to offer a quick resolution.”

It is to be hoped that this and all the recommendations in the Inquiry Report, due for publication at the beginning of June 2016, will be taken forward and fully implemented by Government at the earliest possible opportunity.

Official Ombudsman

Houses of ParliamentAn Ombudsman is usually appointed by the government or by parliament, but with a significant degree of independence. They are charged with representing the interests of the public investigating and addressing complaints against public bodies, private companies, organisations and sometimes entire industries. An ombudsman should be a totally independent body capable of investigating complaints of malpractice, maladministration or a violation of rights, both fairly and impartially.

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Preliminary announcement of findings and recommendations of the APPG Inquiry into the Quality of New Build Housing in England

The waiting is nearly over.   Its official!  The New Home Ombudsman is coming! A culmination of two years’ campaigning and ten years dedicated work highlighting the plight of UK new homebuyers.

I spoke. They listened!

The APPG Inquiry report is being finalised and is due for publication in “at the beginning of June 2016.”

APPG Announcment 1On Tuesday 17 May 2016, chair Oliver Colvile MP made a speech at the JCT Parliamentary Reception highlighting the findings and the main recommendations.

He said that he, and “many of his Parliamentary colleagues across the country have had new homebuyers coming to their MP’s surgeries to complain about the way their new home was built. Although the report hasn’t been finalised, I can confirm that the Inquiry Committee has agreed on a number of recommendations and I would like to share a few of those with you”

  1. A New Homes Ombudsman should be set up. This would mediate disputes between consumers and their builders or warranty providers to offer a quick resolution procedure.
  2. Standardised house building sales contracts should be enforced, meaning uncertainty surrounding bespoke builders’ contracts would be removed.
  3. There should be a mandatory right for buyers to inspect and, should they wish, carry out a full survey prior to financial completion. More details of this particular point will be announced in the final report.
  4. To improve transparency, builders should be required to provide homebuyers with a comprehensive information pack. This would include plain English explanations so that homebuyers can understand exactly what they are buying.”

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