The quality of UK new homes is getting worse
The Home Builders Federation (HBF) National new home customer satisfaction survey results and house builder star ratings for 2014 were released last month with a claim by the HBF that “Homeowner satisfaction with new homes remains high” Compared to what?
The HBF fail to highlight that, even by the methods used for the industry’s own in-house satisfaction survey, the latest results show even fewer new homebuyers would “recommend their builder to a friend” – down 4%. The number of buyers “satisfied” with the quality of their new home is also down 4%. The survey results indicate that the quality of UK new homes and the standard of service offered by housebuilders is getting even worse, not better. The number of new homebuyers who “experience problems” with their new homes is a staggering 93% – up 1% on last year. In other words, buy a new home and you are virtually certain to have problems with it
In the survey results for 2013, 46% of buyers found more problems with their new home than they had expected. The results for last year would appear to indicate that people buying a new home expected more problems – with 47% stating that the “number of problems were in line with their expectations.” – a 20% increase. The housebuilding industry has succeeded in managing customers expectations so well that the existence of defective workmanship, snags and faults, such as leaking pipes, creaking floors, garden flooding and more in their new homes has become normal, expected and is perceived by both industry and customer as unavoidable. Clearly this is as wrong as it is unacceptable.
It would be better to inspect and prevent defects rather than carry out remedial works after buyers move in. The works above were finally being done by Taylor Wimpey – 9 months after the buyers first moved in!
But how accurate and indicative is this survey?
Of the 118,760 new homes built in the UK last year, the NHBC sent out just 67,710 surveys on behalf of the HBF eight weeks after buyers moved in. Only 38,074 (56%) new home buyers completed and returned the survey. This represents less than a third of the total number of new homes built in 2014. That said, enough surveys were returned to confirm the direction of both quality and service from most housebuilders is clearly down. If the survey were completed for every new home built in the UK, in all probability the results would be even worse.
Only HBF member builders can receive a star rating and only privately sold new homes with an NHBC warranty are automatically sent a survey. The NHBC ask house builders to submit address details for any new homes sold without NHBC warranty so they too can be included in the HBF survey. The large housebuilders can obviously choose not to do so. Looking at both Barratt and Taylor Wimpey – who in all probability almost exclusively use NHBC warranty – only 54% of Barratt and 46% of Taylor Wimpey’s private sales (excludes affordable/rented) completed the 2014 HBF survey.
The HBF survey also uses ‘weighting’ “to ensure the overall results reflect the number of homes the company builds. So if a particular builder builds 10% of NHBC registrations, its responses are weighted as 10% when calculating the industry results.” These are the “Key Findings” results. The only result not weighted is the question used for star rating. If you torture statistics enough, they will tell you anything you desire – if you have your head in the oven and your feet in the fridge, statistically your average temperature is fine, but you are dead. When asked why the results of the individual builder scores for every question not made public by the HBF their spokesman said: “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.”
It is questionable how a housebuilder can achieve a five star rating from just 11 completed surveys. It is now time the current in-house national new home customer satisfaction survey was made properly fully independent, using non-weighted results based on answers to questions using a 1 to 10 score. These could then be published by a truly independent body to include housebuilder league tables, rather than handed to the HBF to release five months later.