House Builder Star Ratings: Can you trust them?

Don’t believe the spin that house builders tell you regarding their customer survey feedback.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s nearly that time of year again, when the Home Builders Federation (HBF) publish the 2014 results of their annual New Homes Customer  Satisfaction  Survey for the year to 30 September 2013.  Released just in time to get those new 2014 – ‘5-Star’ flags flying on builders’ developments in time for Easter Bank holiday sales weekend.  No doubt, as was the case last year, nearly all the house builders that “take part” will be rated five stars again this year, so a big pat on the back to the house building industry…….- you’ve all done very well!………Or have they?

Young Mr Grace

“you’ve all done very well!”

The HBF say: “Star Ratings are based on results of the National New Homes Customer Satisfaction Survey, an independent industry survey. The survey operated by NHBC, is entirely independent of any builder or builder group and is independently validated by Reading University.”

Really?    The HBF survey is sent out by the NHBC. Far from being independent, these two organisations are inter-linked, with six representatives from the HBF sitting on the NHBC Council and Stewart Baseley,  the HBF’s Executive Chairman, also being an NHBC Board member along with Greg Fitzgerald  CEO of Linden Homes. 

Quite how an “industry survey” can be deemed “independent” is unclear and the independently validated results will depend on the surveys that are included to form the results. Are all the surveys sent directly to Reading University? Perhaps if this was the case, it wouldn’t take over five months to release the results!

HBF 2013 5 starIt should be noted that only two key questions are used for the star rating:   “Would you recommend your builder to a friend?” and   “Taking everything into account, overall how satisfied are you with the quality of your home?”

The rating is “based on the number of valid responses received” How a response to a Yes/No question could become invalid is unclear! I t is interesting that the number of builders awarded five stars has risen dramatically since the two key questions were asked first, rather than last as in previous survey years.

When asked why the results of the individual builder scores for every question are 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.”

Not every new home buyer actually receives a survey to complete and of those that do only 57% return it!    Persimmon built 9,903 new homes to 31 December 2012, but only 34% of these buyers formed the basis for their 4 star rating!    If house builders and the HBF want people to take the star rating seriously, then house builders need to do more to encourage a larger proportion of their customers complete the survey and the HBF should ensure ALL new home buyers are sent the survey.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe surveys are sent to buyers a few weeks after they first move in, when they are still in the euphoria and excitement of owning a new home and have probably not realised just how many defects there are.  Many buyers look on the builder’s sales staff as friends, even after they have moved in.  Nothing will be too much trouble for site managers too, that is until after the surveys have been sent back.  How many would score 5-star marks if the HBF customer satisfaction surveys were sent after eight months rather than eight weeks?  In fact the results of the NHBC 9-month customer survey are not made public at all, you can guess why!

The problem with customer surveys in general, is that there are no options, or at least none of the options that people want. The HBF survey gives options from “Very dissatisfied” to “Very satisfied” What some buyers really want to tell them is backed by real hatred and there is no scope for that.

The people who set the survey get a distorted view, as people tend to tick something. When they tick “fairly satisfied” the house builders take this to mean “satisfied” and imply to the public that their houses are an absolute hit with the people that buy them, when the reality often quite the opposite.

The HBF survey is nothing to do with customer opinions, it is a pure marketing ploy. Check just how many flags and references are made to the 5 star rating on developments. It is just advertising speak to placate the house builders’ CEO and please their shareholders. It is nothing to do with the reality of the service or quality that house builders provide in the real world.

The surveys give the house builders a means to solicit praise. Everyone wants praise, but the HBF customer satisfaction survey is a self-deluding way to go about it. The house building industry is trying to convince people they are running a successful business, when the reality is, everyone is furious with the lack of service and the poor quality of their new homes.

In our own new homes customer survey, nearly twice as many buyers were Not Satisfied as Satisfied with the quality of their new homes overall and those that would recommend their builder to a friend were outnumbered three to one by those that would not!  Whilst this survey is not restricted or validated, it does appear to indicate that the HBF 90% satisfaction scores appear both unlikely and unrepresentative.

Here is some “feedback” the HBF may be interested in!                                                 Bellway customer:……………”I was sent a satisfaction survey and scored them low on snagging issues and their customer services manager came to see me as a result”

Barratt Customer:……………”We did a survey, but it was over the telephone. In fact a Barratt person phoned me before we did it to see what we would say, so I pretended that we would give a favourable response but then we slated Barratt on the actual survey. Then the guy turned-up at our flat to find out why – but by then the damage had been done!”

Persimmon customer:………………..”we moved in five months ago and have not received a survey. We have been asked to give favourable review or staff don’t get their bonus (oh dear”)  Our snagging list was a long one and it is increasing daily and we are considered a ‘problem client.’ “

Taylor Wimpey customer:…………”Yes we were sent the survey – I sat on it, thinking that Taylor Wimpey would turn things around and I’d be able to score more positively. Nothing changed. So I completed it and returned it.”

Ben Bailey (Gladedale aka Avant) customer:………”all of our neighbours got one to complete. Yes we sent ours back but unfortunately it was before the problems started – if I could get my hands on it now I would definitely fill it out differently!”

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