Tag Archives: quality

Micro Homes – Smaller Than A Hotel Room

Welcome to ‘rabbit hutch’ Britain as Government gives the green ight to even smaller micro homes

“Ridiculous” – “immoral” – “dog kennels” – “shoe boxes” – “rabbit hutches” These are just some of the words local residents have used to describe Britain’s micro homes – Government-endorsed “favelas in the sky.”

It would appear the Government is intent on cramming an ever increasing number of ‘hard working British people’ into ever smaller areas and living spaces. Evidence of this provided by the Housing White Paper, with its proposal to review the guidance on minimum sizes for new homes, despite the “nationally described space standard” only being in force since October 2015.

The Government proposes to amend the National Planning Policy Framework to make it clear that plans and individual development proposals should:

  • make efficient use of land and avoid building homes at low densities where there is a shortage of land for meeting identified housing requirements;
  • address the particular scope for higher-density housing in urban locations”

We also want to make sure the standards do not rule out new approaches to meeting demand, building on the high quality compact living model of developers such as Pocket Homes

Micro HomesThe pocket homes the government deem ‘high quality’ are little more than 38sqm – just one square metre larger than the government’s own minimum space standard for one person living in a one-bedroom flat. If two people live there, the minimum space is 50sq m so these new “homes” don’t meet the standard. But many micro homes are under half this size with floor areas often as little as 15sq m.

These ‘pick-pocket’ micro homes, potential slums of tomorrow, are allowed under ‘permitted development rights’ when in 2013, the government allowed office blocks to be converted for new homes without the need to go through the full planning process. As a result homes built in converted office blocks do not have to meet minimum floor areas or requirements for affordable housing.

These office block conversions could also be death traps in the event of a fire. The Building Regulations in England do not require sprinkler systems in residential buildings. Not even in multi-occupation timber-framed apartment blocks. It is inconceivable that these ex-office buildings would have floors capable of structurally supporting fire-resistant masonry partitions which are far more capable of preventing the spread of fire throughout a floor.

Micro homes in Barnet HouseOfficial government housing supply figures for 2015/2016, released in November 2016, show 189,650 net additions to housing supply, with 30,600 coming from change of use from non-domestic to residential, 12,824 of those from conversions of former office blocks. No wonder the government is happy to back micro homes, it helps the figures look better! Nearly three-quarters of the stated growth in housing supply has come from these urban office block conversions. The HBF is also happy to include these in its propaganda “promoting awareness of increases in output and rebut negative claims on build quality”

So now in addition to buying poor quality, buyers have to be aware of buying teeny-weeny  new micro homes, “inspired by yacht design”, often as small as bedroom in a ‘normal’ new house – 4.2m x 3.87m (16sq m) and almost as small as the size of a single garage.

Where are these micro homes being “built”?

A development in Archway of eight flats in Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington North constituency, where two of the apartments were just 13.5sq m, was thankfully refused by the council but only because of “issues relating to previous use.”

Barnet – micro homes, smaller than a Travelodge room”

Micro homes in Barnet HouseMeadow Residential plans to convert an 11-storey concrete block in Barnet into 254 “flats”. The main issue being, 96% of these will be below the 37sq m minimum space standard for a single person. Some of the “apartments” have floor areas of only 16sq m – 40% less than a 28sq m Travelodge room!
Conservative led Barnet council told The Times it could not prevent the scheme going ahead due to permitted development legislation, despite being of the opinion the “flats are not what we think are appropriate living spaces for our residents”. In this area similar sized studio flats sell for up to £180,000 and cost £800 per month to rent.
Barnet House floor plan

Heathrow and London

High house prices in London and south-east England are facilitating the conversion of more office blocks. A former American Airlines office block near Heathrow has been converted to provide 288 “flats”. An application was also lodged for converting Lewisham House in south east London into 230 new “homes.” The Independent reported on Pocket homes in Southall, Ealing that recently sold for £165,000. The latest development, in Brixton, has one-bedroom apartments from £248,500 and ‘boasts’ communal gardens and cycle storage!

Croydon – the UK hotspot for micro homes

It would appear that Croydon, is fast becoming a UK micro homes hotspot. In housing minister Gavin Barwell’s own constituency, Guardian Money found a studio “flat” in the centre of Croydon with a floor area of less than 15sq m. Others in Croydon “tracked down” by the Guardian, included a 14.9sq m flat in George Street and a 16sq m home in Barclay Road. Inspired Asset Management has developed hundreds of micro flats, many of them in Croydon. Unsurprisingly, Inspired told the Guardian it was “delighted” the government plans to review the space standards. A spokesman confirming that a one-bed flat has a typical floor area of 30sq m – 36sq m, whilst admitting it had built even smaller flats previously. They claim there is a strong demand for such property, having built 515 micro “apartments” since 2013 – 90% of which sold before completion.

The housebuilders’ lobby group Home Builders Federation [HBF] have persistently argued against minimum space standards for private housing, with spurious claims it reduces “customer choice” – “If you make a house bigger, it’s naturally going to be more expensive, so if you take away that choice by specifying a minimum size, you are by definition ruling out a section of the market on an affordability basis.”

Gavin Barwell- current housing ministerHousing minister, Gavin Barwell, voiced a similar opinion in a speech last autumn when he suggested it might not now be possible for young people to afford to buy a full-sized home, so builders should look to build ever smaller, more affordable homes. He said:
“Now look: most people, given the choice, would like to live in a nice big home. But I think for many young people – if I was 22 today, I would rather have the chance to own that than be priced out.”

Something tells me that no member of parliament would be prepared to live in any of these micro “homes”, even for just four nights a week.

At least Pocket’s “high quality compact living model” flats of around 37sq m are over double the size of the smallest. The company has built 297 with another 700 in the pipeline. The average price is £255,000 but a one-bedroom flat in Lambeth will cost £332,000, hardly pocket-money prices, but still well below the average price £421,553, paid by first-time buyers in the capital.

In 2014, researchers from Cambridge University discovered Britain’s new homes were the smallest in Europe; with an average floor area of just 76sq m, about the size of a tube train.

Jane Duncan, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, said late last year.

“We urgently need new homes, but building small homes or cutting corners when converting office buildings to flats is short-sighted and fails the people these new homes are meant to serve. The Government must take action to ensure a fairer minimum space standard is applied to all new homes across the country.”

It has long been recognised that small cramped conditions are detrimental to health and well-being. These micro homes may be perfectly suitable as temporary stop-gap accommodation for those made homeless. But surely they cannot be regarded as part of a long term solution to fix “Britain’s broken housing market.”  As a developed, first-world country, the UK government should not be promoting and rubber-stamping its approval for what is little more than the 21st century equivalent of a third-world mud hut.

Shadow housing minister, John Healey, agrees accusing the government of: “giving developers a free hand to bypass proper planning process, sidestep affordable housing requirements and build rabbit hutch homes that aren’t fit for purpose. Short-sighted new developments are no shortcut to building the homes the country needs.”

Graeme Brown, interim chief executive of Shelter, said:
“In theory, converting offices sounds like a good way of creating some of the homes we need in a time of crisis. But in reality, it’s often used by developers as a way of cashing in on people’s desperation by building unaffordable, rabbit-hutch homes. Our homes are already among the smallest in Europe, and if the government allows developers to cut corners by slashing space standards in homes even more, they will be punishing ordinary families in the process.”

For more information, see Julia Park’s excellent publication One hundred years of housing space standards. What next?  What indeed.

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Latest HBF Customer Satisfaction Survey shows new home quality is still falling

HBF Customer Satisfaction Survey Results 2017

HBF survey results 2017. After a long and unexplained delay, the Home Builders Federation (HBF), with an income of over £3million (2015), mostly funded by its member housebuilders, finally published its annual New Homes Customer Satisfaction Survey Results and house builder star ratings for 2017 late yesterday. Unlike the rest of us, housebuilders have known their scores throughout the year in real time, thanks to the NHBC online portal providing monthly updates on just how their customers are rating them.
HBF Survey 2017So why the delay HBF?  What possible reason could there have been for requiring a total of 12 weeks, two more than in 2016, since the last customer responses for the HBF survey year to 30 September 2016, were received on the 14 January 2017 cut off?  By strange coincidence, it was the same day that Article 50 was triggered, making it unlikely the poor survey results would get any media attention with all the Article 50 coverage.
Did the HBF decide it was a good day to bury their bad news?

Perhaps calculations were being done to effect an overall more favourable impression of customer satisfaction with new homes. Perhaps there were discussions about including late, more favourable surveys and ruling out unfavourable responses on the grounds of invalidity?  Perhaps the PR spin was more difficult to write this year? Who knows?  Certainly not me.  Even though the HBF Chief Executive Stewart Baseley stated on national radio just last month that he is “a great believer in transparency”, the HBF survey remains a mystery to all but those involved in its carefully scripted questions and the statistical “methodology set out by the NHBC themselves” used in the analysis and validation of the survey by the University of Reading’s Statistical Service Centre.

The HBF survey is used by the industry to  give the impression of high quality new homes when the opposite commonly the case. The HBF’s main aim is to use the survey for “promoting awareness of increases in quality and rebut negative claims on build quality.”  The HBF do not publish more detailed company results as they tell me it “would most certainly have provided food for those who are prejudiced against the industry and simply seek to criticise.” So much for transparency Mr Baseley! The HBF confirm they have “launched a review of the scheme” with the NHBC for no other reason than “to ensure the survey is seen to be as robust as possible.”

In their press release, the HBF say:Ipsos MORI has recently undertaken a full independent review of the Customer Satisfaction Survey and its processes. The report concludes that the survey approach and processes are consistent with best practice, that it is ‘fit for purpose’ and is a robust measure of customer satisfaction in the new homes industry. The industry will now be reviewing the recommendations made.” Hardly unsurprising given that Ipsos MORI has “acted as a consultant” as far back as 2006! Is this a cynical attempt to head off any likelihood of a truly fully-independent new home customer survey being required as recommended in the APPG Inquiry Report?

The Report from the APPG Inquiry Into the Quality of new homes Recommendation 10: stated:

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 in their name. Furthermore we would like to see more in depth research on consumer trends based on the follow up survey carried out by the NHBC in their nine-month survey. We feel this could provide a real insight into how builders are tackling initial defects and complaints.”

At the APPG Inquiry, the NHBC confirmed that the results of their 9-month customer satisfaction survey were typically 5 to 10% lower than the 8-week survey. No wonder these results are never made public! So much again for transparency Mr Baseley!

HBF New Home Customer Satisfaction Survey results 2017
HBF Survey 2017So here it is at last, Britain’s only new home customer satisfaction survey, conducted by the industry for the industry. The sole purpose of the HBF survey being to “rebut negative claims on build quality”. But the facts speak for themselves, even in a survey conducted by the industry and quite probably manipulated by housebuilders.

HBF Survey 2017 results show satisfaction is down

During the survey year to 30 September 2016, the NHBC registered as complete around 140,000 new homes, of which about 80% (112,000) being privately sold and potentially eligible to be part of the HBF customer satisfaction survey. As in previous years, only new homes with an NHBC warranty (around 80% of new homes) will almost definitely (81%) receive a survey, provided that these homes are not rented by buy-to-let private landlords. Out of an approximate potential 112,000 privately sold new homes, the NHBC sent out 90,501 surveys on behalf of the HBF with 52,290 returned, a response rate of 57.7%.

The HBF Survey Star Rating “sample” size totals 39,014 out of the total 52,290 surveys returned! This indicates that 13,276 (25.4%) of the surveys returned were not used for housebuilder star rating!  I asked the HBF why?

The HBF told me: “Whilst the ‘industry survey’ covers more than HBF members, 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 52,290 responses.HBF survey sample sizesHBF Survey – What it tells us:

The overall ‘satisfaction’ score is 84%, down again for the 4th year running and at its lowest level for nine years!

A record number of new home buyers, 98% (up from 93% last year) that returned the HBF survey, reported problems to the housebuilder (within the first 8-12 weeks) with over four in ten (41%) reporting more than 10 problems – a 3% rise on last year.

Bovis get a HBF Survey 2 star ratingBovis Homes, Britain’s 6th largest house builder by volume, have seen their HBF customer star rating plummet over the last four years, from a 5 star rating in 2013 to just 2 stars today. Considering the company is to spend £7million to repair poorly-built new homes sold to customers over the last two years, it is surprisingly to say the least, that their HBF star rating implies over 60% of the Bovis’ buyers that returned the HBF survey, would still apparently “recommend Bovis to a friend.”
Can the HBF Star rating be believed?It is questionable how much influence housebuilders are exerting on recently moved in buyers to complete the HBF survey to show them in a more favourable light, despite a great many having incomplete homes, serious defects and overall poor quality homes. From free patio slabs, to £250 John Lewis vouchers and offers to “help” complete the HBF survey – it’s all being done to manipulate a better star rating, against HBF rules but with HBF knowledge.

Yet still the HBF PR machine spins false information:

It's always better to tell the truth!“The overwhelming majority of new home buyers are happy with their new home” say the HBF “Housebuilders remain committed to delivering the high quality product, and responding appropriately when issues arise” So why do they repeatedly fail to do either so often? Both Taylor Wimpey and Persimmon said they were addressing it over 12 months ago, yet their satisfaction scores are lower.

“Since the survey was launched more than a decade ago scores in all question areas have improved significantly” Not true the number of buyers reporting problems was 93% then, it’s 98% now! In addition the 2006 HBF survey was from a very low base with 57% of builders rated 3 stars or less and a sample size of just 15,000 surveys returned.

“The past 3 years have seen a slight fall back in scores, something the industry is actively addressing.”  I think you’ll find that was the last four years! Whatever the industry is allegedly doing, it isn’t having any positive or apparent measurable success.

Even Secretary of State Sajid Javid said earlier this week: “It’s fair to say that new builds don’t always have the best reputation for quality…..this isn’t a new issue” So why isnt the government doing anything about it? Even the industry’s own Customer Satisfaction HBF Survey latest results show it’s bad, it’s getting worse and still nothing is being done about it!

In another attempt to paint a more rosier picture of this broken industry, we have the New Home Review (NHR) which says it “provides a unique, independent insight into the quality of new homes being built for sale and the level of customer satisfaction, based on feedback directly from new home owners..”

The survey is supposed to be anonymous but buyers need to add their housebuilder, address and postcode. The website is owned by MD Insurance who run both LABC warranty and Premier Guarantee! They also administer the Consumer Code for Home Builders. This survey cannot be regarded as independent!

The survey published thus far, is I believe, little more than an opportunity for self-justification of yet another industry survey and with just 1,000 surveyed, these results can be regarded as pretty meaningless.

In time, dependent on the average customer satisfaction score, the following ratings are awarded:

Customer satisfaction score:
  • Diamond: 81% and above (HBF equivalent – 4 & 5 Star)
  • Platinum: 71% to 80%       (HBF – 3 Star)
  • Gold: 61% to 70%               (HBF – 2 Star)
  • Silver: 51% to 60%
  • Bronze: 41% to 50%

So under the “New Home Review” even a dodgy two star house builder will be able to display a “Gold” customer satisfaction rating logo, confusing and deceiving consumers.

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Reward for failure as ex Bovis CEO David Ritchie stands to receive nearly £2m pay off

Ex Bovis CEO David RitchieRegardless of what fictional character Gordon Gecko once said, “Greed for want of a better word is” most definitely not good!  As details emerged earlier this week of David Ritchie’s pay-off. The former chief executive of Bovis Homes resigned” on 9th January 2017 after a profit warning and ahead of the scandal of buyers being paid up to £3,000 to legally compete on homes that were not finished, and the announcement by Bovis that they had set aside £7 million in February to redress complaints.

A Section 430(2b) statement by Bovis homes, confirmed Ritchie is to be handed a total of £635,430 in salary and bonus and a further £909,250 in shares under the long-term-incentive-plan. He also stands to receive a further tranche of 40,556 shares currently worth £357,805 up to 24 February 2018. A total possible payout of £1,902,485!

He will be paid a lump sum of £242,180 and will receive a total of £338,250 from July until December salary in lieu of notice. His contractual notice period runs until 8 January 2018.

Laughably, Ritchie who formally left Bovis on 28 February, will even receive a £55,000 bonus next month as part of last year’s scheme which “may be subject to clawback for a period of two years”. Ritchie will also have continued use of his company car as well as medical insurance and life cover until 8 January 2018. Unbelievably, if this wasn’t already extremely generous for an individual that presided over a performance that has brought his company to the brink of being taken over by a rival, Bovis are even paying “a contribution in respect of legal costs and a further contribution towards outplacement counselling.”
(which apparently helps displaced employees manage the transition from one job to another!) Not that Ritchie needs to find paid employment anytime soon!

Bovis FlagRitchie, who became Bovis Group chief executive in July 2008, is also in line to reap around £462,850 (52,463 shares) based on Bovis’ current share price (882p) from a long-term incentive plan that vested on 25 February 2016.

Ritchie will also benefit from 50,598 shares worth another £446,400 that became exercisable last month, subject to performance conditions being met. He is also be in line for a further 27,256 shares (£240,466) on 19 August 2017 and a maximum of 13,300 shares worth £117,339 from 24 February 2018, again if certain performance conditions are met.

The details of Ritchie’s payoff being disclosed on Bovis’ corporate website.

It is to be hoped that investors who will be given a vote on Bovis’ remuneration report at its annual meeting in May will voice their displeasure at the payoff although the LTIP was approved by shareholders in 2014.

Critics have accused Bovis of paying a ‘reward for failure’.

Oliver Parry, head of corporate governance policy at bosses’ business group the Institute of Directors, told the Daily Mail:
“This doesn’t look good and it doesn’t do the reputation of British business any good.” He said: “Investors deserve to understand what senior executives are being paid at the point of stepping down.”   A spokesman for Bovis told the Daily Mail that the company had made a “prompt and full disclosure.”

Stefan Stern, director of the High Pay Centre, told the Daily Mail:
“This is a reward for failure. This sort of pay-off reflects the way in which executive pay is trapped in a world of its own. No one else would expect to receive this sort of payment after having underperformed in a job.”

The row over Ritchie’s pay adds to the mounting backlash over excess in the boardroom. Given the circumstances and the amount involved it is to be hoped that Ritchie (47) will do the decent thing and make sizable donations to homeless charities such as Shelter and perhaps donate his time providing accountancy services ‘pro-bono’ for charities.

Meanwhile yesterday, 58% of shareholders of house builder Crest Nicholson voted against the company’s remuneration report at the annual general meeting, revolting over executive pay as the company slashed profit targets that determine performance-based bonuses for its directors.

Shareholders were vented their anger at a pay policy that will enable chief executive Stephen Stone to more easily receive a £811,737 bonus on top of a basic salary of £541,158. A total of £1.35m which  would take a site manager 27 years to earn.  Crest’s chief operating officer Patrick Bergin could be on track to trouser an extra £562,500, adding to his £375,000 salary.

The company’s remuneration report outlined plans to cut the target for pre-tax profit growth for the second year running, down from 16%-20% a year earlier to 5%-8% for the 2017-2019 period, citing challenging trading conditions. It was set at 18%-22% in 2015.

While the vote against the pay proposals was not binding, it indicates growing discontent at executive pay and dissatisfaction among investors.

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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.

But the main housebuilders, satisfaction ratings have gone down
“They have gone down, well as an industry of course you have to put that into context the fact that first of all we went through the most tremendous recession seven or eight years ago and we lost getting on for half our workforce. As Oliver Colvile quite rightly says, capacity is a challenge and we have increased output over the last three years, by in excess of 50% and we are taking on and training tens of thousands of people to do that; in that context, we actually conduct what I believe is the biggest opinion poll audience research that is undertaken in the UK every year, I am not aware of anything bigger. We sent out 85,000 questionnaires in the last survey year to customers of new homes of all the builders that have been mentioned, we get about a 56% response rate we have about 45,000 returns, which is pretty impressive in terms of the sample size compared to most surveys, and around 85% of the customers of all those homes would recommend their builder to a friend. Clearly there are 15% who wouldn’t and there are a variety of reasons for that and I don’t want to suggest in any way that those reasons are not important and vital to the people that have got those challenges.”

“We have increased output by 50% in the last three years.”
Fact: In the year to 30 Sept 2013, 108,270 new homes were completed. The latest official government figures to 30 September 2016 show 141,690 new homes completed a rise of 31%! Furthermore the number of new homes being built is still 23% lower than the peak in the year to 30 March 2007. Surely Stewart Baseley is aware of the official statistics?

New Home Customer Satisfaction Survey
Yes satisfaction scores, in even this industry’s own manipulated survey (with some buyers being given £250 John Lewis vouchers for favourable responses!) have indeed gone down to 85%. It was good that Stewart Baseley acknowledged this. But of a total of 135,860 homes built in the last HBF survey year, 80,582 surveys were sent out by the NHBC and just 56%, 45,342 were returned representing just 54% of the homes sold privately.  Furthermore, not all survey responses are ‘validated’. Surveys returned late (not within 7 weeks of the date of the letter) are not counted as are those that are “not filled in correctly.” I would suggest if the responses of these surveys were favourable to the industry, they are used in the results!

The HBF state in their Annual Report:
“The Customer Satisfaction Survey and star rating scheme has played a key part in measuring industry performance and providing data to rebut negativity. To ensure the survey is seen to be as robust as possible, HBF and NHBC will be launching a review of the scheme.”
In other words, people like me can see through the hype and are (along with the APPG Inquiry) calling for a survey that is completely independent of the industry.

Well Stewart Baseley has certainly used the “data” to try and “rebut negativity”. By way of comparison, the John Lewis’ customer satisfaction survey score in 2016 was 84.9% and Amazon were top with 86.6%, both are streets ahead of anything the housebuilding industry does!

It is true the industry “lost” a large proportion of the workforce, not forgetting this was something companies within the industry chose to do at the time!

The level of dissatisfaction of those buying new homes is at its highest level since 2009 according to your national new homes survey, are you saying that survey is wrong?
“No I am saying that’s our survey, we are talking about a drop from 90% to 85% all companies and I know the CEOs and I know the managing directors of all the companies that were mentioned in the report, plus many other companies across the country and I am absolutely convinced of one thing and that is they all get up in the morning and go to work and all their people go to work with the intention of delivering a good product to a high service across the country.“ 

”they all get up in the morning and go to work with the intention of delivering a good product to a high service across the country”
Fact:  You only have to look at Taylor Wimpey’s Loddon Park development recent press coverage especially concerning Bovis, to know this just cannot be true, otherwise surely action would have been taken long ago to address the issues. 

“Now clearly things go wrong on building sites, we are working in all weathers with all sorts of raw materials that have to be imported and clearly there are challenges and I think most customers accept that actually is not necessarily possible to always produce a perfect house. The key thing is to make sure we deliver their house on time and where they do have issues and when they do have problems making sure we address.”

“not necessarily possible to always produce a perfect house”
Fact: The housebuilding industry that Stewart Baseley is attempting to defend, cannot even produce a home that is 100% finished by the date builders say it will be. There can be no excuses for handing over a defective, poor quality and often unfinished new home. Whilst it is true a new home is exposed to ‘all weathers’, but so are new hospitals, schools office blocks etc all built to much higher standards handed over 100% compete, on time, with very few (if any) defects. It is not impossible to build a perfect new home. All that is required is care, desire and sufficient time. The industry has lowered expectations, so buyers expect to have defects and faults. You do not expect to have faults in a new car. You don’t drive it for a week and then take it back to the dealer with a list of things that need sorting out!

But that doesn’t always happen people have to go through complaints procedures etc
“Well I accept that and Oliver Colvile talks about an ombudsman and we already have procedures in place. If you have a warranty like the NHBC or Premier or LABC there is a disputes resolution service, we set up a Consumer Code for Home Builder back in 2010 that also has a disputes resolution service for areas that are not covered by the warranty provider, and I’m a great believer in transparency and I’m a great believer in people having access to services that are cheap for them to use to get quick remedies to their problems.”

“We already have procedures in place”
Fact: Dispute resolution by warranty providers, that are funded by housebuilders, to adjudicate on disputes with those very housebuilders about their reluctance to fullfil their obligations under the warranty policy!

“The NHBC Dispute Resolution Service can help with help to settle disputes over defects which relate to the NHBC standards. The NHBC standards require builders to fulfil all of their obligations under the Buildmark policy.”
The fact is house builders don’t and the NHBC has to mediate in disputes, which they find in favour of homebuyers in around 70% of disputes.

The Warranty dispute resolution cannot help with non-warranty matters, such as disputes over boundaries, planning, contractual or financial matters or if arbitration or legal proceedings against the builder have started.

“we set up a Consumer Code for Home Builder back in 2010 that also has a disputes resolution service for areas that are not covered by the warranty provider”
Fact: Unsurprisingly the HBF “sits on the Code advisory forum to ensure house builder’s interests are represented….to ensure that any changes are workable for the industry”  

The new revised Consumer Code for Home Builders comes into effect 1 April 2017. I believe the revisions to the Code are further to the detriment of the homebuyer. They have been made following decisions in cases of claims made by new homebuyers. These include the abolition of the ability to claim £250 for inconvenience, the removal of the requirement to give a copy of the Code to anyone that asks and non-provision the “home builder guidance” – so much for transparency Mr Baseley! Furthermore, in the case summaries since the Code was introduced in April 2010, there have been a total of 193 cases to June 2016. Out of these, 56% that succeeded or succeeded ‘in part’ resulted in total awards of just £221,869, just 19% of the total claimed £1,150,755.

Stewart Baseley says: “I’m a great believer in transparency”
Fact: The Customer Satisfaction Survey and builder star rating for example has no access to NHBC survey portal so buyers can see survey responses and builder scores in real time, [as house builders can] just the industry adjusted results in March. The HBF should publish all builder scores not just the Q1 star rating score. Why do they not publish the NHBC 6-month survey results? The NHBC could publish details on how many claims for each builder and how many disputes for each builder go through the resolution process.

The NHBC should publish details on the number of warranty claims for each builder and how many disputes for each builder go through their resolution process. The Consumer Code for Home Builders should not be confidential. The CCHB should publish the names of housebuilders in case summaries along with what sanctions (if any!) have been made to the housebuilder. 

Fact: The LABC and Premier Guarantee warranties are administered by MD Insurance Services. The Dispute Resolution Service Team is supported by Claim Investigation Surveyors; Premier Guarantee Surveyors is the trading name of MD Warranty Support Services Limited. The NHBC has entered into a joint venture with MD Insurance Services Limited under the name of the Consumer Code for Home Builders Limited (CCHB). The CCHB operates a code providing protection and rights to purchasers of new homes. Ian Davis, Executive Director of NHBC, is a Director of the CCHB. The NHBC paid the Code £235,000 in 2016 and £175,000 in 2015.

The use of ‘Gagging Orders’ isn’t transparency!
Fact: The NHBC and housebuilders use of ‘Non Disclosure Agreements’ also known as “gagging orders” is hardly “transparent” and used for no other reason but to conceal the extent of defects in homes built by housebuilders and the amount of compensation paid. The NHBC also use them when settling warranty claims, especially when further claims might result on particular developments such as weak mix mortar.

“We do not want to increase quantity at the expense of quality”
In order to do this, new homes would need to be being built to a certain higher quality to begin with. Does Stewart Baseley really mean that “we [his house builder members] must be careful not to build homes with even more defects as they slash them up to increase the quantity the government is asking us for?”

It’s time that Stewart Baseley, the industry (NHBC, HBF, house builders) and government came clean, admitted that there is a problem with both the poor quality of new homes being built and the poor service customers receive from indifferent house builders and implement the ten recommendations of the APPG Inquiry Report starting with setting up an independent, government-appointed, New Homes Ombudsman. Anything less is unacceptable.

I am grateful to Mary Glindon MP for asking housing minister Gavin Barwell the question on Monday 27 February 2017:
The current system is clearly inadequate
A Bovis buyer said:

“we took the decision to take Bovis to court last year – but our contract doesn’tt allow it unless NHBC resolution process has been activated and failed – it has been 7 months since we got NHBC involved and they have played us as much as Bovis – the result is always the same nothing happens.”

We are currently waiting for NHBC to start the agreed work – we had to complain to the financial services ombudsman who upheld our complaint to get some action from NHBC, but it is over 18 months since we complained to NHBC and work has still not started. Once the work has completed we will then pursue Bovis for breach of contract and compensation. We have legal expenses cover on our home insurance so can use that if needed”

A Wainhomes buyer told me:

“it is stunning how little comeback you have, the whole system is massively skewed in the developers favour and they know that and completely abuse it. NHBC is just a method by which they give some apparent credibility and peace of mind to their victims, it’s virtually worthless and also crucially means they don’t need to answer to local authority Building Control. It’s akin to fraud/organised crime, yet you have less protection than when you buy a loaf of bread.”

BBC Radio 4 Today said they asked the big companies if they wanted to take part in the programme – none of them did. But Bovis wanted to apologise and said:
“in some recent cases we haven’t met our customers’ expectations for which we apologise”

Taylor Wimpey PR statement:

“We sincerely regret that some of their customers have experienced issues with their homes at London Park and they apologised for the disruption this has caused. They say they are working with those affected customers and said they would like to re assure them that they are fully focused on completing their programme of remedial works as soon as possible.”

“We are sorry  ….    we are working with those…” blah blah blah!  In one case they have been “fully-focused” on one particular house at Loddon Park for over two and a half years!  Stewart Baseley and his builder members have their work cut out! The poor build quality of new homes cannot be dismissed like this.

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Sajid Javid’s Housing White Paper – Britain’s Broken Housing Market

“We were promised a White Paper, but we have been presented with a white flag – feeble beyond belief”.. said John Healey shadow minister of state for housing. Others commented it was a “predictably damp squib” and a “missed opportunity.” Even Redrow said it was “disappointing” with chief executive John Tutte saying the housing white paper was very light on details and he was surprised it was more of a consultative document.  This is hardly surprising as the stench of the Home Builders Federation (HBF) was all over this housing white paper, an example being the caving into pressure from the likes John Tutte regarding newts “delaying” new home buildingSajid Javid the builders puppetBritain needed ‘Donald Trump’ style action and got a Donald Duck builders’ puppet. “Hard-hitting” proposals were watered down to Westminster’s famous thin gruel, generally becoming ideas for consultation, subjects for further discussion and situations to monitor. This 104 page housing white paper is little more than a plan for more talking and a missed opportunity for decisive, positive action.

On Tuesday DCLG secretary Sajid Javid declared that Britain’s housing market was indeed broken. With the average home costing eight-times average earnings and a total of 2.2 million working households with below-average incomes, spending a third or more of their disposable income on housing, it’s hard to disagree! Mr Javid claimed his housing white paper will provide “radical lasting reform” to fix it.

Build more homes to slow rising costs

Housing White Paper Sajid Javid statementThe whole mistaken premise of this housing white paper is to “build more homes to slow the rise in housing costs. We need to build many more houses, of the type people want to live in, in the places they want to live.”  How many times did we hear that one?  Yet it is that very demand, fuelled by ultra-low interest rates and government subsidy, that further stimulated demand, exceeding supply with the resultant increase in prices. This is what markets do. Rising housing costs are systematic of years of political economic interference and meddling. If prices are unaffordable, measures put in place that subsidise housing will only serve to enable price increases to continue. Think housing benefit, low interest rates, help to buy, quantitative easing. All of these contributed significantly to Mr Javid’s “broken housing market” and his housing white paper won’t be fixing it anytime soon.

History shows private housebuilders will never build enough new homes

What was needed was an honest admission from Mr Javid that the private market alone will not build the 250,000 new homes each year needed to meet the government’s target of one million new homes by 2020. Loosening the planning system even further and helping smaller builders will not alter the fact that out of the 270,000 homes that are approved through the planning process each year, less than half are actually built. In fact I would go further and suggest even if planning was no longer required at all, Britain would still have a housing crisis! Since the 1970’s, Britain has added on average just 160,000 new homes a year, well below the 250,000 “target”.

Thirteen years ago Dame Kate Barker, now an independent non-executive director at Taylor Wimpey, warned of the crisis to come with the first large-scale report into the shortfall of housing provision. At the time she said 245,000 homes a year would be required to keep house price inflation at 1.1%, but average house prices have risen 50% since then. The Lyons review in 2014 revealed a shortfall of 1 million homes.

Landbanking is a reality, not a myth!

Measures to ban letting fees, longer term tenancies and the ‘use it or lose it’ landbank compulsory purchase are not new ideas, they all came from Ed Miliband in 2013!  From the housing white paper:

“there is also concern that it may be in the interest of speculators and developers to snap up land for housing and then sit back for a while as prices continue to rise. We propose to encourage more active use of compulsory purchase powers to promote development on stalled sites for housing.” But it’s “under review” and “representations are welcomed.”

No wonder shares in Britain’s listed housebuilders rallied as few believe this housing white paper will make any big difference.

Housing white paper makes no mention of the quality of new homes

Most disappointingly of all, was the total absence of any measures to tackle the dire quality of the new homes that are actually being built. It is pointless having a plan to build even more new homes if new homes are soon demolished because quality standards were so poor.See no evil - hear no evil - speak no evil

MPs push for report recommendations to be implementedThe word “quality” was mentioned 42 times in the housing white paper, but only once regarding actual build-quality. This government seems content to ignore growing calls to appoint a New Homes Ombudsman  which would have powers to hold housebuilders to account and award justifiable compensation to beleaguered new homebuyers. Whilst the housing white paper did acknowledge the existence of the APPG for Excellence in the Built Environment (2016) More Homes, fewer complaints – report from the Commission of Inquiry into the quality and workmanship of new housing in England, it only said it would:

“keep requirements under review, to ensure that they remain fit for purpose and meet future needs. This includes looking at further opportunities for simplification and rationalisation while maintaining standards.”

In December last year, the housing minister Gavin Barwell said:
“The Government will be considering the recommendations in the report in developing future policy on new homes”

“More Homes, Fewer Complaints.” Retrospectively, a better, more accurate title could have been “Fewer Homes, More Complaints!

There will be more on the main points of the housing white paper such as it is, to follow. Watch this space!

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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Risk In New Homes

Is your new home killing you?

Killer new homes - carbon monoxide poisoningThe shocking truth is, any new home built since 2000 that has a gas central heating boiler could be lethal. There is now widespread recognition that systems with concealed twin extended boiler flues, pose a significant risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. I am calling for a mandatory requirement that all new homes must be fitted with carbon monoxide alarms.  In addition, every new home must be independently inspected, not merely ‘signed off’ and certificated  by the installer.

Carbon monoxide poisoning kills

14 November 2007
Maria Ighodalo (28) dies from carbon monoxide poisoning
London and Quadrant housing association tenant, Maria Ighodalo, died in a block of flats, known as ‘Beulah Hill’, in Upper Norwood from carbon monoxide poisoning. The flat had a gas safety certificate and a concealed flue heating system.

27 February 2008
Elouise Littlewood (26) dies from carbon monoxide poisoning
You would think that following the tragic death of 26 year-old dance teacher Elouise Littlewood on 27 February 2008, who died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty boiler installation in her flat on the Barratt development at ‘Bedfont Lakes’ in Notting Hill West London, that all house builders would be double checking every boiler in every new home they build, to ensure they are 100% safe and installed to manufacturer’s and GasSafe instructions.  Elouise bought the two-bedroom property through a shared ownership scheme with Notting Hill Housing confirming: “Barratt had installed the gas system and produced a gas safety certificate with a one-year guarantee.”

Prosecutions over inadequately installed concealed boiler flues
After separate investigations by the Met Police and the Health and Safety Executive, the gas fitter accused of her manslaughter, Paul Williamson (53) from Sutton, was cleared of manslaughter by gross negligence by an Old Bailey jury in June 2012. His employer, Malden Plumbing and Heating Limited, was also cleared of failing in its duty to protect non-employees from risk.carbon monoxide alarm Following the Bedfont Lakes tragedy, which also left Her lodger, Simon Kilby, with permanent brain damage, the Health and Safety Executive warned that 1,200 homes with concealed flue boiler systems could be ‘immediately dangerous’ with a further 4,800 a potentially ‘at risk’. The figures were based on exploratory work carried out by Barratt and other developers. Carbon Monoxide [CO] is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, poisonous gas produced by incomplete combustion of carbon-based fuels. It stops the blood from bringing oxygen to cells, tissues, and organs and can kill quickly, without warning.

28 May 2008
No Commissioning certificate for boiler in Persimmon new home
A few days after Lisa Peplow and her family moved into their brand new home she discovered the boiler installed by Persimmon Homes, could have leaked potentially fatal carbon monoxide fumes after calling an emergency plumber when the boiler stopped working and produced a “funny smell.”

The plumber told her that the boiler at her house in Shackleton Close, Bowerhill, near Melksham, did not even have a commissioning certificate – a legal requirement. She told This is Wiltshire:
“He came out, disconnected it and condemned the installation saying it was illegal. I had three things wrong with the boiler last year and he said if I hadn’t had them repaired there would have been a carbon monoxide leak. I was horrified; I was really shaken because I’ve got two girls here. Especially by the fact that carbon monoxide could have leaked out because of the installation.”

The plumber found part of her boiler had melted, giving rise to the strange smell.

25 September 2008
Gas safety checks at 319 new Barratt homes
The gas central heating systems in 269 homes in Colchester built by Barratt Developments underwent safety checks after concern was raised about the standard of their installation, with condensation stains spotted on a ceiling indicating evidence that a twin-pipe flue was leaking. The UK’s largest housebuilder said occupants could be at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning because of problems with flue installations. Another 50 apartments on a Barratt development in Leeds were notified of similar problems. Residents were told to contact British Gas to safety-check their systems; with others having the gas supply to their homes switched off to ensure their safety. The Barratt spokesman saying at the time:
“After detailed discussions with the Health and Safety Executive, as a precautionary measure we have engaged British Gas to conduct quality assurance checks at a limited number of housing developments where a central heating system may have been installed.

31 January 2009
Gas supplies turned off in 340 Taylor Wimpey new homes
A Taylor Wimpey development of 340 homes at ‘Harbour Reach’ in Poole had their gas supplies turned off after a leak of a potentially fatal carbon monoxide was discovered, detected by a carbon monoxide detector, fitted in all homes owned by Raglan and Swaythling Housing Associations. One resident Chris Walsh, who had moved in over a year earlier, said at the time:
“We’ve been told there are serious problems with the boiler flues and levels of carbon monoxide, it’s a silent killer. When you buy a new property you get a [gas] certificate that the property has been tested and complies. How can that be allowed to have happened?”  

2 December 2010
HSE issued a safety bulletin which was updated on 20 May 2013
It is a requirement under The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 for a service engineer working on a boiler, to check the flue for correct operation. This cannot be done where the flue has been installed within the fabric of the building with no access. The most commonly installed boilers that could have been fitted with extended concealed flues are: Range Powermax, Potterton Powermax, Gledhill Gulfstream, Ideal iStor.

Even if there has not been a carbon monoxide leak in a home, engineers might discover that the flue pipes were not connected as securely as they should have been presenting an ongoing risk to the occupants if left unresolved. All homeowners especially those that have bought a new home are advised to fit a carbon monoxide detector. These can be bought for as little as £7 to £25 and could save you and your children’s lives!

9 July 2012
Couple poisoned by carbon monoxide for five years in Taylor Wimpey home
Doreen and Gerald Lee were exposed to carbon monoxide for five years because of a faulty boiler flue. They claimed housebuilder Taylor Wimpey had put their lives at risk after discovering that levels of deadly carbon monoxide in their ‘Winthorpe Gardens’ home in Borehamwood were “through the roof.” Their home had been built by Taylor Wimpey five years earlier, but a “wrongly installed” boiler flue only came to light when the property was checked five years later. Flats in another Taylor Wimpey development, ‘Keble Court’, next to Winthorpe Gardens, were evacuated on 14 July 2012 after more concerns about carbon monoxide leaks.

Six months earlier, Taylor Wimpey were forced to take action on another of their developments, the 791 home Grand Union Village, in Ealing and Hillingdon after elevated levels of carbon monoxide were discovered at an apartment in December 2011.

Taylor Wimpey inspect 9,000 homes in 4 years
Taylor WimpeyIn total, Taylor Wimpey had conducted inspections on more than 9,000 of its new homes in the four years to October 2012. It has even inspected homes that did not have extended concealed flues. Taylor Wimpey told Inside Housing:
“We have also identified that only a very small proportion of homeowners are having their gas boilers inspected and serviced regularly. In light of the concern that many customers are not having gas appliances inspected or serviced regularly, we have now amended our standard specification to include the installation of an audible carbon monoxide alarm in any room which contains a gas appliance.”

Taylor Wimpey wrote to all of its customers who bought homes completed from 2000 – when concealed extended flues were commonly used, highlighting the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning, emphasizing the importance of regular boiler servicing and offered to supply free carbon monoxide alarms. As of October 2012, Taylor Wimpey had written to a staggering 150,000 customers about the issue and says it has installed or supplied more than 30,000 audible carbon monoxide alarms since 2009 following the HSE safety bulletin in December 2010.

Persimmon, Britain’s second largest housebuilder by volume, whilst refusing to comment on whether it had found problems in any of its homes and whether it had taken steps to protect residents in homes with concealed flues, it did tell Inside Housing in October 2009 that it had found 384 properties that “did not have access panels in accordance with the safety requirements”. It had undertaken to complete work on these by December 2009.

March 2014
At risk notice on Barratt boiler after Ideal sent engineer to fix it
As John Gosling writes in his excellent blog ‘A Barratt Home From Hell’ that the Ideal engineer pointed to the air inlet on the outside wall explaining that because of the way it had been fitted, the boiler was receiving insufficient air and would not be running efficiently. After John called the HSE Barratt quickly fixed the problem.

23 November 2015
Home built in 2006 had unsealed flue
An inspector found a fault with the boiler of a home built by Roland Bardsley Homes in 2006. The company being acquired by David Wilson Homes in 2006. Louise Dunn, from Shaw near Oldham, suffered symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning in November 2015.  It was discovered that the flue, designed to take carbon monoxide away from the home, was left unsealed, meaning the toxic gas could leak back into the house.

December 2016
Taylor Wimpey still apparently have issues on their developments around the UK with boilers.

A Taylor Wimpey homebuyer recently posted on the forum :

“We have an ongoing issue with Taylor Wimpey. An insurance-appointed engineer shit down out boiler because it was “dangerously unsafe” He found that the flue to our boiler was incorrectly fitted at installation because flue lengths were cut too short, damaged elbow and missing seals. A second engineer second engineer of my choice, attended [on 11 January 2016] and pretty much reached the same conclusions Taylor Wimpey have sent their own independent engineer but they are refusing to share their findings (which I’m not surprised at). Carbon monoxide has been leaking into our home, which explains why I get headaches and nauseous when working at home. Fortunately, we have a three-storey townhouse and neither of us spend that much time on the top floor. We’ve been without running hot water and heating since 30th December 2016 because the engineer shut down our boiler on the grounds that it was dangerously unsafe.

 “I’ve since learned that Taylor Wimpey have had issues on other developments around the UK with boilers and subsequent carbon monoxide emissions. Indeed, on our development a string of boiler failures prompted Taylor Wimpey to install carbon monoxide alarm monitors on every home on site (almost 300). About four years ago, a row of houses on our development had some pretty serious boiler issues. After the remedial works were completed, Taylor Wimpey then sent ‘engineers’ to every home and installed CO [Carbon Monoxide] monitors outside every boiler cupboard and allegedly checked every flue. They fitted three brackets to ours, one in the boiler cupboard and two on the main body of the flue in the loft.”

I can’t begin to list the number of issues other new homebuyers have told me about. Most concern boilers found to be “wired incorrectly” after the first annual service was carried out. This forum post concerning Charles Church homes  being typical.

Independent inspections of Gas and Electrical installations

At the APPG Inquiry Into the Quality of New Homes in November 2015 I made a submission/presentation and said that there should be:
“Independent Electrical and Gas installation inspections. Electrical and gas safety inspections must be carried out by an outside inspector rather than the current self-certification by the individual or installing contractor.”

I have asked government for this measure to be considered for inclusion in the Housing White Paper (along with the New Homes Ombudsman) as people’s lives are being put at risk and certain house builders retrospectively fitting carbon monoxide alarms is not a solution to the leaking, potentially lethal, boiler flues and incorrectly installed gas boilers.

As a minimum, it is essential to make fitting carbon monoxide detectors in all new homes a mandatory Building Regulations requirement and NHBC warranty standard. As it stands, there is no legal requirement for builder, landlords or gas companies in England and Wales to install alarms where there are only gas appliances. There is a duty under the Building Regulations Part J from 1 October 2010, when a solid fuel or bio fuel heating system is installed, such as a wood burning stove.

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Bovis give buyers £3,000 cash incentives to move into unfinished new homes.

Bovis Homes

Just when I think there isn’t anything else this industry can shock me with – coverage in the national press has revealed that Bovis Homes offered “bribes” of up to £3,000 to their buyers if they legally completed or moved into unfinished new homes on or before 23rd December 2016. This was done in a vain attempt to meet the City forecasted target of 4,170 completions for their financial year-end.

The “incentives” were offered to buyers just days before Bovis issued a profit warning, stating that 180 homes were “being deferred into early 2017” resulting in profits lower than previously expected. Equity analyst Anthony Codling at investment bank Jefferies, told The Times: “This will be where they are trying to make their targets. They would have been trying their hardest to complete those homes to get people moved in before Christmas. There is pressure from an investor perspective to meet the volume target and they will do what they can to meet those targets.”

Other analysts said that the cash incentives from Bovis were part of a failed attempt by the FTSE 250 company to meet City targets saying Bovis’ share price had “substantially underperformed the sector over the last seven years.”

Have Bovis Group attempted to deceive investors and the City as to the true year-end results of the Company, by pushing through legal completions (sales) on new homes that were not 100% finished at year-end? I am no expert on financial reporting regulations but more is here.  Perhaps this is something that the Financial Conduct Authority [FCA] should be investigating.

Outraged buyers have taken to social media complaining about Bovis asking them to legally complete on unfinished homes with no driveways, windows, paths, gardens, unpainted walls and even the wrong kitchen units being installed. The Facebook Group “Bovis Homes Victims” now has over 1,000 members, as media reporters and others join to find out what buyers are saying about the company on the Closed group.

Rob Elmes, 32, told The Times he refused to accept an initial offer of £2,000 to complete on a three-bedroom £320,000 home in Worcestershire and was offered £3,000 four days later to legally complete on 23rd December. Mr Elmes refused, saying that his home was not yet finished with workmen still in the house and his drive unfinished. To compound matters, Bovis have even managed to fit the wrong kitchen!

Bovis have admitted that customers had been offered an incentive to complete before the year’s end, but claimed that no one was forced to move in before Christmas.

A spokesman from Bovis said: “Customers were clearly free to decide their preferred course of action. The Group often offers a range of incentives at sale and completion in line with industry practice.”

The firm said that all homes “were habitable”, with the required industry certification as per the Council of Mortgage Lenders’ Handbook Rules. A Bovis spokesman said: “A limited number of customers were offered an incentive to complete before the year end and all homes were habitable with the requisite CML industry certification, with a timetable for outstanding finishing works to be carried out in the New Year”

However the reality would appear to be different and members of the Bovis Victims Facebook Group were quick to add their experiences. One member who has asked not to be named, said she was initially told she was due to move to her new Bovis home in October.” She posted: “We were offered £2,000 by Bovis to complete early on 23 December and told we’d be able to move in to our home over a month later on January 27th. We decided not to take the offer due to the shaky legality and were assured this wouldn’t affect the build. We’ve just been informed our anticipated completion has now moved to 31 March”

How could these homes be regarded as “habitable”? It can hardly be substantially complete if it will take up to three further months to complete the “outstanding finishing works.”

On 23rd December, posts on the group included: “Bovis want us to complete today and move in and [sic] the end of January.” Another Bovis buyer claimed that even if they had accepted Bovis’ cash offer they were unable to legally complete because Bovis had “not completed the correct Help to Buy document.” In addition, forcing or coercing buyers to legally complete on unfinished houses is not new. One posted that they were put in a hotel for 10 days as Bovis would not wait till after Christmas back in 2013. They wanted to complete asap. Been a fight ever since”

Bovis told The Guardian: “We recognise that our customer service has to improve and the leadership of the organisation is absolutely committed to getting this right.” This came just two days after Bovis CEO David Ritchie “resigned” who admitted a “limited number” of customers were offered an incentive to complete before the end of the year, but no one was forced to move in.

Bovis Apologises

On another Bovis development, the company has finally bowed to pressure and has apologised to buyers for problems at two sites in Norfolk. A Bovis’ spokesman said:

“We are working with our customers at Costessey and Cringleford to resolve their issues and we take their complaints very seriously. We recognise that in some cases at these locations we have not provided the standard of home that we pride ourselves on, for which we apologise. We also recognise that our customer service has to improve and we are absolutely committed to getting this right and are taking actions to put in place robust procedures and practices to rectify issues such as these and prevent them from occurring again.”

My award for ‘best headline’ currently goes to The Sun with “Bovis and Butthead”

Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) Rules

The CML website states:
“Under rules introduced in April 2003, to help eliminate the practice of builders allowing occupation before the home is completely finished, the Council for Mortgage Lenders’ (CML) initiative requires builders to obtain a completion certificate. This is issued by an independent Building Inspector, normally the NHBC, following a satisfactory final inspection of the property. The lender requires this completion certificate, along with confirmation that the new home warranty is in place, before they release the mortgage funds.  

It is common for the Final Inspection to be made 14 days before the completion date. This will give the solicitors and mortgage provider time to arrange for the funds and provide you with an opportunity to inspect your finished home.”

Could those Bovis buyers, in accepting the “incentive” payments and legally completing on an unfinished and uninhabitable new home, be innocently complicit with Bovis Homes, the solicitors and the warranty inspector in potential mortgage fraud? The homes would not have been in the condition on completion and therefore the full value, that the lenders believed. Even more, those bought using Help To Buy may have, proportionally, also defrauded the taxpayer!

The Council of Mortgage Lenders told me:
“We can’t comment specifically on these cases in relation to mortgage fraud, as I am sure you’ll understand. I think our members will be concerned about the emergence of this practice, [payments to buyers to legally complete on unfinished new homes] however – as you rightly point out, this practice shouldn’t be able to happen as the properties must be inspected and signed off as complete for habitation; the use of a cash incentive will also potentially distort the true value of the property if the valuer is unaware of it.

For clarity, the CML does not have its own ‘certification’ process in relation to new homes completion. We think this reference is probably to the CML Lenders’ Handbook, which is a set of instructions to conveyancers. In that, it stipulates that lenders require a form of new home warranty (such as an NHBC warranty) to be in place prior to completion, which the conveyancer checks as part of the conveyancing process. This requirement was introduced some years ago to prevent this very issue. It may be useful to contact warranty providers, to establish how they think this might be happening.”

Indeed it might; so I did. I asked the NHBC how it was possible for a CML final inspection certificate to be ‘signed off’ by the NHBC inspector? Especially when some of these houses were clearly far from finished requiring in one case, three months work! Another had not been decorated.

The NHBC said:
“All homes registered with NHBC are inspected at key stages of construction. This includes a pre-handover inspection, which is designed to ensure that the property is fit for occupation and that our 10-year warranty cover can be provided. Where people do experience issues with their new homes we offer protection under our warranty for 10 years, including a free Resolution service in the first two years. We would encourage homeowner (or constituents) with concerns about their new home to get in touch with us so that we can offer them our help.” 

Not exactly enlightening is it? Again, how is it that any of these homes are judged finished and “fit for occupation”? On 6th January, NHBC Chief Executive Mike Quinton quit after four years – three days ahead of David Ritchie’s “resignation” as Bovis’ CEO.

NHBC Guide to CML InitiativeUnder the CML rules introduced in April 2003, a lender will not release the mortgage funds for a new property until the buyer’s conveyancer has received confirmation, in the form of a cover note, that the property has received a satisfactory final inspection and that a full new home warranty will be in place on or before legal completion. In an excellent article (March 2010) Building.co.uk highlighted that the “A Guide to the CML Certificate” ended with a warning stating that: “If [the consultant] signs the certificate and defects are subsequently found to affect the property, it is highly likely that they will face a claim on their professional indemnity insurance some way down the line.”

You also have to question quite what, (if anything) the buyer’s solicitor entered into the CML “Disclosure of Incentives form” (Section 10) for those that chose to take the Bovis’ incentive!

HBF Buyers’ customer survey ratings

This letter breaches HBF rules 23,24 & 25.It would appear that Bovis are also manipulating the HBF Customer Satisfaction Survey. Bovis Homes, rated just three stars by its customers for the last two years, has allegedly offered John Lewis vouchers to buyers in return “for giving good feedback on the NHBC survey” Whilst not uncommon within the industry, this is clearly against the HBF Star Rating rules 21,22,24 and 25.

Barratt, Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey distance themselves from this latest scandal

Last Thursday Tom Knowles reported in The Times that the country’s biggest housebuilders were distancing themselves from the scandal, in particular Bovis’ claims that cash payments to buyers to legally complete on unfinished homes was “in line with industry practice.

The scandal has led to Oliver Colvile MP, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group For Excellence in the Built Environment, to call for a debate into the standard of new homes, he said: “We will try to have a debate in the House of Commons about the quality of new-build housing. We need to press the government to do more.” In July last year, Mr Colvile and a group of MPs published their Inquiry Report detailing ten recommendations, which included my suggestion that buyers or their surveyors, have a mandatory right to inspect their properties before they complete their purchase. Many Bovis new home buyers have complained they were not allowed to enter their homes until the day of completion and on doing so, discovered workmen attempting to complete the works in time.

In a statement Bovis suggested offering cash to customers to complete by a certain date was “in line with industry practice”, but the three biggest housebuilders, Barratt, Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey, said that they never make this offer. Ryan Mangold, chief financial officer of Taylor Wimpey, said: “We have never given cash incentives to get buyers to move in by a certain date.” Peter Truscott, chief executive of Galliford Try, said that while developers occasionally offered investors buying several homes, cash incentives to complete by a set date, this was not the case for individual customers. The Home Builders Federation said: “It is not common industry practice to offer cash to new home buyers to complete early.”

However, a Persimmon homebuyer posted on ‘Unhappy New Home Buyers’ Facebook Group:
I read that about this morning in The Mail. Persimmon tried this on lots of our purchasers including us in 2010, but for some reason we had put our money in a 6 month Bond and told them where to go…..needless to say we won….but our neighbours moved in with Windows missing!, Trouble is it did not do us any good because we had so many problems, and still have some, we pay out for some things ourselves, but some [sic] we live with!”

A spokesman for Bovis told The Times:
Each individual customer was approached on a case-by-case basis and, where appropriate, they were offered the opportunity to move into their homes in time for Christmas with an agreed timetable for outstanding finishing works to be carried out in the New Year. Customers were offered help in the form of payments for a range of reasons in light of the extra costs they would incur by doing so . . . Similarly, some customers were offered compensation payments as a gesture of goodwill in light of the added disruption over the festive period.”

The scandal is so serious that several MPs have said they could raise the issue in Parliament. Among them are Labour MP Melanie Onn, former Tory housing minister Mark Prisk and as mentioned earlier, APPG EBE Chairman Oliver Colville MP. However the fact of the matter is that issues such as these are not new. The APPG EBE ‘Inquiry Into the Quality of New Homes In England’ found that “as the number of homes being built increased, the quality of new homes has declined.” The Inquiry Report painted a damning picture of a broken industry, bereft of any moral compass. It said:

“The evidence points to an industry…which will at times ride rough-shod over dissatisfied buyers… House builders should be upping their game and putting consumers at the heart of the business model…For some, purchasing their dream home turns into a nightmare…Evidence suggested there is a continuing issue with poor standards of workmanship in new homes…At financial half-year and year-ends, the quality is reduced as they rush to meet targets…Housebuilder’s own quality control systems are not fit for purpose…The government must take a lead role to make sure house builders deliver a quality product and service and not just focus on numbers being built.”

Debate or no debate, it is to be hoped that the forthcoming Housing White Paper due later this month, does indeed take note of the ten recommendations of the APPG Inquiry Report and includes measures to address the ongoing quality and service shortfalls of the major housebuilders, especially by undertaking to set up an independent New Homes Ombudsman before the end of this year.

It is my opinion that the buyers’ quotations in this article, reproduced entirely as they were originally written on posts freely available on Facebook,  would be considered by a reasonable person, to be true and the opinions or experiences of these private individuals. This article is my honest opinion of the buyers’ own claims and statements that any reasonable person might also conclude. I believe this is a matter of public interest.

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NHBC CEO Mike Quinton Quits NHBC

Mike QuintonQuinton Quits! 

Mike Quinton resigned yesterday, following four years as Chief Executive of the NHBC. He was appointed to the role in October 2012, taking over from his predecessor Imtiaz Farookhi, who stepped down on 28 February 2012 after 14 years in the role.

Isabel Hudson, Interim Executive ChairmanThe NHBC statement said: “From 1st February the current Chairman, Isabel Hudson, (e mail: ifhudson@nhbc.co.uk)will become Executive Chairman and Neil Jefferson, Business Development Director, will step up as Managing Director until a permanent successor has been appointed.”

“Since his arrival in 2012, Mike has taken NHBC forward and led the organisation successfully through a period of significant growth in the new build sector, supporting builders to deliver high quality new homes.”

Mr Quinton said in a statement:

“After four years, I’m pleased to leave NHBC in a strong position and well equipped to face the challenges ahead. I leave behind an organisation making a vital contribution to the UK housing sector. NHBC is valued, trusted and relied upon by housebuilders and homeowners and I am sure the organisation will continue to flourish in the years ahead. I wish the management team and all staff the very best for the future.”

With an accountancy background, Mike Quinton joined NHBC in October 2012, “bringing a wealth of experience gained in the insurance sector.” He had previously held several senior executive management positions with major UK insurance companies, including Zurich Financial Services Group, Prudential and RBS Insurance (as MD of insurer Churchill).

So what did Mike Quinton achieve?

I found Mike to be always accessible, replying personally to any enquiries I made. I also know from those homebuyers who were having issues with their claim, that he often replied to them personally. Compared to the CEO’s running the plc housebuilders, this was refreshing change in this broken, indifferent industry.

But given the NHBC core purpose is to be the standard-setting body and provider of warranty and insurance for new homes. Our purpose is to work with the house-building industry to raise the standards of new homes and to provide protection for homebuyers” just what has changed for the better in the last four years?

Well standards have certainly not been raised. In the HBF customer satisfaction scores in the 2013 survey; 91% would “recommend their builder to a friend” and 91% were “satisfied with the quality” of their new home. In the 2016 HBF survey, those figures are 85% and 86% respectively. The cost of claims under the Buildmark warranty has increased by over 23% from £73million in 2012/13 to £90million in the year to 31 March 2016.

The NHBC Annual Report covering the year to 31 March 2016, stated that 153,430 (110,255) homes were registered, £90million (£73million) was paid out in claims, 90% (86%) of buyers rated the NHBC service as “excellent” and there were 798,000 (527,273) inspections on new homes. The NHBC warranty covered 80% (80%) of all new homes built and it has 10,953 (13,074) Builders on its the register. (2012/13 figures in brackets). Perhaps the most notably improvement is that the NHBC now carries out 98.5% of its stage inspections.

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Sign The Petition For Better Quality New Homes

With  greater protection for those that buy them!

The only way the housebuilding industry will change for the better, is if enough people sign this petition. This Government is pre occupied with its blinkered approach to increasing quantity of new homes being built, throwing billions of taxpayer’s money at housebuilders in the process. Just last week another £5bn was earmarked for an industry that cares so little for its own customers and the quality of the product they sell.

APPG Inquiry ReportAn all party group of MPs had an Inquiry last year Into the Quality of New Homes. The Inquiry Report made ten recommendations, including the number one “key recommendation” the setting up of a New Homes Ombudsman. All of the recommendation have the potential to not only force housebuilders to improve the quality of the homes they build, but also give those that buy new homes better protection via access to a New Homes Ombudsman.petitionWe have been here before with the Barker Review of 2004, Office of Fair Trading Market Study of Home Building in the UK October 2008, and now more recently the APPG Inquiry 2016. Yet surprisingly, there has not been any legislation to force this failing industry to improve.

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Proposed Statutory Levy On Housebuilders That Fail To Train

farmer reviewIn February 2016, the government asked the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) to look at the labour model within the construction industry and the pressures on skills and other constraints that limit housebuilding and infrastructure development in the UK. The CLC commissioned Mark Farmer to undertake a review and his report, The Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model was published on 17 October 2016.

The independent Farmer Review, commissioned by two Government departments, highlights construction’s dysfunctional training model, its lack of innovation and collaboration as well as its non-existent research and development (R&D) culture. Farmer says the construction sector must “modernise or die” and faces “inexorable decline” unless radical steps are taken to address its longstanding problems.

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