This week five national plc house builder’s reported record profit rises as they cash in on the state sponsored Help to Buy feeding frenzy. According to recent figures from the DCLG , 89% of the Help to Buy loans have gone to first-time buyers since the scheme began in April 2013. With an apparently never ending stream of undiscerning, naive first timers flocking to builder’s sales offices, buying whatever is available, what incentive do house builders have to improve quality of the homes they build?
You also have to question why the government is currently advertising it’s Help to Buy scheme on national television, when the figures released by these major national builders during this week demonstrate that this advertising is totally unnecessary.
Greed is good and greed is back, as both builder CEOs and their shareholders receive payouts from the excessive profits generated from the government’s Help to Buy subsidy. New Home Blog saw this coming!
Builder’s report record profit increases – but not improving quality!
Here we go again: “Profitability, Cash generation, Completions, Average selling prices, Earnings per share, Land banking, Trading outlook” yada-yada! The only house builder to make any meaningful statement regarding a commitment to improving quality and customer service was Barratt, with reference to their consistent HBF “customer satisfaction” 5-Star rating and their record 102 NHBC quality awards in 2013.
Can new home buyers really believe what the house builders claim on their websites and in their marketing material? A quote from Taylor Wimpey’s own website claims:
“The standard of home building in the UK has never been higher than it is today” “We’re dedicated to building quality new homes. It’s the core of our business, which means that we know a thing or two about it.”
I don’t believe it!
Even Victor Meldrew would have trouble with this defect!
If this really is the case, how could a defect like this happen?
Even worse, why was it not seen by anyone and corrected prior to legal completion?
“Every team has a dedicated Site Manager, who is responsible for making sure that your home is built to the highest possible standard.”
So how and why did this happen?
This defect was created at the first-fix stage. The door frame should have been packed off the wall nib using a timber stud to ensure the light switch would fit between the architraves later on. The light switch may even have been fitted in the wrong position altogether, at the very least the electrician should have noticed there could be an issue during his second-fix. The “dedicated site manager” didn’t check this stage of the build presumably!
In a speech to the party’s national policy forum, Mr Miliband is set to confirm that increasing the number of new homes built each year will be a key priority for an incoming Labour government. He will confirm measures to force house builders to stop hoarding land with his “use it or lose it” proposal.
Other options also being considered include giving councils the power to fine companies that own large areas of undeveloped land or to require them to pay council tax or a special “land tax” on the undeveloped land in question. As a last resort house builders who refuse to build could find themselves facing a compulsory purchase order.
Mr Miliband will say: “We have to be willing to confront some of the obstacles to house-building. Across our country there are firms sitting on land waiting for it to accumulate in value and not building on it – landowners with planning permission who simply do not build. We have to change that… permission to build should mean landowners build.”
Mr Miliband recognises that the profits of the biggest four developers by volume – Barratt, Berkeley, Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey – have risen by 557% since the coalition took office. The number of homes completed by these firms increased by just 4,067 in 2012, and the number of affordable homes built last year actually fell by 26%.
Is the size, design and more importantly, build quality of new homes getting any better? Judging by the number of complaints they receive and various online comments the answer is a resounding NO! Only this week a Bellway Homes buyer was forced to move out of his house because it was declared structurally unsound after an incorrect (weak) mortar had been used. A Taylor Wimpey buyer could not move into his new home for TWO MONTHS because of the extent of snagging defects included potentially dangerous electrical installation. According to the unfortunate new home buyer, a Taylor Wimpey regional director even told him that “we’re here to deliver profit for our shareholders” adding: “we don’t build perfect houses”.
Whilst planning and building regulations stipulate minimum standards, it would appear that no house builder is prepared to go beyond the absolute minimum quality standards. When a new home buyer complains they are often referred to the NHBC’s booklet “A Consistent Approach To Finishes” and told that it is “within tolerance” The author has written to Persimmon’s Jeff Fairburn, and Taylor Wimpey’s Pete Redfern to ask what measures they are personally going implement improve the quality of their product. Neither has replied!
So with CEOs apparently only driven by profit and share prices, we thought it would be worth a look at examining whether those who are in charge of Britain’s largest plc house builders are in fact, fit for purpose. It can be seen that with one exception, they have not had a University education. In addition, only three have any experience of actually managing a building site, two of these actually started their own companies!
Read any of the largest house builders year-end reports and it is all about profit, earnings per share, return on capital employed, sales, turnover, number of homes built, the average selling price and land bank values – all financial matters. Forecasts for the coming year are about the potential to increase these numbers. So it should be, after all they are commercial businesses and these numbers matter to investors, shareholders and the banks lending them money.
But what about announcements regarding improving quality and customer satisfaction? Surely these matter to shareholders too, as any successful business must have happy satisfied customers. But it is very rare that any of the CEOs make any reference about the actual quality of their product in their year-end statements. Even when they do, it is normally a reference to the potentially manipulated HBF Customer Satisfaction Star Rating. The star rating is only based on around 30% of the homes that the larger house builders build each year so is hardly representative. CEOs may also mention awards won in the year such as the NHBC Pride in the Job Awards. However, some of the larger builders, whilst winning a handful of awards, have a poor record in the competition considering the number of active sites they have in any given year.
Top left to right: Jeff Fairburn – Persimmon * Pete Redfern – Taylor Wimpey * Mark Clare – Barratt/David Wilson * Steve Morgan – Redrow * Greg Fitzgerald -Linden. Bottom left to right: Ted Ayers – Bellway * Tony Pidgley Berkeley * David Ritchie – Bovis * Stephen Stone – Crest * John Bloor – Bloor