This was a question I was asked at the APPG last November. Surely, if there was a real problem with the quality of new homes, why is it that so few actually complain and go public with their experiences? It is a question I often ask myself, knowing as I do that 93% of new homebuyers will report problems to their housebuilder very soon after being handed the keys. Imagine the public outcry if 93% of new cars went back to the dealer for faults to be fixed after a few days or weeks! Indeed, if new homes were cars they wouldn’t be fit to go on the roads! So why is it that out of a potential 129,300 people that bought a new home in the year to 30 June 2016 and reported problems to the housebuilder, most chose to stay silent? Even more astounding are 86% that the HBF claim “would recommend their housebuilder to a friend” – although the HBF 8-week customer survey results appear to be being manipulated by the big housebuilders.
Adversely affect the future value – more difficult to sell
Lord Richard Best said: “I think another factor could be that people don’t want to moan about their new home having invested such a large amount of money, and knowing that one day they’re going to sell it to. It’s counterintuitive to rubbish something that you’re going to sell later, which you’ve invested so heavily in.”
His Lordship is not wrong there. It has even been known that some large plc housebuilders try to silence unhappy buyers by implying that going public on social media, could blight the development and owners could suffer negative equity saying, “do you really want to be the cause of lower house prices where you live? What do you think your neighbours would say?”
It could also be that many new homebuyers are embarrassed, facing the sudden realisation that, having paid large sums of money for their homes, they could have and perhaps should have, taken more time and done at least some research, on both the development and the housebuilder before signing on the dotted line. Perhaps some may have avoided buying from a housebuilder rated just three stars by their own customers, or one that employs very few site managers capable of winning an NHBC Quality Award. Yet in 2015, 18,350 buyers still bought either a Persimmon or Bovis new home.
Ignorant of defects
Most new homebuyers are young naïve first-time buyers attracted by the prospect of home ownership by Help to Buy and other government schemes. Most of the others are naïve first-time new-build buyers. Inexperienced, they do not know what standards to expect and what is acceptable and what is most definitely not. Most new homebuyers are not building experts, yet surprisingly very few pay for their home to be professionally inspected and snagged before they move in. Many even use the solicitor the builder suggests and do not seek or take note of the good advice available online. These are the builder’s favourite buyers; trusting, easy to please and easily fobbed off!
What happens on site stays on site
On most new developments, site managers and sales advisors work together to prevent complaints and defects getting back to their regional offices. All too often, buyers give the sales staff a hand-written list of things they want sorting out on a scrap of paper. Whether these items get fixed properly or not, no one has any record, not the new homebuyer, or more importantly, the housebuilder’s regional office.
Intimidated or scared of the housebuilder
Quite a few new homeowners are so intimidated and concerned about possible ramifications that they choose to either say nothing, or accept whatever excuse or explanation their housebuilder tells them when they report something wrong with their home. “its within tolerance” and “you’re being picky” for example.
Do not want the disruption of repairs
It cannot be under-estimated the amount of disruption that new homebuyers suffer when trades return to fix their sub-standard workmanship and defects, all of which the housebuilder failed to check or get right before the buyer first moved in. Add in taking time off work and potential damage to carpets and possessions, it is not surprising many choose to accept the defect in the certain knowledge that to sort it out would mean extensive works, dust, dirt and in some cases actually moving out. Some new home buyers may decide to undertake the work themselves “if you want a job doing right…etc” rather than have the prospect of the same unsupervised bodgers returning for a second attempt!
Or to use the legal term non-disclosure or confidentiality clauses. These are added to agreements which buyers sign before they receive compensation from housebuilders. More often than not they also have a requirement for the new homeowner to delete any social media messages and take down their blogs or websites critical of the housebuilder and their home. The Internet is a powerful resource and is forever, the housebuilders know this.
The British disease
It is a well known fact that the British don’t like to complain. Far better to suffer in silence. “Is everything alright Sir? Madam?” Yes they say! Of course it is – the meal may have been horrible, the hotel room noisy or dirty or staff rude and indifferent. It’s all too easy to say nothing likely to cause conflict and just vow never to go there again. But by doing so, nothing is ever going to change. Even so most people choose to say nothing, leaving it to someone else. It’s exactly the same with new homes.
The young are less likely to complain
This is not just a question of older people being more grumpy. These people have the wisdom and life experiences and have learned over many years that you don’t get what you want, what is morally right, unless you are prepared to do actually something about it. They know what is acceptable and certainly what is unacceptable. This baby-boomer generation will have had a better education and therefore are better equipped to write a structured letter stating what is wrong and what outcome they are looking for. This is something that younger people can struggle with.
Haven’t got the time
Oh if only I had a pound every time I heard that one! They find time to go shopping, to get tattoos. They find the time to text all day. They have time to watch rubbish reality TV. They are permanently on Facebook – a website wasting the time of a billion lives globally. Yet these same people are “too busy” to sign a petition that might just force the government to do more for new homebuyers than throwing ever-increasing amounts of taxpayer’s money at plc housebuilders. They are “too busy” to write to their MPs to inform them of their defective new homes and indifferent housebuilders. Some do find time to make timid posts in closed, single-builder Facebook Groups rather than join forces and stand up and be counted as the first generation that together, says we have had enough, we will get this changed.
In the meantime, no doubt a trickle of suffering new homebuyers will be brave enough to face the TV cameras from time to time on programmes such as BBC Watchdog, with their sorry tales of woe. Programmes that allow the housebuilders to respond: “we are sorry that on this occasion, we have not met our own high standards. We are working with the buyers concerned to resolve their issues as quickly as possible.”
And so it goes on. The silent majority of new homebuyers through their own inaction are in their own way, as bad as the housebuilders that built their defect-ridden new homes. New homes are poor quality, of this there is no doubt. Large plc housebuilders prioritise profit over people – fact. So why are people not protecting themselves and doing at least some research before buying a new-build home? It could be argued that consumers spend more time deciding which new pair of shoes to buy than they do buying a new home.
Never before has so much, been owed to so few, by so many
A very few new homebuyers do get active. They set up residents groups, Facebook groups, post on Forums, some even writing of their experiences on their own website or blog.
A brave few are even prepared to be interviewed on national television or in the national press. People like Sue Oliver, who highlighted on Channel 4 Dispatches last November how Bovis had tried to prevent her seeing (and wanted to doctor) a report on her home. (below)People like Luke Mahon and his fellow Loddon Park residents, so angry about the defects in their Taylor Wimpey new homes they have shouted loudly; although after two weeks only six have signed this Petition! Carolina and Roberto Revilla also long-suffering Taylor Wimpey new homebuyers also appeared on Dispatches. In national press James Hayward tells the Daily Mail he was so angry he set up a website mydavidwilsonhome.co.uk and there is Andy Bell who bought a Persimmon new home.
Kirsty Burton was one of several feisty new homebuyers determined to force housebuilders, [Persimmon, Taylor Wimpey and Barratt] not only to fix their homes but pay meaningful compensation, which Persimmon have agreed to do at their Hunters Gate development in Grantham. In an interview for the Daily Mail Mrs Burton said at the time: “We have suffered unimaginable stress and Persimmon have fought us every step of the way.” But how did they get on? Were the problems with their homes sorted out? How long did it take? Where are the warnings to others? To be sure, even the most angry new homebuyers go quiet in the end. Why are they not telling others of their experiences or how they got compensation and how much? Why are they are not now campaigning for better quality and better customer service? Even more inexplicable is that at the time of writing, most unhappy new homebuyers have not even bothered to sign this Petition to force Government to implement the ten APPG Inquiry recommendations, especially, the setting up of a New Homes Ombudsman. A simple task that takes around a minute to do!
New homebuyers often feel isolated when they try to make a complaint. The first thing housebuilders say is “this is an isolated incident, don’t speak to your neighbours about it,” and it’s incredible that most appear to have a system in place to bully their customers into that. Divide and conquer. Loddon Park new homebuyer Luke Mahon was told by Taylor Wimpey not to talk to his neighbours. He says the way that Taylor Wimpey act towards their customers is “quite intimidating. First of all they try and isolate you and try and make out it’s just you and no one else is affected. And then they kind of try and make it feel like your making a lot of fuss, things like oh well you’re being very picky” You can hear his experience of Taylor Wimpey here
A single twig can be easily snapped, but not when it is part of a bundle tied together! So it is very strange that so few homebuyers appear willing to get organised and join forces against their housebuilder. That is apart from making a few comments in these Facebook groups for a short while.
Unhappy New Home Buyers – 604 members (Public)
Taylor Wimpey Unhappy Customers – 275 members (Public)
Persimmon Homes and Customer Services – 83 members (Public)
Persimmon – Unhappy Customers – 304 members (Public)
Barratt Homes = The new faulty towers – 200 members (Public)
Bovis Homes Victims Group – 380 members (Closed)
Homeowners Rights Network – 289 members (Closed)
I have been campaigning for more than seven years for a better deal for those that buy new homes and I don’t even own a new home! I won’t be giving up until, at the very least, buyers can take disputes to a government-appointed New Homes Ombudsman!