How To Fix Problems With Your New Build Home
When you purchase an existing house, you are, in many ways, purchasing its history, its strengths and its deficiencies. Every buyer needs to be aware of what, exactly, they are getting. This is why inspections and surveys are so critical. But a new build? What could go wrong? They promise us stress-free, hassle-free and worry-free home ownership. We can move in and not think about a plumbing leak, frayed wiring or a faulty roof for years or even decades.
Except that is not always the cause. This guide is designed to educate and inform you around how to fix problems with your new build home. They do exist, and they can make life… Well, interesting, shall we say?
What Types of Problems Might You See In a New Build Home?
When you opt for a new build home, the last thing you expect is problems that are, typically, more associated with purchasing an existing house. But, again, it does happen. But let’s back up and look at the facts and figures. According to an annual survey conducted by the House Builders Federation (HBF) and the National House Building Council (NHBC), 88% of owners are satisfied overall with the quality of their new build home and 91% would recommend their building professional.
But there is a darker side of the statistics: 30% of buyers reported that their new home had more problems than they anticipated. An astonishing 41% indicated that they had informed their builders of more than 10 issues; over a quarter said they informed their builder of at least 16 problems. This is a trend that has been growing more pronounced over the past several years.
When you buy a pair of trainers, an air fryer or a bundle of Brussels sprouts, you are protected by consumer laws. It is within your right to reject the good and get your money refunded if it does not meet your expectations. The notable exception is property, which is not covered under the Sale and Supply of Goods Act. In other words: you are, for all intents and purposes, stuck with a problematic property.
What kind of problems are we talking about here? Harry Yates, founder and managing director of snagging expert firm HouseScan, says, ‘We see some real horror stories with snagging issues in the new build sector but more often than not, it’s the early issues that a customer might miss that they have the most trouble getting their house builder to rectify.’
*Snagging in the context of new homes refers to the inspection process that identifies ‘snags,’ or relatively minor defects or issues that could, if not addressed, turn into significant headaches for owners.
According to experts in this area, some common issues or snags are:
- Poorly fitted doors and windows
- Unconnected or poorly fitted ductwork
- Subpar brickwork pointing
- Badly installed trickle vent
- Peeling paintwork and shoddy plastering
- Missing or improperly installed insulation
- Inconsistent sealant application
Now by themselves, none of these is a ‘deal breaker,’ and they can be addressed and rectified with relative ease when identified as soon as possible in the building process. Failing to do so on the part of the builder (though the homeowner should, as much as possible, be involved and empowered to speak up when they notice defects) can lead to long-term issues.
For example, poorly fitted doors and windows can cause cosmetic damages (e.g. Scratches, dents) and allow in cold air. This makes your efforts to heat your home in the cooler months much more challenging. With subpar brick pointing (i.e. The finishing of the mortar joints) can result in water and frost damage, as well as damp. It costs about £20 per square metre to fix down the road.
Whatever the ‘minor’ defect, it can turn into a major hassle if not rectified. Unfortunately, many people buying a new build home find themselves in this position. And remember, a staggering amount of owners reported 10 or more problems (in some cases, 16 or more problems). A lot of little problems are no better than one big one!
How to Fix Problems With Your New Build Home
Here’s the big question: how do you fix problems with your new build home? The good news is that you are not completely without protection in some instances. If your home is less than a decade old, it is likely to be covered by a warranty. This will apply even if you are not the first owner. In order to approve financing, mortgage lenders typically require that the property be protected by a warranty. Most of the time, it will be provided by the NHBC with a Buildmark policy. In other cases, you may have a policy from BLP, Checkmate, Premier Guarantee or LABC.
Regardless of the specific policy, most are designed to fix problems with your new build home. While the details may differ, generally your policy will cover most defects in the first two years. This excludes wear and tear and small issues, like drying cracks in the plaster. If you notice problems at this stage, contact your builder immediately.
What if they are out of business? It happens, particularly in the tumultuous past few years. If so, you will want to contact the NHBC or the provider of the warranty directly.
What happens after that period? At the third year, the policy will only cover major problems, such as those impacting the structure or weatherproofing. As a general rule, if it costs less than £1500 to fix, it is not covered under warranty. As you reach 11 years, your warranty expires and you must address concerns to your own insurance provider per the terms of your policy.
It is important to know that even with a warranty, not 100% of problems are covered. You will have to take action through the builder’s contract. This is one reason (among many!) that it is essential that you carefully read any and all contracts and agreements, ensuring you understand every term, every clause and every detail.
Before the more inclusive two-year warranty period closes, be sure to go over your home thoroughly. Ask an independent party (e.g. a snagging inspector) for assistance if you feel more comfortable with having another set of unbiased eyes on the house. Prepare a final report for your builder that lists all outstanding problems. And we mean ‘all.’ It may seem small – a vent that is not connected properly – but it can result in greater issues and cost in the future.
What Other Steps Can You Take?
This is your home; you should be completely comfortable with its condition. It is critical not only in terms of ensuring your comfort and convenience but in your ability to take steps down the road, such as selling. When you seek to identify all problems, you are not being fussy or finicky. You are working to protect your house, your property, your possessions and your investment. It is worth it.
Here are some steps you can take to work to identify and fix problems with your new build home:
Instruct a Snagging Survey
There are firms that specialise in spotting snags such as leaks, uneven ceilings, floors and walls, missing insulation, poor brick pointing, structural issues, faults in the heating system and ducts and more.. Using advanced equipment, they can also check for defects and faults that may be hidden to the naked eye. For example, using a ‘borescope,’ they can check wall cavities to assess the state of insulation and potential for thermal heat loss.
Doing this on your own can be overwhelming – and ineffective. You are probably also operating under a tight timeline. For example, some builders pressure you to give them a snag list in a week. Seven days to identify all of the issues that could be problematic going forward. We have some words about this, but suffice to say that it is not strictly the most fair or ethical practice – but it does happen. The majority of builders work with integrity; some don’t.
Regardless, a snagging company will instruct their experts and create a thorough snag list, complete with helpful images, within a few days. Look for a company that has extensive experience in this niche, is accredited by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and/or associated with relevant organisations (e.g. the Property Ombudsman) and which offers a comprehensive range of services that cover your home from top to bottom, inside and out.
A copy of the snag report will be provided to your builder. This can help you exert a bit of pressure on them, reminding them that you are informed, educated and well-informed of both the issues with the new build home and your rights as far as protected by law and under your contract. This can give you the confidence and reassurance you need to stand up for yourself – and your home.
Be Prepared to Escalate
In an ideal world, you would have your snag report, your builder would say, ‘Right, we’re on it!’ and you’d be on your way. There is a risk that your builder, quite to the contrary, will say, ‘We’ll get to it…’ And two years and one day later… it’s not been ‘got to.’ If you do not get the response you need when presenting your snag list, you need to escalate the matter to the NHBC or the provider of your warranty. Do so without delay.
To maximise the impact of your escalation process, it is important to be prepared. Hope you like paperwork and keeping files! They will certainly come in handy. First step: keep records of any and all communications with your builder. This means letters, emails, screenshots of text messages and the like. If your builder is more inclined to do onsite meetings or face-to-face conversations, it is important to correspond in writing regularly. When you do have those in-person conversations, create a quick written summary, date it and, if possible, have them sign or initial off on it. They don’t have to, strictly speaking, but a reputable builder should not have a problem with this.
You also need to show that you have approached the builder first and aggressively in order to rectify snag list problems. The warranty provider is the next rung up on the ladder, so to speak. Always speak with your builder first, while keeping your two and ten year warranty timelines in mind. Providing a copy of the report from the snagging company is also imperative.
What not to do?
- Do not adopt a belligerent, rude, angry or disrespectful tone when speaking with your builder about problems. You must persist, you must be determined… and polite. It’s difficult, but remember that venting your frustration on the person who answers the phone is not the way to fix issues with your vents!
- Do not try to fix problems yourself. It’s tempting, especially if you have a modicum of DIY skills. But doing so will very likely invalidate your warranty.
- Do not give up. We understand how maddening this process can be. Persist. And, if necessary, be prepared to escalate yet again. If the warranty provider does not give you a satisfactory answer, complain internally, following their complaints procedure to the letter.
- Do not throw away those documents yet. Keep everything, all records, all emails, all letters… You may well need them.
What happens when the only thing your warranty provider seems to guarantee is frustration? You’ve sought help, you have not received an appropriate answer to your concerns.
In this case, you may consider some options:
- Make a claim about the provider to the Financial Ombudsman Service. The FOS does not specialise in new build homes specifically but if all else fails….
- Try mediation. The warranty provider may recommend going through mediation as an alternative to court action. Speak to a solicitor; you want to take steps to protect you and your investment at this point.
- Look into making a court claim. There are tight time limits when it comes to bringing a court case, and you should get assistance and advice from a solicitor who specialises in this particular field.
- Contact the Consumer Code for Homebuilders. When your warranty is issued by NHBC and Premier Guarantee, they are covered by this code (other providers such as BLP have similar codes). There is a dispute resolution service that can help you recoup some costs. Generally, most claims are deemed valid, and about 45% are accepted in favour of the home buyer, while 15% are settled. Homeowners can claim up to £15,000.
Some people take another approach. They take to Twitter, Facebook and review forums with complaints, urging potential customers of that builder to beware and steer clear. In some cases, they go to the press, make signs or otherwise make a scene in the hopes that a little public shaming will prompt their builder to address their problems. We cannot recommend this approach, as it can backfire. Just use your best judgment, keeping your end goals in mind.
Another option is to look at that badly painted wall or a minor crack that will not cause any sort of damage and just get a pot of paint or some filler. It may leave you with a bad taste in your mouth regarding the service you received (feel free to leave a carefully crafted, honest review with pictures on any forums like Yelp or the like).
For bigger issues and those that have the potential to result in damage or expense in the future, stand your ground. Keep at it. Start the process with a snag inspection, speak to your builder throughout your project and during the warranty period (especially the first two years), approach them first if problems arise and escalate to the warranty provider if dissatisfied. If that does not yield results, contact a solicitor, the Financial Ombudsman Service, the NHBC or other resources that can help you.
Problems with Your New Build Home
Unfortunately, surprises are not all that surprising when it comes to new build homes. One of the big reasons that people opt to build from the ground up or purchase a newer home is that there are far fewer issues than you would expect with an existing or older home. As we have seen, this is not always the case. Know your rights – and persist in protecting them.