Shock of the new

Buying a newly built home is the culmination of a dream for many people – unless endless faults and snags turn it into a nightmare

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When Lucy Banks was given a tour of her new home, it didn’t take her long to notice something was amiss. The four-bedroom townhouse in Wrea Green, near Preston, was part of a new development by Redrow, and, like most new build owners, Banks and her husband had picked out most of the fittings inside the property to their personal taste.

But when Banks was shown around her new kitchen weeks before the completion date, she realised the one she had stepped into was not the one she had picked. Instead of the cashmere-coloured units Banks had requested, the kitchen in her new home was sage green.

“I said is this a test? Because my kitchen’s not right and it’s not funny.”

The mix-up might have been merely cosmetic, but for Banks it was the tip of the iceberg in a what she describes as a “nightmare buying process”. When Banks challenged the company’s saleswoman about the mistake, she claims the representative denied the units Banks had ordered were ever available, despite the fact that she personally had sent Banks to view a sample.

Banks demanded that the company refit the kitchen before she moved in but before she got the keys in December 2017 she went back to the property and realised that although the doors on the units were now correct, the cabinet carcasses remained the same – ivory instead of white.

The developers sent a customer aftercare assistant, but when he arrived he had a test for Banks. “He had two samples in his hand and said: ‘Just out of curiosity, which one’s white and which one’s ivory?’ says Banks. “I said is this a test? Because my kitchen’s not right and it’s not very funny. He picked on the wrong person.”

In February 2017 then communities secretary Sajid Javid announced ambitious proposals that he said would “help fix the housing market so that more ordinary working people from across the country can have the security of a decent place to live”.

Since then towns and cities across the country have been taken over by skyscrapers and bulldozers as developers aim to help the government hit its target of building 300,000 new homes a year by 2020.

One of the biggest incentives for first-time buyers is the Help to Buy scheme, which allows buyers to put down a 5 per cent deposit on a new home. The government then lends the buyer 20 per cent of the purchase price in an equity loan, leaving them with a 75 per cent mortgage to pay off.

According to a report released in April last year, more than 150,000 homes have been bought under the scheme since 2013. The push on new homes is enabling people to become home owners when they may not have been able to otherwise. Many have moved into new builds and not faced any problems with the homes or their developers.

But Banks’s story is one all too familiar to one customer aftercare engineer, Sam*, who spoke to Big Issue North about his experience of working for a number of new-build developers.

“I would never ever buy a new build,” says Sam. “Before I started the job I didn’t see what the problem was, but they [the developers] are sly, and that’s the problem.

“I feel sorry for people who buy them because I know they are getting the raw end of the deal. New build firms have actually requested we refuse to comment on the cause because if the customers tell other neighbours about the issues it could cost the new build firms thousands to do it correctly.

“If there is something wrong it’s all hushed up because they don’t want the neighbours finding out, because if the neighbours do find out then everyone is going to want it doing properly as well. They would rather sack the engineer that’s pulled up the fault rather than repair it. I was doing it for about a year but I got to the point where I couldn’t do it any longer – lying to people and stuff.”

Sam predicts there will be problems further down the line in many cases.

“I’d rather buy a house built in the 1960s and spend £20,000 doing it up because in five years time the new houses are going to fall apart,” he says. “The guarantees are [often] only for two years. Within five years they will be doing new bathrooms. The boilers will be broken because they are bottom end of the scale. Everything is done as cheaply as possible.”

Sam told Big Issue North how developers outsource work to contractors, meaning jobs are often rushed to meet deadlines. He said: “The problem is that there are lots of different companies doing lots of different jobs and there’s no communication. It’s all rushed, it’s all done as cheaply as possible. It’s really bad. One customer had four new bathrooms put in. I told the developer what was wrong with it and the first response was: You’ve not told the customer, have you?”

Like Banks, Brian Walker has been less than impressed by his housing developer’s interpretation of customer service. Walker bought his home from Persimmon in January 2014 and noticed a catalogue of issues soon after moving in.

“We had a dripping kitchen tap for nine months,” says Walker. “In the utility room the water was off completely for about six weeks because they’d turned the barrels on the taps so tightly that they’d rounded off the edges, so the taps just spun round.

“I had to have new kitchen cupboards erected and put onto the wall because they were all out of alignment. I could go on and on and on. I’ve had three heating valves fail. I could go on forever.”

The main problem was the external rendering, which was eventually condemned as sub-standard work, but Walker faced a four-year wait for Persimmon to correct the work. He was told the property had been rendered when it was too wet, so the render subsequently ran off in places.

During Walker’s wait for Persimmon, the company had two surveys done on the property, but denied Walker access to the reports.

Walker’s experiences with Persimmon are particularly damning from a company whose former CEO Jeff Fairburn was forced to stand down last year after collecting a £75 million bonus, which was awarded for “outstanding performance”.

Walker eventually had his rendering fixed by the developer at the end of 2018. He has now put his home up for sale.

“We have put the house on the market purely because of the experience we have had with Persimmon. I wish we’d never heard of them or come across them,” he says.

“My advice [to prospective buyers] would be to look elsewhere and don’t touch Persimmon with a barge pole. You will regret parting with your money because once your money is in their hands they don’t want to know you exist.”

Walker is not the only Persimmon customer to be left unhappy with the developer. A Facebook group titled “Persimmons – Unhappy Customers” has upwards of 12,000 members. The group’s bio describes it as being set up “to offer help and advice to those of us who have purchased a Persimmon house and not been given what they paid for. For people who are being fobbed off and ignored by after care and for advice on what options you have after being abandoned by Persimmon.”

Walker says his communication with Persimmon reached tipping point after he sent hundreds of emails and had seven sides of A4 paper filled with recorded times of phone calls he made to Persimmon’s regional customer care representative, even calling on advice from his local MP.

A spokesperson for Persimmon Homes Durham said: “On inspection of Mr Walker’s property Persimmon Homes recognised the rendering had not been completed to an acceptable standard and processes began immediately to remedy the situation.

“Unfortunately, due to matters entirely outside of Persimmon Homes’ control, access to the property became an issue and that took a number of years and correspondence to reach resolution. As soon as access could be gained the work was completed to Mr Walker’s total satisfaction.”

For Banks, the problems went on and on. She realised that the top floor of the house, which comprises a large double bedroom and en suite bathroom, looked different to the one that had secured her custom when she went to view the show home. “The top floor is a selling point of the house,” she says.

Plug sockets were in different places and the bathroom was bigger in the show home. The toilet was right next to the bath. The salesman said he would check the measurements.

Banks’s bathroom had to be redone, the carpets had to be ripped out and the kitchen units refitted before her completion date just two weeks later.

“It’s just a constant complaining process and you get there in the end but you can see why people just give in,” says Banks. “Things were rushed then for that week. They rushed the kitchen so there was a panel that was cracked. We moved in and there were things that weren’t quite right, like chips in the bath, but to be fair they were quite quick to fix things because of how bad it had been. I’d escalated it to the point of director level and it got to the point where there was no compromise.

“Soon after, the extractor fan stopped working and nobody came out for weeks. Once they move off site it’s completely different. It’s like you’ve got to wait and you go into a maintenance queue.

“There were times I regretted buying a new build. It was just such hard work… You just expect to move into a new build and for it to just be nice.”

Matt Grayson, spokesperson for Redrow, said: “Customer satisfaction and the quality of our homes is of utmost importance to Redrow, but because homes are hand crafted by people, no two properties are ever exactly the same and occasionally mistakes are made. Where this happens we always work with our customers to put things right. We apologise to Mrs Banks for any inconvenience or delays experienced and, with all snagging issues now dealt with, we truly hope she will enjoy living in her new home.”

Sam has some advice for new-build customers. “If there’s a problem with the home get an independent opinion. If they [developers] send a contractor round don’t listen to them. If you have a problem with tiling get your own tiler in. If it’s a plumbing issue get your own plumber because I was told more or less to lie. I was told point blank do not tell the customer what is wrong with that job.

“I was preparing one report for the customer to read and filling in another report for the office to know what the problem actually was.”

* Name has been changed

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