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Snagging orders

Friday 14 July 2017

Buyers of new-build homes are being asked to sign gagging orders by developers in order to conceal property faults it has been found.

An investigation by The Sunday Times has found that some owners, along with being asked to sign non-disclosure agreements, are routinely refused access to technical plans that show how their properties should have been constructed and are even being locked out of their own homes during the repairs.

Issues range from wobbly walls and missing conservatories, to sloping floors and problems with drainage. Some buyers have claimed it has taken two-and-a-half years to resolve all the issues in their home, with others still waiting for a permanent fix.

In one severe case, a homeowner struggled with poisonous bacteria in her new home's water supply. The building firm asked her to sign a gagging agreement as a precondition of any work. After six failed repair attempts, the owner took the story to her local paper and the builder walked off site. She said the locks on her home had been changed and the builder refused to return the keys - at which point she had to break back into her home.

Other homeowners have reported gaping holes where windows should be, no carpets, and boundary walls collapsing, among a host of other problems.

Builders Bovis Homes were heavily criticised earlier this year for incentivising buyers to move in to unfinished properties. At their annual meeting in May, chairman Ian Tyler apologised to homebuyers for “letting them down” and admitted the company had been cutting corners to reach ambitious targets. Tyler indicated that levels of quality and customer service had fallen in the past two years and hundreds of homebuyers had suffered as a result. "We absolutely got it wrong. We have compromised along the way ... We built too quickly. We started sites too early and handed over too early."

Following the fallout, Bovis has retrained 90 per cent of its 1,100 staff and appointed a new customer experience director. The firm has also set aside £3.5 million on top of the £7 million already pledged to rectify build issues and, in a few cases, pay compensation after it emerged homeowners were pressured to move into incomplete homes before Christmas. It issued a profit warning in late December and its then-chief executive, David Ritchie, quit not long after. The new chief executive, ex-Galliford Try boss Greg Fitzgerald, plans to unveil changes to the business in September.

Some homebuyers have however alleged they are still being pressured to complete on unfinished homes and are not being allowed to have a “snagging” survey before moving in. Bovis has responded to say that it will “accommodate inspection requests where it is practicable to do so”.

Since 2012, profits of Britain's top five housebuilders has soared 388 per cent to a staggering £3.3 billion. Customer satisfaction however has dropped six per cent over the same period according to analysis from the annual Home Builders Federation survey. And whilst 84 per cent of those surveyed would recommend their builder, 98 per cent reported snags in the first two months.

Research conducted by homelessness charity Shelter also found homebuyer satisfaction with the condition of their new homes upon moving in has declined over the past five years. It found 38 per cent experienced more problems than expected, up from 27 per cent in 2012, and 69 per cent reported six or more issues to the builder, up from 56 per cent.