Taking action over a poorly built home

Following a recent BBC report into sub-standard mortar in new-build homes (read it here), it seems that ropey construction work might be more common than you’d think. Not only are housebuilders selling people homes that aren’t up to scratch, but there’s also a suggestion that they’re making compensation payments dependent on the customer signing a non-disclosure agreement (the notorious ‘gagging clause’) – meaning that it’s difficult to gauge the size of the problem.

The good news is that pretty much all new-builds are covered by guarantees. As with all these things, the builder and the guarantee provider might try and wriggle out of them – and the guarantees are often not as comprehensive as you might think – but ultimately if there’s a serious structural issue then it’ll probably be put right.

The difference between snagging and serious defects

‘Snagging’, as it’s known, is part and parcel of buying a new-build home. Housing estates go up at a rate of knots, and the speed of construction means that in the first few months you’re bound to find odd things that aren’t quite right – whether it’s a tap that doesn’t work properly, a cupboard door that catches, or a bit of crazy paving in the back yard. The builder will come back and sort out minor issues like this (usually all in one go when you’ve got a decent list together) in a process called snagging.

Clearly, some mistakes are much more major, and should never be made in the first place. Issues like wrongly-mixed mortar can seriously affect the structural integrity of your home, and are both costly and time-consuming to fix. It’s here that your guarantee might come in.

Guarantees on new-build homes

Any decent new-build home will come with a serious guarantee. The builder themselves will usually guarantee the work for a (relatively short) period of time, but they’ll also take out a specific warranty policy with a specialist company like the National House-Building Council (NHBC).

Obviously the defects need to have been caused by the builder for the warranty to pay out. You won’t be covered for standard wear and tear, and you’ll need a separate home insurance policy to cover stuff that isn’t the result of cowboy construction.

How long do guarantees usually last?

New-build homes are usually guaranteed for a period of ten years. Generally, during the first two years it’s up to the builder to come and fix any problems, whether they’re serious issues or more minor defects. After that, the warranty company takes over, and the issues have to be of a more major, structural nature for them to cough up.

What action should you take?

If you find yourself living with a poorly built home, what you do about it will depend how long you’ve been there. If it’s within the first couple of years, you’ll need to contact the builder, and if it’s after that you’ll need to get in touch with the warranty provider. They’ll usually start by sending someone out to assess the problem, and will proceed from there. They might get it repaired, compensate you, or in extreme circumstances buy the property back from you.

What if the builder won’t fix it?

During the initial two-year period where it’s the builder providing the guarantee, you might find them reluctant to fix their mistakes. If you really can’t get through to them then in most cases you should go to the guarantee provider, who will usually provide a dispute resolution service.

It’s all in the details

As with anything, getting issues with a poorly built home resolved is all about your attention to detail. In particular, you’ll want to make sure you’ve read all the small print in your guarantee policy (there can be all kinds of unhelpful exclusions, excesses and get-out clauses), and that you’ve made a note of the exact date when the policy comes into force, so you know what’s covered and for how long. It’s also a good idea to keep records of all your communications with the builder/warranty provider, in case you have to produce it in a later dispute.