Many would assume a new build house will have been built to a high standard and therefore little can go wrong. Is this correct?
Usually houses are indeed built to a high standard but unfortunately, things do go wrong and when they do, it can be a tremendous disappointment when people have paid out large sums for a beautiful new home. Some developers are very good at correcting problems but others, either deliberately or though inefficiency, fail to correct problems or take a long time to do so.
Is it therefore worth investing in a survey?
You can become over cautious because of all the recent legal claims concerning construction and new builds in the press, but if you are buying a new house, it is strongly advisable to have a full structural survey carried out. However, many people often buy “off plan” or before a property is completely finished, so organising a survey is not always possible.
What is in place to protect the buyer if anything goes wrong?
Most new houses come with the benefit of an NHBC (National House Building Council) or similar insurance policy. The insurer will only issue certificates on developments that have been built by registered developers. These developers are meant to follow NHBC standards of building and the development should be inspected from time to time. This gives a reasonable degree of comfort, but of course the inspectors can’t be on site all the time and many problems can slip through the net. If there are problems with the house, the first port of call is the developer or builder. They are meant to correct defects. If they fail to do so, the insurer can put pressure on them, but ultimately it is down to the individual purchaser to try to persuade the builder to correct the problem. This can prove difficult and it is only if the builder refuses to comply with a court order, or goes bust, that the insurer has a legal obligation to remedy the problem. Buyers should also remember that the insurance doesn’t usually cover anything that happens outside the property e.g. drainage, sewage pumps etc.
What would you advise someone looking to buy a new build to look out for?
The worst problems are issues with the structure. Look out for cracks, particularly on sloping sites. Look out for possible problems with water getting into the house because of the slope of the ground. Fitting of doors can be a sign - if they don’t close properly that can be an indication of movement. Any signs of damp are of course a cause for concern. Ask if an NHBC or similar certificate is available. Sometimes an architect’s certificate is offered - those should be treated with great caution because the protection available can be very limited. Make sure central heating, showers and plumbing work as these are the parts of a new house that are most likely to go wrong.
What legal rights do I have against the developer?
Often, legal rights are very limited. Some developers try to exclude liability for the quality of the building work from the sale contract. The rights really depend on the insurance policy in place and those rights can be difficult to enforce. There is limited statutory protection under the Defective Premises Act and it is necessary to show that the property is unfit for human habitation in order to take advantage of this legislation.
If a purchaser finds fault with their property once they’ve moved in, what should they do?
First of all, notify the builder and if they have an insurance policy, notify the insurer. If the problem is serious, it is usually sensible to have a report prepared by a building surveyor setting out the details of the problem and what needs to be done to put it right. Hopefully, that's enough to persuade the builder to carry out the necessary work. Sometimes however, legal action is necessary. Insurance cover for more minor problems only lasts for two years, so it’s essential to notify insurers of any problems as well as the builder as soon as possible. The cover for major structural problems lasts for up to 10 years, but as soon as problems are identified they should be reported to the insurer.
Any examples of clients coming to Meade King with problems that might help those considering buying a new build?
There have been clients with a range of problems from black mould appearing on walls (indicating a serious damp problem) to serious damage caused to a house (totalling more than £20,000) because of water flooding in down the path of a sloping garden. Compensation has been awarded to a client who had a heat exchanger that didn't work. It had to be moved into their garden, substantially reducing the size of their garden as a result. Another client found out when they moved in that a sewage pump that was located on their land was extremely noisy. Something that they couldn’t have known when they bought the property, but which caused a great deal of inconvenience.
One of the more difficult issues to deal with are those concerning estate wide services such as communal roads and drains. If the developer goes bust, there can be problems and delays in getting the local authority to rectify.
We would advise clients to seek legal intervention for more serious problems. We have a great track record of helping to resolve disputes.