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New Build Guru in the Sunday Times

Our contribution to the Sunday Times Home Help page, on homeowner options in relation to construction defects that the housebuilder has failed or refused to put right.

Download the article by clicking on the link below.

Sunday Times Home Help article

For good measure, we set out below our full original draft response, which was substantially reduced in length before being published.

New Build Guru's original full draft response:

“You are right to trust your instincts on this one - your render is a bit of a mess to say the least, and that’s not right. Barratt seem keen to deny liability which some might say is tantamount to them holding up your facade as an example of the quality to expect from its new homes. It’s a shame. Barratt won “Large Housebuilder of the Year 2019” and claim to be “leading the industry on quality and customer service”. If this is typical of that then it would be a fairly damning indictment on the state of housebuilding in the UK...

So what to do about it? Herein lies the crux of the problem. It’s doubtful anyone at Barratt genuinely thinks this is acceptable workmanship, so what’s really going on? Most likely in our view is that they’re not assessing the quality of work, they’re assessing your ability and willingness to take them on in a dispute, and more to the point, to come out of it ahead even if you win your claim.

Put simply, housebuilders generally seem to have worked out that when it comes to their customers suing them in the courts, most will struggle to find a suitable professional team to help them, most wont be able or willing to fund that team, most will be deterred by the perceived or actual risks and the attritional and emotionally-draining ordeal of the claims procedure, and that even if they win they’ll most likely only recover some but not all of their costs and the bit they don’t recover could well exceed what they get in damages, or at least reduce the net recovery significantly. As for other options, well, you can ask them to put things right (as you have done) but if they don’t you have nowhere to turn; or you can try claiming on your NHBC policy but that in practical terms means going head to head on your own with both the housebuilder and the warranty provider whose interests are aligned in seeking to minimise or deprive you entirely of any remedy.

In other words, they’re not really denying that the work is shoddy, they’re exploiting the fact most of their customers are unable or unwilling to enforce their rights against them, so they can walk away from shoddiness with impunity. Indeed, the housebuilding industry’s entire approach to construction and customer service nowadays seems to be preordained on the expectation that they’ll get away with incompetence and inadequate works to the point that it has become unnecessary for them to try any harder to meet their own contractual and statutory obligations over design and construction.

All is not lost though. The shortcomings inherent in the conventional view expressed above are easily overcome - if you know how. Access to leading specialist knowhow and professional support on an efficient and cost-effective basis is available. First step would be to get the right surveyors or structural engineers in to investigate the underlying cause of the cracking and identify what should be done about it. That needs to be done in context having regard to your particular circumstances, which we would help you with by doing an initial case review for you. Then you would need to present those findings to Barratt and negotiate effectively for them to put things right. Again, we’d be able to help you with this. If they still refuse, we’d normally recommend you move on to the NHBC and see if they’ll assist. If not, it would be time to start legal action against Barratt. Having approached things to this point in the right way, your prospects in the legal action should be much improved so we could help you get excellent funding terms that ensure affordability and minimise or insure against the risk of paying any costs to the opponent.

The likelihood is that once you start down this road, you’ll meet considerable resistance from the housebuilder and warranty provider to continuing with it. Don’t be deterred. They generally understand implicitly that this approach works for their customers and are fearful of what that means for their profits and their ability to control the outcome for their own ends. The answer is to stay calm and stay firm, and follow through once you begin. Then you’ll get things put right properly, and in most cases you’ll recover your costs and expenses too.