When James Hayward moved in 2011 he was sure the newly built, five-bedroom family house in Halifax, West Yorkshire, was a smart choice.
He’d just got engaged to fiancee Liz and, with a wedding to plan, he was keen to avoid the damp, dodgy circuitry and hidden cracks that so often taint older properties.
But the couple’s plans for a settled family life closer to Liz’s work in Bradford were scuppered the moment they received the keys.
As soon as they walked through the door, James and Liz discovered holes in the plasterwork, paint was missing from some of the walls, the boiler was hanging off, alarming bulges protruded from the gables and there were dents in the garage door.
The developer, David Wilson Homes, an upmarket brand owned by housing giant Barratt Homes, apologised and promised to fix the problems.
The couple were assured the repairs would take only a fortnight. But ‘two weeks’ of dust-covered furniture and disruption quickly turned into 15.
More problems surfaced and the 15 weeks rolled into months . . . and the months into years.
Today, five years on and both now aged 35, James and Liz are still fighting for a finished home. And they aren’t the only casualties in the battle to solve Britain’s chronic housing shortage.
There are now ten buyers battling it out for each home. Young families scrambling to join the property ladder before prices soar out of reach face competition from buy-to-let landlords and a steady flow of immigrants.
With too few houses to go round — particularly in urban areas — construction companies are being asked to build more homes, faster.
Now, the rush to cash in appears to be behind a spike in complaints about the quality of new-build homes.
The National House Building Council, an industry group which provides the warranties covering homes built by most major developers, paid out more than £87 million to nearly 11,000 homeowners in 2015.
The total was up 10 per cent, from £79 million the previous year. Ten years ago it was £37 million — less than half as much.
Experts fear that the quality of new buildings will only deteriorate further as Britain’s population swells.
Young buyers often get only a glimpse of a show home before putting down a deposit — and risk later being trapped in housing that is not up to scratch.
Paula Higgins, of the HomeOwners Alliance campaign group, says: ‘Developers are rushing up substandard housing just to keep their shareholders happy. It’s a national disgrace.
‘We are inundated with complaints from buyers who hoped to find their dream home but ended up purchasing a nightmare.
‘As soon as housebuilders make the sale, they see their customers as problems, not people.’
Housebuilders are under a lot of political pressure to expand the number of houses in Britain; before the election, the Conservatives pledged to build one million new homes by 2020.
It’s a tall order. There were 219,000 new houses built in 2008, but numbers plummeted when the banks stopped lending so much and the recession took hold.
In 2013, the numbers hit a post-war low, before recovering to 152,000 last year. That’s still far below the 250,000 new homes a year experts say are needed to meet the Government’s target.
In Greater London, where average prices have hit £530,000, housing charity Shelter has recommended building into restricted Green Belt countryside to provide space for new homes. And ministers are reportedly considering forcing developers that buy publicly owned land to build on it more quickly.
The average time it takes to build a new house has jumped from 24 to 32 weeks, but the Government is desperate to slash that.
In February, Housing Minister Brandon Lewis blasted developers’ efforts as ‘not good enough’, claiming they should be able to build a house in three to four weeks.
As developers strive to meet these targets they’re struggling to find enough qualified staff. Many older, experienced builders quit the industry during the downturn, and attracting young replacements has proved difficult
A survey by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors says it is the industry’s greatest skills crisis since 1998.
There are also 19,000 fewer building firms today than when the recession struck in 2009. It puts enormous weight of responsibility on the major developers, and their bosses admit too much is expected of them.
Pete Redfern, chief executive of major developer Taylor Wimpey, says it is ‘frustrating’ to be told to go faster.
He says developers are ‘sometimes rightly accused of accelerating those early stages [of building] too much’.
But builders are also going at breakneck speed to satisfy profit-hungry bosses and shareholders. They know there are huge amounts of money to be made if they can meet more of the demand for homes.
Money Mail understands that the standard of workmanship can plummet when a company faces a big deadline, such as the end of its financial year.
This is when all its sales and costs must be totted up and declared to shareholders. It means buildings are sometimes finished in a rush and sold earlier than they should be.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the chief executive of one major British developer says: ‘Some developers do rush to get sales completed before their deadlines. It can be a real problem.’
Could it be worse depending on when in the year you buy?
The source thinks the time of year the Haywards chose to buy might have exacerbated their troubles. James and Liz bought in June, which just happens to be the final month of Barratt Homes’s financial year.
Barratt declined to comment when Money Mail put this point to it.
James, a management consultant, says nothing seemed to help convince Barratt to resolve the blizzard of problems. In desperation, he set up a website called mydavidwilsonhome.co.uk to record photographs and letters from his dispute.
He is now pursuing Barratt for the money he and Liz spent on hotels (around £150 a night) when the builders were fixing their home.
James says he was offered £3,000 if he agreed to sign a gagging order to stop him speaking out. He refused and says the offer was then withdrawn.
After creating his website, James discovered Barratt had bought up a host of sites about itself, including barratthomessucks.co.uk and ihate davidwilson.com. It means other disgruntled customers cannot use these web addresses.
He feels the developer has spent more time covering its own back than addressing his problems.
‘This has had a massive, long-term, negative effect on our lives,’ he says. ‘We got engaged. We were going to get married. We moved house in 2011, yet we only got married last year because of all the stress.’
Andy Bell ran into troubles with his first property, bought from Persimmon Homes last July.
Fed up of renting a mould-infested flat with his wife and stepdaughter, he was determined to get on the housing ladder and fell in love with a new property in Andover, Hampshire.
The 28-year-old manufacturing worker, who is doing an engineering degree with the Open University, thought a new-build house would provide a stress-free move.
He used the Help to Buy scheme and his mother gave him cash for a deposit out of her pension pot.
‘I liked the layout of the area, the local school was superb and it was the ideal location for me and my work,’ he says.
‘The show homes were immaculate. But in terms of our own property, I didn’t see it until I got the keys.’
When Andy went into his new garage, he was confronted by a building site. Tools and rubble were strewn across the floor.
Inside the home itself, there was a hole in one of the walls, a wonky window and a damaged kitchen.
His wife Victoria broke down in tears at the thought of having to move in with her five-year-old, Sophia.
‘It’s been a nightmare,’ says Andy. ‘It’s put my university work behind and I’ve had to take time off work.’
The problems are finally being tackled by Persimmon after Mr Bell appealed to his MP and the Press, but it took nine stressful months to resolve.
John Gosling ran into problems after buying a £250,000 Barratt house in Milton Keynes in June 2010.
The 49-year-old moved into the four-bedroom home with his wife and daughter so his recently widowed mother could live with them, too.
But soon, a host of problems revealed themselves. Badly finished skirting boards and poorly fixed radiators were the first issues he spotted.
Then, knots started appearing in all the woodwork; John believes this is because paint was put on badly. The dishwasher leaked, too.
But the biggest problem of all was the creaking floors.
‘You could be sitting downstairs, and if someone walks across the floor above you’ll just hear a ‘crack, crack’ noise,’ says John. ‘They’ve torn the ceilings out twice to try to fix it.’
John says he has had builders in more than 20 times.
The work has taken a toll on his family. ‘There’s very little appreciation of what it’s doing to you,’ he says.
‘They play this game with people where, at first, they make you think they sold you something special. They want to see how cheaply they can make the houses before too many people start complaining and they start losing money.’
The housebuilders say what happened to James, Andy and John was unusual.
Persimmon says it sold 14,572 houses in 2015 and ‘the overwhelming majority’ went to ‘satisfied customers’.
A spokesman says: ‘In the event there are issues to be resolved, such as in the case of Mr Bell’s property in Andover, Persimmon’s sales, construction and customer care teams work closely with the buyer to ensure these are addressed in a timely manner.
‘We acknowledge that some of Mr Bell’s concerns have taken longer to resolve than we would ideally like. However, throughout the process we have maintained regular communication with him.’
A spokesman for Barratt says: ‘We are working closely with Mr Hayward to rectify his issues. We recognise there have been a number of them, but have always worked hard to resolve them and are doing so for the few remaining items.
‘We have completed the outstanding issues for Mr Gosling as part of our new homes warranty and have fully investigated his concerns through our customer complaints procedure. There is one outstanding issue which is currently being reviewed by the National House Building Council.
‘We are proud of our reputation for quality and aim to be 100 per cent right first time. But, occasionally, that does not happen. When it does, we then work really hard to remedy issues.’