New homes. They all come with a ten year guarantee which is a very comforting thought. But what does it actually cover?
When you choose a new house, you might expect it to be trouble free. You certainly dont expect bricks to start falling out of the front of your home when it’s less than ten years old.
Clair Sommers bought her house at Penplas in Swansea two years ago. The estate was built between seven and nine years ago, but already Clair’s house has problems. Near her front door, a section of the brickwork is cracking. She says:
“It’s a bit like lego really, you can take them out and put them back.”
Clair’s four children love to play outside so the front door’s in constant use as they rush in and out. Clair says her daughter Vicki had a near escape when one of the bricks fell out of the wall as she slammed the door. It missed but Clair’s worried. She thinks the bricks are unsafe.
We called in X-Ray’s building expert Simon Cousins to check out Clair’s wall. He told Clair the mortar wsn’t good and that he thought it was the slamming of the door that was mainly responsible for the loose bricks. He told Clair:
“You do have a problem, you’ve got a short run of brickwork here and the opening and closing of the door has caused cracks in this brickwork. A brick wall should last at least 60 years without requirinng any maintenance at all, really this shouldn’t have happened.”
The problem with new houses is that your consumer rights are very few and far between. You’re not even protected by the Sale of Goods Act which would cover you if you were buying a kettle or even a bottle of squash.
Clair hoped that builders Westbury would repair her wall. After all they had fixed an almost identical problem on next door’s house just months earlier. But that was only after the neighbour made a huge fuss:
“We had to contact quite a lot of people, we had to contact various area managers and local managers, but eventually – I think they got sick of us ringing – they came and did it.”
But when Clair got in touch with Westbury it was a completely different story. The housebuilder told her they wouldn’t help. They said it was up to the NHBC.
The National House Building Council guarantees all new homes for the first ten years. But after the first two years they’ll only pay for a repair that costs more than a thousand pounds. And Clair was told her wall didn’t qualify. Despite the fact that she has two and a half years left on her guarantee, she now thinks it’s worthless.
Clair’s friend Michelle Thomas lives just down the road. Around her front door too the bricks are coming loose, and they’re in a worse state than Clair’s. The NHBC has also inspected Michelle Thomas house and again refused to pay out because the cost of repair is less than a thousand pounds. Simon had a look at Michelle’s wall using a special camera to search for wall ties. These join the inner and outer layers of a wall, and increase its strength. Simon was shocked by the state of the wall: “This is not going to be in place very long, its not safe, it really does need taking down.”
When he inspected the wall, Simon couldn’t see any wall ties. He told Michelle that wall ties should be present at intervals to hold the wall together. He went on to say:
“I also suspect that the bonding between the bricks and mortar is not actually that good… I suspect that it’s part of the reason why this panel of brickwork has come loose so easily. That does of course leave a few question marks as to whether these faults are replicated around the rest of the house, but this is definitely dangerous now at this point and it does need rebuilding.”
Lousie asked Simon why the construction of so many new houses just not up to scratch? Simon says:
“It’s not that difficult. We just have to focus on getting the product right instead of building quickly, building for profit.”
We asked Westbury why they’d repaired Louise’s house but not Clair’s right next door. They said: “The work was authorised some time ago by a member of staff who has since left our employment”. When we told them all about Clair and Michelle’s brickwork, Westbury told us they’re confident of the high standard of building of all its homes. And they say they’re only responsible for their houses for the first two years. But they do say they’re concerned by Simon’s findings and they’d ‘fully support’ any further investigation into Michelle’s wall by the NHBC.
But the NHBC are refusing to investigate further. They’ve told us neither Clair nor Michelle has a valid claim. They ‘note’ Simon’s discovery of the missing wall ties. But they’ll only carry out another inspection if there’s evidence of Major Damage.
Westbury Homes (From Archive)