So we’re playing the New Build game again. Seventeen years after we bought our current house off plan, and seven years after we last tried to buy a new build at the Milford Grange development in Winnersh, and the solicitor advised us to pull out when it transpired one of the two spaces they were selling us with the property was designated as a visitor space and we weren’t actually getting ownership of, we’re buying a new build at a development from Lovell Homes called Lochside Grange in the village of Kinghorn in Scotland.
The driver this time is that back in September I was offered a new job with Australian company Computershare who are setting up a global development centre in Edinburgh. Computershare were kind enough to give me three months to sort out somewhere to live, so the new build route seemed like the most straightforward way to relocate, especially given the somewhat different conveyancing systems north and south of the border.
Kinghorn ticked a lot of our boxes for a place to live in that we were looking for another village community such as we have in Arborfield. It also needed good transport links to Edinburgh – Kinghorn has a railway station ten minutes walk from the house with a direct rail service into Edinburgh Waverley. It also needed some places to go walking, so I’ll have the choice between heading up into the hills, or down to the beach when I go walking there.
It also ticked another major box in that it had a four bedroom house pretty well ready to move into, that was supposed to have been occupied back in June/July but the original sale had fallen through. Properties like this are always a bit unattractive as you lose one of the main advantages of a new build in that somebody else has already picked most things such as the bathroom tiles and so on, but we did at least get some choice of carpet albeit between beige and grey. The price of course is also attractive as the developer is really keen to shift the house.
The big issue with new builds is as always the pretty dreadful reputation the whole industry have for quality control. Even though the NHBC are well known to get claimants to sign gagging orders when claims are settled it doesn’t take much to find plenty of upset new build owners having long drawn out battles with their builders or the NHBC over their new homes. It’s a discussion for another post, but the simplest explanation seems to be the classic project triangle – new house builders try build as quickly as possible, and they want to make the maximum profit, so the quality slips. The British building industry has been doing it for years, and until government grasps the nettle it’s really not going to change. You do in theory have better protection than buying a second hand house with the NHBC ten year warranty, but that really only covers you for significant structural defects. Certainly the best bit of advice I’ve come across with regards to a new build is from the HomeOwners Alliance:
Never fail to apply a common sense test. For small problems, such as badly-painted walls or minor cracks, it might be better to give up pursuing your builder, get out a paint brush or some filler and sort out the problem yourself, rather than spend time and energy fighting your builder – even if it leaves you dissatisfied with the service you had expected.
So it’s fair to say we’re going in with our eyes rather more open than previously, but we’re trading flexibility over fixtures and fittings for having a pretty well finished house before we commit to the purchase. Certainly looking at the house there were some obvious snags – check out the slightly differently coloured tiles on the porch that suggest some of them have been changed. There is also a coil of cable that you can see on the left hand side where somebody has just put the cable from the TV/Satellite/Radio wall plate straight through the wall rather than where it should be up to the loft box. I also found the usual selection of minor quality control issues such as badly attached drain pipes and things not screwed together quite as they should be. Having said that compared to the nightmare new homes where builders seem to have struggled to properly lay bricks, it actually looked pretty reasonable.
We passed on the developers pet solicitor and got our own who confirmed that unlike in England, in Scotland developer management companies are rather more under control thanks to the intervention of the Scottish Government, and also that there weren’t any issues such as we had at Milford Grange with parking spaces – indeed we have a totally rectangular plot that contains our house, garage and space on the drive for cars.
The main issue so far has been a bit of a discussion with the developers head office over completion. As I said at the beginning, the developer is really keen to get rid of the house as soon as possible. They’ve really been pushing for 16th November, which is fine, aside from the fact that I’m still working down here until 30th November, and with only limited annual leave I can’t keep going up and down to Scotland. The recommended NHBC process is that buyers should have a visit to their house a week or so before they get the keys, and this is the ideal opportunity to spot and report any snags to allow the developer to sort them out before completion, as it’s a lot easier for the developer to do it before people move in. In Lovell terms they refer to this as a “home demonstration” visit. Given that Lovell were insisting on the 16th November, I asked if we could appoint a professional snagger to do the pre-completion visit, the sales staff noted that down, and all seemed well until twenty-four hours later when the sales agent phoned us whilst we were driving back to Reading saying that her site manager had been in and said it was company policy and they absolutely would not allow snagging inspections prior to completion.
It’s not unusual – Taylor Wimpey are well known for operating the same policy. The argument is that given that the developer is supposed to fix all snags raised in the first two years, snagging it before anybody moves in is unnecessary. Given it was company policy we then raised it up via the solicitor, who spent the best part of this last week arguing with Lovell that this was prejudicing the sale because we couldn’t be expected to attend for the week ahead “home demonstration”, and that we should be able to nominate whomever we like to attend the demonstration in our place. Not surprisingly they were having none of it, but it was worth a try. The advice I’ve seen says that if the developer won’t play ball to get a snagger in as soon as possible, and certainly before you move in.
As I said, there isn’t really anything in the house that leads me to think there is anything wrong with it, we’ve also talked to the neighbours who said they’ve only had minor issues and Lovell were quick to rectify anything that was raised, it’s just generally good practice, indeed the NHBC themselves publish their own snagging checklist of things to check.
Anyway, at the moment it looks like completion will be on 16th November, and I’ve got a snagging inspector coming to give the house the once over on the 17th, then we have a few weeks to organise all the essentials like broadband, phone lines, TV aerials and so on before we actually move. Hopefully that should mean that when the kids finish the school term and move up the house is at least vaguely sorted – although when we moved into this house we had boxes from moving in at the back of the garage for years afterwards.