Looking at the previous post you’ll see that we were getting generally excited about moving into a new house early next year. Unfortunately as a number of people now know, that is now not going to happen as we’ve withdrawn our offer, and to some extent think we’ve had a lucky escape…
So what went wrong? After all the whole point of buying new is that it is a lot less hassle than all this messing about with chains. Certainly in many ways it is easier, but as we discovered it pays to have a good lawyer behind you!
Having bought new before we were already aware of some of the tricks and wheezes pulled by new house builders. They are apparently not as bad as they used to be, but certainly we had a contract where we paid if we defaulted or were late on the day of completion, and we also paid if they defaulted or were late on the day of completion. The original contract also stated that we could not refuse to complete if they hadn’t completed the parking, garage or garden fencing, nor could we refuse to complete if they hadn’t obtained buildings certification that the house had been properly completed. After objecting, both of those clauses were removed.
Where it all came unstuck was over the thorny issue of parking. Now parking problems on new estates are not exactly uncommon. Government policy for a long while was to try and encourage people to use cars less by providing less parking on estates. What is happening now though is that management firms on the estates are taking to clamping to enforce parking allocations so making sure you have the right number of spaces is important.
We’d opted for a house with a garage and parking space, however when the contract came through, that’s not what we were getting. What was on the conveyancing paperwork was only a garage, the space directly in front of our garage door was designated as a shared parking space for use by residents or visitors on a first come first served basis. Our solicitor asked for clarification and the developer confirmed that anybody could park in the space directly in front of our garage. This was ridiculous so we queried, and the developer came back stating that we could have exclusive use of the space in front of our garage, but subject to the management company being able to reallocate the space as required. Again, not good enough, so their final offer was to have the space permanently allocated, but again, not actually our parking space.
At this point I was getting decidedly annoyed, so I looked up the planning details of the site. To the right you can see the sales plan of the development. A particular point to note is that aside from the spaces in front of the housing association properties in the top right corner, every space is allocated to a property, and in particular there are no visitors spaces at all. Also remember here that in Wokingham Borough the parking rules are that two bedroom and three bedroom semi-detached properties have 1.5 spaces each, i.e. some have one space some have two. On this site they all have two spaces. Visitors spaces should be provided on a ratio of one space for every four properties. The planning application for this development stated that it would provide eleven visitors parking spaces, even when challenged, Bewley Homes came back and said there were none. (It is worth noting at this stage that their statement that there were none didn’t really ring true given that they’d previously told us that the space in front of our garage was shared for visitor use). Looking in more detail at the plans, at no time did they actually define the parking allocations, all of the plans indicate the location of the spaces, and in most cases have no indication of allocation, except ironically for the four spaces in front of the garages that we queried in the first place.
At this point I asked a couple of friends who knew about planning issues what the situation was when the written statement and plans did not agree, they all said that they should agree and implied that planning shouldn’t have been granted if they didn’t. I then spent half an hour on the phone with the local planning office, who looked at the plans, the sales particulars and the planning application and agreed it looked wrong, but obviously wouldn’t commit to investigate unless I lodged a formal complaint.
Given the plans it could be said that the plans fitted with the statement on what the spaces were, but equally what Bewley Homes were now selling also agreed with the plans. We then challenged Bewley on the statement but they deftly didn’t clarify the status of the statement and instead just sent another copy of the landscape plan with no space allocations and asked if I could point out where they were violating planning. Of course they are building exactly what the plans say, the query is more subtle than that. The Bewley position quite clearly is that the plans without space allocations were approved, and therefore they can sell all the houses as they wish. From the point of view of a potential buyer that is fine for those properties with drives, but for the eighteen properties on the estate that like ours were being sold apparently with space for two cars, if at some point in the future someone triggered an investigation by the planning department, and that found that Bewley should have provided eleven designated visitors spaces and didn’t, they could very well find that they only had one space not two. If the estate were also to introduce clampers to enforce parking we’d be left with a car and nowhere to park it, not a prospect I relished.
As such I couldn’t really consider the house until the parking was clarified, Bewley are resolutely sticking to their guns that it is approved, Wokingham Borough Council planning department seemed decidedly less sure, so given all of that we withdrew the offer, and asked for a full refund of all monies we’d paid out given that there were queries over planning. Needless to say Bewley came back via their solicitors saying that they would only refund £500, half of the reservation fee deducting a £500 administration fee, and not refunding for any of the extras we’d specified. After comments on their supposedly exemplary customer service via the solicitors they have subsequently moved on that finally refunding £1459 which is refunds for all the extras that have yet to be delivered last week, so whoever eventually buys plot 31 will find quite a few extra electric sockets, and CAT5e cabling around the house courtesy of us – hope they like our choice of tiles and kitchen too.
So is buying a new build a recipe for a hassle free move? Not a bit of it. I haven’t even mentioned the hassles with our current house thanks to an idiot surveyor from Romans Estate Agents amongst a number of “problems” he highlighted with our house were that we had a water butt that would overflow – had he actually looked at it rather than surveying from the back window he would have spotted the drainpipe going down into a drain, problems with the cladding on the water tank in the loft – heating engineer charged us £40 to tighten a few screws, and damp problem at the front of the house – a specialist damp surveyor charged us £220 for a full survey to confirm nothing was wrong. The Bewley house certainly looked to be well built, certainly better than our current Wimpey house was on completion, although without having had a proper snagging survey I couldn’t say for sure, but as our solicitor pointed out the legal side is an absolute minefield so it’s worth getting an experienced property lawyer on your side.
As a friend of ours who lives in the Garrison and is aware of the current legal wrangles over the proposed development here said on hearing about our problems, she really doesn’t trust anybody involved in building houses any more, as they all seem to be trying to pull fiddles or play the system to their advantage. I think I’d probably agree.