EAST DEVON’S DEVELOPERS REAP THEIR STRATOSPHERIC REWARDS – DOUBLE REGIONAL AND NATIONAL FIGURES
“The growth of house prices since the Brexit referendum has bucked the national and regional trend, statistics show.
In the two-and-a-half years before the UK voted to leave the EU, the average house price went up by 9.1 per cent from £251,778 to £303,162, Land Registry figures show.
In the same time period after the vote, prices went up by 18.4 per cent.
This is in contrast the regional and national picture.
House prices in the South West increased by 17.7 per cent in the two-and-a-half years before the referendum but only grew by 7.7 per cent in the same period after the vote.
This downward trend is matched nationally, where property prices prior to the referendum grew by 19.6 per cent and in the 30 months after, growth fell to 6.1 per cent. …”
“Housebuilder Persimmon is braced for a fresh revolt over its controversial bonuses after shareholder advisers urged investors to vote against the company’s ‘highly excessive’ pay.
Advisory group PIRC has instructed investors to oppose the pay report for a second year running at the annual meeting early next month.
Last year, the FTSE 100 company narrowly escaped defeat over its bonus scheme for top bosses, but still suffered a major rebellion.
The scheme included a bonus worth more than £100million for former boss Jeff Fairburn that was trimmed to around £75million after a public backlash. The bonus pot was boosted by the taxpayer-funded Help to Buy scheme.
Persimmon, led by new chairman Roger Devlin, has attempted to draw a line under the scandal by trimming the overall payouts, ousting Fairburn, ensuring that all staff are paid more than the living wage, and making steps towards improving the quality of its homes.
Two other advisory firms Glass Lewis and ISS have both backed changes made by Devlin.
A Persimmon spokesman said the company understood ‘the need for pay restraint and spent 2018 working to ensure Persimmon’s future remuneration is clearly aligned with best practice’.”
“A slowdown in secondary housing transaction volumes eroded operating margins for McCarthy & Stone (MCS) during the first-half, as the retirement home providers used discounts and incentives – including part-exchange – to boost sales.
Management hopes to make more than £90m in cash savings between 2019 and 2021 by scaling back sales and marketing teams, standardising build designs and closing operations in the south-west of England.”
“Half-year profits at McCarthy & Stone tumbled by two-thirds as it ploughed more cash into a turnaround to cope with a slowdown in the housing market.
The retirement housebuilder handed consultants £4.5m for advice relating to its strategy shake-up, which included closing offices in Scotland and the south-west of England and making almost 200 of its 2,500 staff redundant at a cost of £3.5m.
Those and other one-off costs left McCarthy & Stone with pre-tax profits of £3.6m for the six months to February, down from £10.5m the previous year.”
Owl says: surely developers building shoddy or dangerously constructed new homes should be banned from tendering for new schemes and banned from using government subsidies from Help to Buy schemes to sell homes already constructed forever?
“It took seven families two years, but a group of homeowners in Scotland has taken on a housing giant in order to have their “crumbling” new-build homes repaired. It’s part of a broader, UK-wide issue – this is their story.
Sheila Chalmers moved to Peebles with her husband 10 years ago. Her three-bed home was one of 250 built by developer Taylor Wimpey on a new site in the Scottish borders.
For eight years, life went on as normal. Then something strange started to happen. Overnight, families at the top end of the estate started to vanish. But there were no for sale signs and no-one new was moving in. “It became almost a ghost street,” she says. “Houses were empty. People were disappearing.”
Sheila later heard that the properties had been bought back by Taylor Wimpey after problems were discovered. The owners had signed non-disclosure agreements so they could not speak out.
Taylor Wimpey confirmed it did buy back a “small number of homes” to start with. It later sent a letter to all the remaining residents, saying that some houses did have a problem with the mortar holding together their bricks.
Sheila thought she did not have anything to worry about, but she went outside and checked anyway. Patches of mortar were clearly eroding, she says, and in other places it could be scraped out with a fingernail.
She paid for assessments by two different structural engineers, who both said the house needed extensive repair work, though Taylor Wimpey said its own inspections found that was not the case.
Mortar is made up of two key materials: cement and sand. The more cement in the mix, the stronger the mortar, though the more brittle it can be.
The family paid to have their laboratory tests on the mortar carried out by a specialist firm.
The results suggested that there was far more sand in the mix than you would expect for a home in that area, although Taylor Wimpey says the type of chemical test used was “not appropriate” and the results could not be relied upon.
Our investigation in 2018 found similar complaints about weak mortar across at least 13 estates in the UK all built by different companies.
Three doors down from Sheila, live Pete and Jill Hall with their 13-year-old son. Like Sheila, they first learned about the problem two years ago when Taylor Wimpey were buying back the individual houses. They paid for their own tests, which showed only one in eight samples taken from their home met industry guidelines, although again Taylor Wimpey says the test used was “not appropriate”.
“On the garage the tests came back showing it was just sand,” said Pete.
A video filmed by the family after a rainstorm clearly shows the mortar on the back wall falling out when a screwdriver was run gently along it.
In the end, seven core households became involved – passing on details to a wider community group on the estate. The families worked together to build their case, paying for their own structural surveys and using Freedom of Information laws to demand internal documents from the local council.
They made handmade signs and protested outside the showroom of another Taylor Wimpey estate in the area.
In 2017, they presented their findings to Taylor Wimpey’s lawyers, saying that they would go public if their properties were not fixed, demolished or bought back. They were surprised at the response.
The families’ solicitors received a letter back saying they had decided not to report the group to the authorities under the Proceeds of Crime legislation. “It was accusing us of bribery, effectively,” said Pete. “It took me about 10 minutes to stop laughing. But it was intimidation, a threat.”
By then, Pete and Jill had hired their own engineers to examine the house. They recommended that the couple should stop using the garage because it was at risk of collapse, although Taylor Wimpey denies that there was a structural problem.
The couple bought a giant shipping container, covered it with warning stickers and left it on their front lawn.
That, they say, got Taylor Wimpey’s attention and – two years down the line – an agreement has now been reached for their home to be fixed. “It falls short of where we think a full repair should be, but they have said it’s that or nothing – so we have accepted it,” Jill says.
‘Someone has to stand up’
In December 2018, Taylor Wimpey sent out letters saying all 130 houses in the estate built with the weaker mortar would now be offered “remediation” work.
Properties are being dealt with one at a time. Construction crews are scraping out the old mortar and replacing it with a stronger material.
Taylor Wimpey said it “sincerely apologises” to the all the homeowners affected, is “fully committed to resolving matters” and has “a clear plan in place to remediate affected homes”. “This is a localised issue and falls short of the high-quality standards we uphold,” it said.
The firm has now apologised to Sheila and, even though its own inspections found a full repair is not needed, said work to replace the mortar in her home will start this summer. It will refund the £16,000 she has spent on legal costs and technical reports, most of which she had to borrow.
Repair work on Pete and Jill’s property, which may involve the demolition of the garage, is due to start in mid-July.
Both families say the fight has been time-consuming, stressful and put them off ever buying a new-build home again. “These developers, these companies, cannot be allowed to continue the destruction of people’s lives with building shoddy homes,” said Sheila. “Somebody has to stand up and show them that they cannot get away with it.”
What went wrong?
Maps drawn up by Taylor Wimpey show about half of the 250 homes were built with far weaker mortar than recommended under industry standards
A memo sent to all developers in the UK by the National House Building Council (NHBC) in 2013 warned about this problem
The local council in Peebles says the mortar used was not the type in the original building warrant and was changed later without its knowledge
Taylor Wimpey says the material was “of sufficient strength to meet structural requirements” as “supported by an independent review” by the local council, but accepts it may be “less durable under prevailing exposure conditions”
It says it has now offered to repoint “any home which was constructed with the same mortar, regardless of whether our inspection found this was necessary or not”
” … Research from the organisation, which represents the interests of homeowners to the house building industry, suggest that only two-thirds of new homeowners are happy with the way their builder resolved any defects with their home.
And even the developers themselves acknowledge the problem.
The Home Builders Federation own satisfaction surveys show a rise in the number of customers reporting snags – from 93% in 2015 to 99% in 2018.
That data comes just weeks after the government said they were considering removing Persimmon from the Help To Buy scheme after increasing concerns over the quality of its building work.
And there is rising alarm from consumers and experts about the severity of these so-called snags.
Timothy Waitt has become a specialist on construction cases at Anthony Gold solicitors. “I’m not talking about dodgy kitchen units – I’m talking about major structural failings that affect health and safety.”
Mr Waitt is getting enquiries on a near-daily basis on these kinds problems and is fearful a skills shortage in construction means that is just the tip of the iceberg.
“I do not think we’re talking about deliberate decisions to miss out on key expensive structural elements,” he explains.
“This is about carelessness. I think that is arising is that people are making mistakes, potentially because they do not realise the significance of what they are doing, due to a lack of training, a lack of experience and a lack of supervision.” …
A Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson says the government wants to see more good quality homes: “We know more needs to be done to protect consumers, and our New Homes Ombudsman will protect the rights of homebuyers and hold developers to account.”
“The latest data from the Office of National Statistics shows that the average property in the area sold for £303,162 – significantly higher than the UK average of £228,147.
Across the South West, property prices have risen by 0.5 per cent in the last year, to £253,926. The region underperformed compared to the UK as a whole, which saw the average property value increase by 1.7 per cent.
The data comes from the House Price Index, which the ONS compiles using house sale information from the Land Registry, and the equivalent bodies in Scotland and Northern Ireland. …”