Frustrated homebuyers in a fight to the finish with Bovis

Housebuilder has admitted it let buyers down on quality and service but six months on, some are still battling to get problems fixed

At the Bovis annual meeting in May the chairman, Ian Tyler, apologised to homebuyers for “letting them down” and admitted the company had been cutting corners to reach ambitious targets. Quality and customer service had suffered in the past two years, he said. Tyler indicated that hundreds of homebuyers had suffered. “We absolutely got it wrong. We have compromised along the way ... We built too quickly. We started sites too early and handed over too early.”

Bovis had used subcontractors that “may not have been of the highest quality”, he said, but added that most customer complaints had been resolved.

This was news to Rob Elmes and his wife who moved into a £320,000 three-bed Bovis property in Inkberrow, Worcestershire, in February. He turned down a £3,000 cheque from Bovis to complete by 23 December because, he said, the property was riddled with problems. Five months on the couple were still battling to get them fixed.

“The main issue is the speed at which things are being fixed and the lack of communication. It is a case of one step forward, several steps back. This shouldn’t happen with a brand-new house,” Elmes says, though after Money intervened his problems were resolved.

Stung by such accusations, Bovis has retrained 90% of its 1,100 staff and appointed a new customer experience director. The firm also set aside £7m to rectify build issues and, in a few cases, pay compensation after it emerged homeowners were pressured to move into incomplete homes before Christmas. It issued a profit warning in late December and its then-chief executive, David Ritchie, quit not long after.

The new chief executive, the ex-Galliford Try boss Greg Fitzgerald, will unveil changes to the business in September.

Tyler said Bovis had slowed down production by adding a three-week “noncompressible” period between final inspections and handover to customers to iron out any issues. The firm is aiming to build 1,500 homes between January and June, which means output this year will be 10%-15% lower than in 2016. It will issue a trading update on 6 July.

There are reports on the 2,200-strong Bovis Homes Victims group on Facebook that buyers are again being pressured to complete on unfinished homes. Bovis denies this. Some allege they are not being allowed to have a “snagging” survey before moving in. Bovis says it will “accommodate inspection requests where it is practicable to do so”.

The National House Building Council, the standard-setting body and main home construction warranty provider for new-builds in the UK, carries out spot checks at key stages of the build process but has been criticised for signing off homes riddled with “snags”. It says its inspections significantly reduce the number of defects: “Our inspectors are not on site at all times and it is ultimately the builder’s responsibility to ensure that homes conform to the building regulations and NHBC technical standards.”

Other allegations on the Facebook group include shoddy painting or plastering, faulty plumbing, cracks in tiles or brickwork, the wrong fittings being installed, creaking and moving floors and more serious structural issues.

Dave Howard and his wife, Ann, set up the group in January 2016. They say it took them two-and-a-half years to resolve all the issues at their home in Bicester, Oxfordshire. “We are working constructively with Bovis, having resolved all the problems to our satisfaction with our property,” Howard says. He is one of five members from the Facebook group who are joining the company’s 12-member homebuyers panel, which will have an advisory role.

While things may have improved for some new buyers, Howard says “existing owners with problems are still being given the runaround and are not being treated with the respect they should be as customers”. He says the carelessness displayed by contractors sent by Bovis to fix defects was shocking.

A couple in Norwich were among more than a dozen Bovis homebuyers who have contacted the Eastern Daily Press. James and Rachel Hipperson told the local paper that there were holes in the wall, fittings and parts of the conservatory missing, cracks in the floor and problems with drainage.

Industry experts have called for closer supervision, especially at bigger sites, and a change to work practices.

A recent customer satisfaction survey from industry body the Home Builders Federation showed Bovis dropped down a notch from last year to a two-star rating, putting it at the bottom of the league table of 34 builders. Rival Persimmon was stuck at a three-star rating, and of the major housebuilders only Barratt and Bellway boasted a five-star rating.

A survey conducted by homelessness charity Shelter found homebuyers’ satisfaction with the condition of their new homes on moving in has declined by 10%, to 78%, over the past five years. It found 38% experienced more problems than expected, up from 27% in 2012, and 69% reported six or more issues to the builder, up from 56%.


Julia Kollewe

The GuardianTramp

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