New inspection services are making good use of the snags housebuilders leave behind – and the result of this year’s Zurich customer satisfaction survey show there’s plenty of business to exploit.
Zero defects remains something of a Holy Grail for the housebuilding industry. The onsite reality is that homes are built, checked, and then defects are remedied. Ideally of course, that checking process should be undertaken before the buyer moves into the home. But a new breed of inspection services, including Inspectorhome, Newbuild Inspections, snagging.org and others, are part of a business growth area offering homebuyers a checking service after their move-in date.
These inspection services have divided opinion within the industry: slated by some as ambulance chasers trading on the fears of new homeowners, but praised in other quarters as consumer champions.
“We have no concerns about commercial snagging companies offering their services to homeowners or builders,” says Rod Maceachrane, NHBC commercial director. “[The only problem] is there has been a tendency by some to use exaggerated statistics to create a demand for their services, and have as a result created a distorted picture of the quality of new homes in the UK. Clearly, the ultimate aim is to remove the need for this type of service altogether.”
MacEachrane adds: “Our experience is that the industry recognises the importance of making improvements in the area of snagging and customer care. Indeed many builders are focusing hard on this area.”
Recent NHBC research has shown that the speed and efficiency with which builders respond to snagging items has a major impact on their customers’ perception of their new homes, and of the builder’s long-term reputation.
The NHBC is playing a key role in raising the finish quality of new homes. It has seen dramatic reductions in the more serious defects picked up at final inspection since the introduction of its inspection procedure linked to the Council of Mortgage Lenders initiative in April 2003. “We are now focusing our efforts to bring about similar improvements in the number of minor defects found on site,” says MacEachrane.
The NHBC has added to its key stage inspection service with the launch of Quality Management Services. This unit provide inspection and auditing services ranging from troubleshooting in areas where customer dissatisfaction levels are high through to training site personnel. Three different versions of the service are available: the first covering site audit options; the second offering an additional key stage inspection; and the third dedicated to pre-handover stage and reducing snagging. “One important aspect of the service is that it incorporates benchmarking, set by an inspection team comprising both us and the housebuilder,” says Peter Saffill, NHBC’s special projects inspection manager.
The service was piloted earlier this year and the QMS is still working with all its pilot partners, which include George Wimpey City. “Using main contractors to build our developments, we found the QMS’ role valuable on site. It not only alerted us to potential problems during construction, but was able to offer advice and solutions to put it right,” says Richard Cook, projects director with the company.
Inspector Home, which undertakes inspections for both homebuyers and housebuilders, expanded its services in June of this year with a one-day test audit for developers. The audit allows developers to compare their levels of defects to the national average and set benchmarking procedures in place.
We still ain't got no satisfaction
This is all getting a bit familiar. A year ago, we reported the results of the annual Customer First survey from new homes warranty provider Zurich Building Guarantee. At the time, we highlighted the fact that the industry was failing to get to grips with fundamentals like snagging, to the irritation of new homebuyers. One year on, and this year's survey gives a depressingly similar picture.
Nearly 70% of buyers had not had all of their snags attended to before they had moved in, and more than 60% of customers were less than satisfied with the feedback regarding when remedial work would be undertaken.
But there were areas of improvement. Now almost 80% of customers are offered an accompanied walk through their home by their housebuilder, and half get that walk-through six to 14 days prior to completion.
And irrespective of customers' dissatisfaction with the snags and hitches of new homebuying, 44% of buyers questioned in Zurich's survey said that they had a preference for a brand new property, a figure that is slightly up on last year.
Following the survey, the top plaudits in Zurich's Customer First awards went to Berkeley Group, a business that is bringing in a brave new customer care strategy. That approach, trialled in the Oxford and Chiltern regional division of the group, tackles customer care on a range of fronts: from taking better care of buyers to improving build practice and defects remediation.
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