The latest Housing Forum survey show that some of the UK’s most profitable housebuilders offer the least satisfaction to their customers. But do these Manchester Utds of the industry even care – and what can be done to get them to raise their game?
Barratt Homes received an unwanted accolade this week. It has managed to get the worse possible score in each of the first three annual National Housing Satisfaction Surveys carried out by the Housing Forum. Barratt is the only housebuilder to achieve this feat. Rialto, David McLean and North Country also all scored the lowest possible ratings in this year’s survey – but they all managed at least two stars out of three in one category or more in the previous two years.

Top of the heap were Bloor Homes, Crest Nicholson, Croudace, George Wimpey, Jelson and McCarthy & Stone. They each scored three out of three stars in the six categories, which cover consumers’ perceptions of the quality of new homes and the service provided by housebuilders. There were no surprises at the summit this year –the three-star housebuilders all performed well in the last survey.

The Housing Forum noted that smaller housebuilders had done particularly well this year. The Housing Forum said that low-volume builders were particularly good at responding to defects and offering after-sales service.

Disappointingly, the survey revealed that the overall customer satisfaction levels for new built homes were lower than last year. The Housing Forum offers an excuse for the housebuilders – it suggests that consumers are better educated and therefore have higher expectations. It takes pains to point out that there are high levels of satisfaction among first-time buyers. According to the 10,000 replies it received, 73% of homeowners are satisfied with the quality of construction and finish in their new home, and 82% thought that their homes were good value.

The Housing Forum thinks that the drive from improvements will come from consumers. It is producing consumer guidance on buying a new home. The Housing Forum hopes its leaflet, “What you need to check when buying a newly built property – 10 tips on key issues to consider” will encourage homeowners to seek better products and therefore encourage housebuilders to raise their game.

The survey is a useful tool for homebuyers, but do housebuilders really care about their scores? The persistently low score of some developers suggests not. Barratt, for example, may be at the bottom of the league table but it’s still the fourth most profitable housebuilder in the UK, with the second highest turnover. It’s the same for Manchester United – if it wins the Premiership, does it really matter if they come bottom of the fair play league?

Gentle persuasion by the Housing Forum will not be enough. The big legislation stick will need to be wielded to force some housebuilders to build better homes. The new Part L of the Building Regulations due out in 2005 should help. It aims to improve workmanship, and will force housebuilders to improve the energy efficiency of homes. If high standards of energy efficiency are properly communicated to the housebuyer then it will become a strong incentive to buy a home. Especially so when you consider that in the Housing Forum survey 49% said that energy efficient features were important when making the decision to buy a home.