If cars had as many faults as houses there would be uproar, says James Sommerville

The ODPM is determined to increase housebuilding. The problem is that the end-user’s quality requirements are being neglected and in many cases the buyer is downright offended.

This was illustrated by a recently reported case in which a £500,000 one-bedroom apartment was found on inspection to contain 86 defects.

The question has to be asked: “If you paid half a million pounds for a car would you accept it with 86 faults?” The answer I am sure would be an emphatic “no” – and yet we expect the buyers of our homes to take it on the chin.

The suggestion that a home is a consumer product, albeit an expensive one, is a solid premise. So we have a situation where a multibillion-pound industry, making expensive consumer products, has done little research on real customer quality requirements.

It could of course be argued that the problem stems from the 1979 Sale of Goods Act, which excluded homes from protection under the legislation. The Property Misdescriptions Act of 1991 was perhaps a golden opportunity to remedy some of the shortcomings of the 1979 act, but it focused purely on a particular end-point in the composite house delivery process – that is, the estate agent. The Housing Act provides the drive for the introduction of home information packs, and contains the next big opportunity to solve many of the problems associated with quality in homes. Clause 163 (5(d)) provides for information on “the physical condition of the property” to be included in the pack.

In the case of a new home, this could be provided by the NHBC, given that it inspects most of them before the release of mortgage funds. Indeed, it could be argued that many housebuilders rely on the NHBC to act as their unofficial quality controller.

If you paid half a million pounds for a car would you accept it with 86 faults?

The interpretation of “physical condition” may of course be taken to be all-embracing and thus provides us with the opportunity to clearly identify any defect, error, omission or fault in the property. The act does not specify what is to happen with these snags; only that they should be recorded. The industry, if it is willing, can take the defects found in new homes and eradicate them, so providing the purchaser with as near perfect a home as possible.

The data on snags found in new homes shows that the problem is widespread, increasing, and afflicting all property types. Analysis of the figures shows that there is a relationship between the number of bedrooms in the property and the number of snags. The raw average statistics show that a one-bedroom property has 38 snags and a six-bedroom property has 180 snags.

This situation cannot be allowed to prevail. The industry must rise to the quality challenge.

James Sommerville is a professor at the School of the Built and Natural Environment at Glasgow Caledonian University