Buying a new home is often a stressful and complicated experience – not to mention the process of moving house. The last thing anyone wants after completing a sale and settling in is to discover an issue with their new home.
Depending on the problem, you might not know who is responsible for fixing it, or who to complain to so it can be resolved. Typically, as with any complaint, you should report it directly to the individual or organisation involved.
If their internal procedures don’t provide a resolution, you could then report them to the relevant independent Ombudsman or Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service. Taking legal action would be a last resort, and would require seeking professional legal support.
This article explains the official routes that buyers of new builds in England can take to resolve disputes with developers and estate agents, for example, as efficiently as possible.
Complaints about buying a new build home in England
While sellers of second-hand homes are usually required to fill out the TA6 form declaring any problems with the property, most new build developers won’t. This means the buyer must rely on their conveyancing solicitor to investigate fully, ensuring that the developer and/or estate agent provide honest information about the property and the contract of sale is accurate.
Complaints against estate agents
Estate agents aren’t legally required to have a professional qualification or licence, but under the Consumers, Estate Agents, and Redress Act 2007, those engaging with residential real estate must be a member of an approved redress scheme to practice. The two options for escalating a complaint against an estate agent are The Property Ombudsman and The Property Redress Scheme.
These schemes offer mediation services and recommendations for compensation, but they cannot legally enforce them against the agent. However, if the estate agent doesn’t follow the codes of practice and ignores the scheme’s recommendations, they can be removed as a member, preventing them from trading as a residential estate agent.
They can handle complaints concerning poor service, unfair treatment, errors, and failures to uphold legal rights, communicate properly, or follow codes of practice.
Complaints against conveyancers and solicitors
Solicitors in England and Wales must comply with the Solicitors Regulation Authority, which can investigate consumer complaints against solicitors. The Legal Ombudsman can also look into complaints about legal providers.
These organisations are impartial, so they cannot represent the complainant if the case is too complex or involves a high amount of compensation and has to be decided by an actual court. They aim to help both parties reach an agreeable resolution without having to go this far.
Complaints to these bodies can involve misconduct such as dishonesty, fraud, or abandonment, including financial problems, poor communication, and undue delays.
You may want to seek professional legal advice independently to support your complaint, or contact Citizens Advice for guidance regarding your rights under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (2008).
Complaints about new build standards in England
Annual surveys by the HomeOwners Alliance have shown that many British people believe new builds to be too small and poorly built, also confirming that the average number of problems with a new build almost doubled between 2005 and 2020.
These can range from minor cosmetic problems to serious structural defects, the latter of which can be costly and complex to fix, and may even leave the buyer with a home that’s unsafe to live in.
If the problem occurs within 2 years of buying the new build, and the developer is a member of a consumer code scheme, you can escalate the unresolved complaint to the organisation they are registered with. Such schemes include:
- The New Homes Quality Board (NHQB)
- The Consumer Code for New Homes (CCNH)
- The Consumer Code for Home Builders (CCHB)
The Building Safety Act (2022) is updating legislation in England and Wales regarding building quality, including buyer protections and redress options against housing developers.
Its provisions include setting up a statutory New Homes Ombudsman Service, but until this is officially established, buyers should look for developers who are registered members of one of the consumer codes that are currently available to resolve outstanding disputes.
The new legislation also makes it mandatory for new build developers to include a new home warranty with a minimum term of 15 years. If structural defects become evident and remain unresolved past the 2-year mark for the consumer code scheme, you should be able to make a claim directly to the warranty provider.
In the case of an unresolved complaint against the warranty provider, this could be escalated to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
How can homebuyers protect themselves against defective new builds?
As with most things in life, prevention is better than cure, so making sure that measures are in place to protect your new build purchase from the start is better than looking for dispute resolution support if something goes wrong further down the line.
When it comes to the build quality of your home, part of your thorough evaluation of the property before committing to a sale should include checking the warranty. While it wasn’t previously a legal requirement, new builds sold from 28th June 2022 must provide the buyer with a new home warranty under the Building Safety Act (2022).
The developer should have set up a new build warranty before construction started, as part of the warranty provision involves regular structural inspections throughout the build. This greatly reduces the risk of latent structural defects developing, and passes up to 15 years or more of cover onto the buyer, giving you a way to recover financial compensation for repair costs.
If you do notice a defect with your new build home not long after moving in, be sure to report it to the developer if it’s within the first 2 years, or the warranty provider if it’s been longer than this. You can complain to the estate agent or conveyancer as well if the defect was something they knew of but did not inform you about before making the sale.
Should the responsible organisation fail to fix the problem, you can pursue your complaint through the appropriate dispute resolution service mentioned above, and/or seek professional legal guidance from a solicitor practicing the relevant area of law.
Disclaimer: Please note that the information in this article does not constitute professional legal advice and should not be used as such.