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Housing must not become a battle between Quality vs Quantity – we must deliver both

Chartered Institute of Building

6 min read Partner content

The November reshuffle saw the appointment of yet another Housing Minister – the 16th since 2010. And in the run-up to the long-awaited Christmas break, there were several significant announcements on planning permission reform to get Britian building again. With a General Election inevitably on the horizon, we can expect that there is only more stall-setting to come on what is expected to be one of the biggest policy issues at the ballot box.

As each party unveils their plans, how can the sector and its stakeholders ensure we maintain the quality of our built environment? 

The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) asks exactly that question in its new report on the consumer journey of buying a new-build home. While quality has, and continues to, improve thanks to regulatory drivers including New Homes Quality Board and the New Homes Ombudsman, problems still prevail within the consumer journey. 

In recent years there has been a raft of new consumer protections for those purchasing new build homes, significantly increasing the recourse available to hold their housebuilder to account for any failings in communication, fair purchasing and overall build quality. However, consumer awareness of these vital protections remains low. 

In an effort to help house-buyers understand what they can do to hold their housebuilder to account, CIOB’s report explores the state of play in the new-build housing market; highlighting the role of market perception in delivering new homes and examines why there has been such a negative perception of the quality of new-build homes in recent years. 

The CIOB commissioned a poll of 2,000 UK adults to gauge trust in the quality of new-build housing, whether participants would consider purchasing a new-build home, and who they would go to if they discovered issues with the build.  

  • Overall, 60% of respondents said that they would not buy a new home, with fears of poor workmanship cited as one of the primary reasons. 
  • 55% of respondents perceived older properties to be of a higher quality than new builds. 
  • 48% of respondents felt new build housing was over-priced, while 41% felt they lacked character. 32% felt they were poor-quality. 
  • On the other hand, some respondents felt new building housing was modern (34%) and efficient (21%) 
  • Only 13% of those surveyed were aware of sector regulators the New Homes Quality Board and New Homes Ombudsman. 

The report, launched at a CIOB reception in Parliament in December, crucially includes a short consumer advice guide for potential buyers of new homes detailing the new protections and provides an FAQs to help consumers understand their rights as well as where to seek recourse.

In his opening remarks at the report launch, Housing Minister Lee Rowley MP acknowledged that while “parliamentarians immerse themselves in subjects like housing, they are not necessarily from the sectors, and it is only by talking to representatives and people in the sector that they can properly understand both the challenges and the opportunities.” While discussing the challenges facing the sector, including the negative impacts of the economic circumstances, Rowley made clear that his overall objective, and the Government’s, is to “build houses which are fit for people to live in, and everybody has the opportunity to either buy or have a roof over their head.”

Rowley listed “making sure our existing properties out there are at decent standards that we expect” and “making sure that those houses that haven’t been built yet are built to the right standards” as priorities. He said he is “grateful for the report from the CIOB, which I know that they are launching today which highlights the importance of those of those standards being met and people can have confidence in new build both now and in the future…and I know that we share the objective of building more houses, building in the right place, and making sure existing housing stock works for long term for people living in the country as a whole. “

Sponsor of the event Andrew Lewer MP, chair of both the APPG on SME Housebuilders and of the APPG for the Private Rented Sector began his speech calling out the CIOB as a stand-out in the sector. He recalled the CIOB organising a roundtable in his constituency to speak to local members and builders about local needs; rejecting the norm of meeting in London. Lewer  also sits on the Housing Select Committee  and spent 12 years working on a planning committee. He called the new report “incredibly interesting”, particularly as it makes clear it is not a choice or conflict between quality and quantity. The sponsor was clear he believes both great quality and great quantity are entirely achievable. He also pointed to what he considers a standout from the report; the high prevalence of preference that people have for older housing. This doesn’t happen with anything else, Lewer argues. No one is choosing a Morris Minor over a Ford Focus. But it does happen with housing. 

Closing remarks were provided  by CIOB President, Sandi Rhys-Jones, who was firm that the sector needs consistency, clarity and certainty to tackle the problems it is facing; something that is not feasible given the ‘revolving door of housing ministers.’

Speaking about the report, Sandi explained the cognitive dissonance found in the survey: “New builds are now constructed to a higher standard and with more oversight and regulation and are much more efficient to run.” However, CIOB’s research found that more than double the number of people think older homes are better quality than new builds. This, Sandi argued, “really raises the issue of our perception of reality”

Finally, Sandi called for house builders to step up. It is not enough to educate buyers about their protections during their consumer journey. In order to truly instill trust, housebuilders need to demonstrate they can consistently deliver quality. 80% of housebuilders either have already signed up to the New House Quality board or are in the process of signing up but, Sandi argued, it needs to be them all. If they will not do so willingly, the report recommends a review to determine whether this can made a mandatory regulatory requirement.

There can be no debate that housing, and the process of building homes, has become extremely politicised and increasingly polarised in recent years but CIOB, through its new report, hopes to continue the pressure on politicians to deliver not only enough new housing, but also to raise the standards of new build properties and the UKs existing stock. 

You can read the full report, its consumer advice guide and sector recommendations here

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