Is demand for housing damaging build quality?

Housebuilding standards have been declining over the past 50 years, according to one development finance lender.

Last month, Bovis Homes Group PLC revealed in its final results for the year ended 31st December 2016 that it would be setting aside a one-off £7m customer care provision after admitting weaknesses in its production process.

The housebuilder announced it would be slowing its rate of production to support its priority focus on customer service, as well as extending its current production programmes to allow sufficient time to deliver homes to a high standard.

Development Finance Today has since asked those within the property industry whether they had noticed a declining standard in housebuilding across the industry.

‘The focus on delivering volume in housebuilding is risking a negative effect on quality’

“House building standards have been steadily declining over the past 50 years,” said Michael Dean, principal at Avamore Capital.

“With so much competition for land and the need to maintain high profitability, the only way housebuilders can get the numbers to add up has been to squeeze build costs and subcontractors.

“This inevitably leads to a compromise on build quality.”

Sam Howard, chief operating officer at Regentsmead, said he had heard stories of the quality of the build in some of the large housebuilders’ schemes leaving a lot to be desired.

“I do believe that the focus on delivering volume in housebuilding is risking a negative effect on quality.

“I think the pressure to build more houses and the recent housing white paper’s attempts to get the large housebuilders to stop sitting on sites will exacerbate this problem.”

‘Building standards remain stringent’

Rico Wojtulewicz, policy adviser at the House Builders Association, felt the homes built by reputable builders were still of an extremely high quality thanks to the 2015 Housing Standards Review and believed the UK built some of the best homes in Europe.

Meanwhile, James Bloom, managing director of development finance at Masthaven, added: “I don’t believe the quality of housebuilding in the UK has worsened.

Have housebuilding standards dropped in recent years?

“Building standards remain stringent and no house construction project would be certified as complete unless it met correct construction standards.

“Examine any industry and you’ll find people who are tempted to cut corners, but I don’t believe the housing construction industry is particularly bad.”

James’ views were backed-up by Arwel Griffiths, partner at Robert Sterling Surveyors, who said he had not seen any perceptible change to build quality on sites he had been overseeing.

“In recent years, the use of overseas labour has, to an extent, lowered the cost base, but building standards have not been affected significantly, if at all.

“Increasing the number of workers on site has only served to highlight the importance of a good project manager, who manages the site well and requires more co-ordination.

“While that could lead to bigger size problems if things go wrong, a poorer quality ‘product’ isn't inevitable, simply because numbers are larger.”

How do we maintain housebuilding standards?

Rico felt that if there was a problem with the quality of homes, it would seem obvious to encourage the best part of the market to build.

“By delivering small sites and splitting up large ones, SMEs will deliver the volume and quality of homes we need.

SME developers
Should SME developers build more homes?

“However, SMEs don’t just build their own market homes.

“As the development partners for housing associations, councils, self/custom build, co-operatives and Community Land Trusts, it would seem pertinent to make sure they are building more than 27% of the market.”

Michael felt that the only way to ensure that quality remained high was via legislation, but added: “As the government is trying to stimulate more housebuilding, it is unlikely it will impose draconian measures to enforce standards."

Meanwhile, Sam concluded that there were various suggestions as to how to improve quality.

“Something I have been saying for a long time to improve the overall housing system is that more investment is needed in planning departments’ resources and capabilities in order to ensure design quality and obtain sustainable high-quality housebuilding.

“Another option I have heard is to create a new-homes ombudsman appointed by the government which would be independent of the housebuilding industry.”

Leave a comment