Problems With Newly Built
Help and Advice on New Build Properties
1stAssociated.co.uk independent building surveyors pride themselves on a high standard of work. We can offer Building Surveys also known as Structural Surveys and Home Buyers Reports. We also do Specific Defects also known as Engineers Reports or Damp Reports. We can also carry out Independent Valuations (note: these are not for bank lending but are to advise you how much we feel the property is really worth).
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An increase in problems with new built properties?
We have noticed as building surveyors the number of problems that people are phoning us about with regard to newly built properties have increased. We as building surveyors are not altogether surprised about this as we felt for some time that developers, builders and architects are very much building now to a price rather than a quality standard and whilst the marketing literature may say quality is everything we have found this very different in practice. What we would say as building surveyors is most worrying is the difficulty that people have getting anything done to resolve the problem even with a NHBC Warranty or Guarantee. Unfortunately whatever is said by everyone the reality as we see it as building surveyors of the situation is very different.
Many years of experience as Building Surveyors led us to this conclusion
Over the years and decades that we have dealt with problems with properties we have carried out building surveys and structural surveys and property reports on everything from drains that ran towards the house rather than away, not a very nice situation on a brand new property to central heating pipes (microbore pipes) that had been hand bent rather than using a proper bender where the central heating duly blocked up. It was a brand new central heating system in a brand new house. It was particularly difficult as some of the hand bent pipework was halfway within the dry lining (often known as false walling).
Interestingly we have come across roof problems when modern Georgian style properties have recreated problems that our ancestors sorted out one to two hundred years ago. We do find quite amazing that today's architects and developers have recreated the problem. We do believe that everyone should learn from these experiences so we thought we would give you examples for you to ponder:
A lot of external problems with cladding and render
We are finding on flat developments that there are a lot of problems with the external of the property whether it be a cladding or rendering. This we believe is because the developers focus on what the owner or the occupier sees when they come to buy the property which is the inside of the flat or apartment. We find the focus to be on the presentation of the flat or apartment and on the external of the property there is very little attention. We have recently dealt with a new build developer who advised us that they snagged three times, once with the people that built the property, a second time with a separate person from their company who was called in to look specifically for snagging defects and a third time with any estate agents that were dealing with the property. We would argue that each of these snagging items relate mainly to the actual presentation of the flat or apartment, by the way snagging is a building term for putting right issues.
Problems within the six month or twelve month warranty
A very interesting phenomenon in the property industry is you can be sold a new home and the builder has the right to correct in the next six to twelve months. This is a typical warranty period in the building industry. This snagging period was originally brought in years ago when materials needed to dry out, however we would argue that as the industry has progressed to using dry materials these are used so that on day one of them finishing a project it can actually be sold and therefore there is no time delay on selling the property. The problems that should be found should reduce. There is effectively no drying out to take place. We would agree that there will be some initial settlement where the weight of the building is pushing down on the earth but this should be relatively minor with modern foundations. You may get some hairline cracking in the plaster but we would suspect nothing more than this in most cases. We feel that this snagging period is now being used for basic problems to be sorted out, we mean very basic problems.
Is the quality standard because of how the building industry is?
To some extent we can see why the problems are arising because nice buildings are put together using a number of sub contractors who all win the work on the lowest quote (or some would say that those that have made the biggest mistake on quoting to win the work!). So the focus on putting together of the building is on price not on quality. It could be argued that the specification and drawings that are produced by the architect and the surveyors should mean the quality is there however if it is not supervised with everyone's vested interest in the building of the property it is best dealt with by getting the property built quickly, in our experience quality can be overlooked for the sake of speed.
Roof letting in water on a relatively new block of flats
We recently visited a block of flats where the modern pitched roof was letting in water. We did our investigation because often things are not what they first seem and there were other areas where the water could be coming in which was via the air vent in the roof that had been put in to help the condensation and via the roof lights or roof windows, more commonly known as Velux roof lights, being their generic name. We were able to do very little so our first inspection was a visual inspection, the later inspection involved removing the roof tile. We spoke to manufacturers, tradesmen and the British Standards with varying degrees of success together with carrying out research. We have concluded that the tiles used were not suitable for the pitch of the roof or the length of the pitch of the roof. This leads to a built up of water which in prevailing winds gets wind driven and goes into the property.
The sad thing is these properties are ten years old or so. It has taken a long time for the occupiers of the flats to realise as with many modern developments there is quite a turnover of people where some of them are let out via investors or vacant landlords and generally people are busy with their day to day lives, we don't talk to our neighbours as much, so the information has not been passed on. When the occupiers did establish there was a problem with the roof this has then been exasperated by the management company who had been very slow to act. In fact it was over six months and a change of management company before they were instructed on the specific instruction of the owners to appoint surveyors to carry out a defects report on the property. It was only because one particular resident who was trying to sell their property had the sale fall through due to roof problems that it highlighted the problem that this would cause the block of flats as a whole which in turn got the residents committed and focused which in turn got the management company to act upon their instructions.
Management companies dealing with property problems in flats and apartments
Property Management Companies tend to employ people with little property knowledge. We rarely come across a Surveyor running a Management Company. We would comment that in our many years of dealing with management companies we very rarely come across a good one particularly from the occupiers point of view and we generally find their main focus is ensuring that monthly payments are made by everyone and usually they don't have the technical knowledge to resolve the problems relying on our experience or builders who tend to repair the affect rather than repairing the cause. For example in the case of the roof leak they had actually repaired the deteriorating plaster several times which of course was the affect not the cause, so the problem had carried on.
How do you sort out a building dispute?
We normally say that most things can be resolved with a cup of tea meeting as long as both parties are willing and that is a big proviso. However in this instance of the roof leak who is to blame, is it the original architects on the job if they supervised it as well, is it the builders with their defective work? It was well spotted by a surveyor carrying out a report on the property for the buyer; remember this is Caveat emptor which is buyer beware in Latin. Unfortunately it now looks like the way this will be resolved will be via a legal case or the threat of a legal case to get any action from anyone. In our experience most cases don't actually go to court and normally settle out of court. We do need to prepare everything in a format that is suitable for court which we do, we have developed an expert witness format, we first of all present as a defect report in a very readable format which is then amended should it proceed to court.
As Surveyors we are concerned that modern materials may not last that long?
We commented earlier that we feel properties are built to a price rather than a quality standard. We do feel this is becoming a fine art, but are we now on a quest for a price which in turn gives a certain profit margin utilising materials that haven't properly been tested in the UK climate. We would also argue that we do feel that new materials should be used as the building industry is one of the most traditional industries there is and we are to some extent still using the same bricks that we were using hundreds and hundreds of years ago.
The second case we would like you to have a think about, as we have now come across defects on a number of modern buildings, is a building which is less than two years old. The apartments/flats are luxurious with balconies, they are close to mainline train station for access to London and work and the property has major problems. The American investor that we have been working for was in absolute amazement over the problems and the difficulty of resolving them. He had bought fifteen of the apartments and is now looking to sell them. The problem that has arisen is that the cladding panel sometimes known as a rain shield was defective and allowing in water in some areas. We duly inspected the property and found in many areas the cladding had not been fixed, there were holes drilled without any fixing points or had they come away? In some areas they simply had not been fixed. We started to wonder why and thought that it would have been a numbingly boring task for a number of fixings. They are approximately 150mm (6inches for those still working in old measurements) over a five storey building, and the panels are approximately half a meter by two meters. We had a quick reckon and we believe this is in the region of five thousand fixings for this property, or it should be if they had done them all. Where they hadn't fixed them, and in fact unfortunately where they had, the cladding panel had warped which whilst they had a plastic membrane behind it, it still in our opinion was allowing water into the structure.
Parapet problems to a flat roof caused the leak
What was more was that the parapet walls that were a feature of this property had been poorly detailed with no coping stones. Thankfully not as bad as a detail we had seen on a property of less than five years old previously where the coping stone had been put on incorrectly and then to resolve the matter the builder had put a mastic strip (like the type you use in the bathroom to stop the water from leaking in the shower or bath) to the edge of the coping stone to create a drip. We anticipated this had a maximum life of five years before it fell off and dampness started coming back inside. We assume the builder thought this would be long enough to escape and disappear! What was worse although we hadn't been called to have a look at the coping detail, it stood out a mile to a surveyor who is experienced in this type of work.
Problems with modern roofing materials
We noted the mono-ply roofing material that had been used was a fishpond type plastic lining (I kid you not). It is relatively cheap and very importantly for developers quick. It can literally go over almost any shape but it does have some problems. We have seen so many problems with this type of roof that if there is any connection between the builders and the architects building new properties and those maintaining them they would not be used in our opinion. We have seen problems that we believe have been caused from the basics of someone walking on it with a stone on their shoe and cutting a hole into it. We are told it never happens but we can't think of any other way the stones cut through it. We have also experienced water sitting on an area that then compresses the insulation underneath it and causes the mono-ply roofing material to stretch and then deteriorate.
The worst case of all that we have come across was seen on a black mono-ply roof, having seen it we would never recommend black plastic roofing. The heat had caused it to expand and wrinkle and then deteriorate causing the restaurant below to have a nightmare of a time. Whilst all of these materials are tested we are certain from our experience that there is no test equivalent to actually testing use on a real building in a real situation where the property is used and abused both by the occupiers and by any builder the owners or the management company calls out. Usually they are not familiar with the modern construction and apply traditional techniques to the modern materials which simply don't work and can in fact cause further damage. In most cases it really is a disaster waiting to happen and certainly not tested as far as we are aware.
What will happen to new properties when they get old?
First thing that we think will happen to new properties when they get old is that they will leak, let water in or will equally have condensation coming in them. There are a whole multitude of problems that we haven't yet come across. One of the newest problems we have come across which we have been called out twice on it now, is children being kept awake at night by a noise. At first the adults are unbelieving and then they hear it themselves. We have come to investigate and found that it is insulation that hasn't been fixed properly and in one case it was not fixed at all.
Are Eco Houses the answer?
We have had experience with Eco Houses. In one of them on a large estate the houses were sold on their green or Eco value. We were called in due to a rattling noise (a problem we have come across before). We were asked to thermal image the properties however we didn't need to as we were aware that the noise typically related to modern solid insulation that hasn't been fixed properly. In this case when we opened up one of the houses we found that the insulation was a lot thinner that it should be and in some places it hadn't been put in at all. This was a house that had been supervised by the builder.
Our opinion on new houses that we see
Whilst we appreciate we are only called in to problem cases we do think that as new properties become old more problems will become apparent in many cases. It will be very difficult to go back to the original developer or the NHBC or the architect to get compensation and the owner will be left to solve the problem themselves which is then very difficult as with many of the problems there isn't one problem, it is a combination of issues. To resolve it say on a block of flats or apartments or multi-occupied property you will need to discover where the problem is coming from, discovering the cause rather than the affect. As mentioned earlier in this article you will then need to deal with the management company who as I mentioned earlier tend to be experts in collecting rents rather than in our opinion experts in maintenance which is a great shame. In our experience the problem will be passed onto a builder who will unfortunately be looking to resolve the affect rather than the cause. If you are lucky then you may have a Building Surveyor like ourselves called in, usually only after to-ing and fro-ing in discussions.
Independent SurveyorsIf you truly do want an independent expert opinion from an independent building surveyor, and many of us are also builders, with regard to structural defects, roof problems, wall problems, water getting in problems, this is what we call our specific defects reports. If you want an overview of the property then you need to have a building survey (this used to be called a structural survey). If you want to call us on this or any other property matters please contact 0800 298 5424for a friendly chat.
Commercial PropertyIf you have a commercial property, whether it is freehold or leasehold then sooner or later you may get involved with dilapidation claims. You may wish to look at our Dilapidations Website at www.DilapsHelp.com and for Disputes go to our Disputes Help site www.DisputesHelp.com
We hope you found the article of use and if you have any experiences that you feel should be added to this article that would benefit others, or you feel that some of the information that we have put is wrong then please do not hesitate to contact us (we are only human).
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