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John Ward: the ups & downs of buying a new build house

Colourful wooden houses

Which? Convo regular John Ward is here to share his experiences of buying a new-build house. It’s furnished him with some great tips if you’re looking to buy a new-build, so without further ado, here’s John.

Two years ago Jean and I moved into our new-build house. It’s in a small development on the edge of a market town in Norfolk adjacent to open country. It was built by a regional house-building company that has a good reputation for quality.

We moved so we could get a more up-to-date house and a smaller garden. The development is a mix of typical rural designs and town houses and we chose a country-style house which was the only one of its type. The layout and landscaping are good with open spaces, woodland, and trees fringing the development – although, as with so many ‘greenfield’ sites, there were no established trees or shrubs in the gardens.

New-build problems

We’re very pleased with our purchase and enjoy it very much. The build quality has been high and we think the NHBC 10-year warranty system, together with better building regulations, new technological developments, and modern construction techniques, have improved the quality of new houses. Nevertheless, there were some snagging issues to be dealt with and my ‘rectifications list’ had thirty-six items on it at one point, mostly minor.

A few serious things ought to have been spotted during any quality control inspection, but the company dealt with all faults satisfactorily and quickly. It’s only when you start to live in and use the facilities in a house that you become aware of problems, but we think that more could be done generally in the building trade to check and test the work of the various sub-contractors.

Top tips for buying a new build

Having visited many new housing schemes, at various stages of construction, I can suggest a few points to think about when buying a new house:

  • See if you can find out the true timescale for completing the development; the sixty-four houses on our estate have taken nearly three years to build which has prolonged the disturbance.
  • Check the different types of property on the development plan; most developers seem to be very coy about showing later phases and the categories of houses (including any social housing) yet to start.
  • Don’t get too carried away by the furnishing and decor in the Show Home – it’ll be all bright lights, reflective surfaces, and mirrors to make rooms look bigger.
  • Remember there will be no fixtures and fittings like bathroom cabinets, light fittings, wall mirrors, clothes pegs, and the other conveniences of life that you are used to in your present home.

The experience has prompted a few questions: why are there so few modern-style houses and why do they cost so much more? What do we like or dislike about en suite bathrooms? Are rooms in the roof space (and that extra staircase) a good idea?


We bought a new-build house for my daughter on an estate with two developers – one national, one much smaller. The contrast between their quality was very apparent, but not reflected in price. One had interesting house styles, decent size rooms (particularly the 3rd bedroom which in others was about big enough for a cot), plenty of storage including built-in cupboards and good finishes from coving to door handles, taps and tiles. The other was just cut price. After nearly 2 years we have had no problems of any consequence. The only criticism is the use of low-end appliances – built-in fridge-freezer, cooker and dishwasher from brands I would not choose. For little more they could have been more reliable brands; this seems endemic amongst new-build. Had the house not been complete when we bought it we would have changed them.
So search out a good developer; they are out there. Don’t put up with the undersized cheaply built stuff that the big developers seem to churn out – it’s not as though you get them on the cheap!

I was considering moving to a small town to save driving there a couple of times a week apart from during the winter months. There has been a lot of new houses built in the past two years and I was disappointed by what was offered for the price.

I may still be interested because most of what is on the market is older property and I’m interested in an energy efficient bungalow or house that does not need any significant work done on it. Most of my investigation so far has involved exploring the area, looking up property details on an iPad. My biggest problem is not finding a new home but committing the effort and time to the project.

I’m glad the new house has worked out well, John. It seems like a nice location.

Wavechange, Our new home (built in 2000) has a study in a ground floor single story and the inability to hold on to heat compared with the remaining first floor of the two story part of the building is very obvious. Fortunately we don’t use it much. I’m not sure how much the 8 inches of loft insulation would need to be increased so the study matched the insulation of the rest of the first floor of the house. My Dad had a bungalow in rural Oxfordshire which was a fridge in the Winter. The economy 7 electric under floor heating did not help nor did the very large rear window to the lounge.Do bungalows need a metre of loft insulation to make them “energy Efficient” ?

Thanks Dave. I’ve been living in a bungalow for over 30 years and appreciate that bungalows cost more to heat. I certainly want the rooms I use most on the ground floor because it would be a strain to go up and down stairs all day. I was injured by a driver many years ago. I would like to find somewhere with zoned heating or upgrade the system to make that possible, since I don’t believe in keeping rooms hot when I’m not using them. Somehow dormer bungalows don’t look right to me but I can see some benefits of having one.

One useful tip is to verify that the central heating system is fit for purpose. If it is still being used in new builds ( or if you are looking for an older house) , be very wary of central heating with 8 mm pipes to the radiators. Even if done properly with no more than 3metres from the larger hidden (22mm) pipes you will not get more than 1.5 kw out of any radiator on such a system. It is wise not to complete the purchase before you are confident that the boiler is capable of heating every radiator hot from top to bottom with them all on at the same time and that the system is free from leaks. If you are completing in Summer ask the vendor to remove the TRVs for the test so the valves don’t obstruct the water flow.

My house has some small-bore plumbing in the heating system. Corrosion inhibitor was present when I moved in and I’ve changed it periodically. I know there is little sludge in the radiators because I’ve taken them off when decorating, and the 8 mm pipework is fine. Mine is an old open system with a header tank, which allows oxygen into the circulating water, hence the importance of corrosion inhibitor. A modern closed system should be less likely to be affected by corrosion because there is little opportunity for oxygen to enter after the system is filled.

“Are rooms in the roof space (and that extra staircase) a good idea?”

What are the upsides and downsides? And are you talking of two storey house with an attic or a bungalow? I am interested for my next move.

If anyone is considering moving to a flat a central or central top floor flat can benefit hugely form the heating of neighbours below,possibly above, and to each side. And of course you probably only have two external walls and even they are shielded from excessive wind factors.

Nobody ever markets on this basis! : )

John, we avoided a three storey house primarily because with the main (parents) bedroom on the top floor you would not be as aware of what the kids were doing on the floor below! Such houses are like the Georgian and Victorian London houses making the most use of valuable land – those often had basements as well. Better in my view than multi-storey flats.

That’s an interesting point John.

I have often wondered why in new homes the thermostat control is located in the hallway. I did query this last year when my house was EPC rated and was told the thermostat would need to be turned down to a lower temperature than if it was situated in the lounge and with most new homes being fitted with radiator thermostats in each room they would, in turn, control the temperature of each room separately. But as you rightly say heat always rises so most of it will be lost to the upper floors at the expense of the lower living areas where it is most needed culminating in higher energy bills if the thermostat control is located in the hall as opposed to the lounge for example.

Where bungalows are concerned this would not happen with the absence of stairs as the heat would stay at ground level – hence the need for higher density insulation in the roof space. I am still confused though as to the best economically efficient place to house the thermostatic control.

Please can someone enlighten?

In my present home I have a gas boiler and one room has a gas fire, so I can still keep warm if the boiler fails. I have a hot water tank with an immersion heater, so there are two ways of heating water. The thought of having a central heating system fail is bad enough, but losing hot water as well as heating is not something I am keen on. After all, modern boilers are not noted for their reliability and boiler servicing attracts a few criticisms.

Perhaps we should Be Prepared, as every Boy Scout knows.

Thanks John. I have seen some messy installations in airing cupboards when friends have asked for advice about might be wrong with their heating. No doubt it would cost more to do a neat job that would make the airing cupboard more usable. Spotting the drawbacks of heating and hot water systems is one of the tasks I feel confident about.

Thanks for the information John which explains to some extent why my 1978 home has the thermostat control in the lounge with no TVR’s in any rooms.

In my search for a new home I have seen many suitable homes on the market but have been put off by the open plan living with stairs leading straight off the lounge area, which to my way of thinking means the heat in the living quarters is all escaping up the stairs and as I feel the cold this is not an option I would contemplate.

To feel even remotely comfortable I need a sitting temperature of 20C degrees (even with an extra jumper) so if the hall temperature was set at a lower temperature say 65F degrees the TVR in the lounge could not increase the temperature above this unless , as you say, the added rise in heat from the TV, smaller windows and sufficient insulation plus of course the heat emanated from the number of people and room size may contribute to increasing the temperature to a comfortable 70F degrees. I would hazard a guess that this is a requirement of all new builds to comply with EU green guidelines.

I have noticed the proliferation of new 3 storey homes which I would contribute to a shortage of land space and an ever increasing demand for home ownership. I would have thought that insulation in the upper 3rd floor would have to meet Building Regulation Approved Document Part LIB which stipulates the roof must achieve a U-value of 0.18 W/m2K (whatever that means!) Without this regulation ‘the room at the top’ could also become unbearably hot during the summer months as well as freezing cold during the winter, but I still the idea of utilising the space which would otherwise have the potential turn into just another ‘grannies attic.’

Developers have recently been in the news complaining about govt. requirement to incorporate a percentage of affordable homes on new sites. Apparently they are finding that prospective buyers of more expensive homes are not too keen on purchasing homes in close proximity to the hoi poloi which goes against the grain and is affecting sales.

…….I think hoi polloi has two ll’s!!!

Help I need an editor! Should have included 20C or 70F ……..same difference!

I’m glad you clarified that, Beryl. 20°F would have had us shivering.

Don’t worry, Beryl – I’ve updated the temperatures for you. Sorry for being a bit late!

Thanks Alex – I must stop converting before hypothermia sets in!

Sophie Gilbert says:
22 December 2014

“See if you can find out the true timescale for completing the development; the sixty-four houses on our estate have taken nearly three years to build which has prolonged the disturbance.”

Another thing to think about is local amenities including public transport, depending on what is important to you. I moved to a new house around 20 years ago in an suburban area that was very amenity-poor and I regretted it very quickly. I just had not given it enough thought. There were no restaurants or pubs within easy walking distance, no local shops, just one great big soulless shopping mall, an infrequent bus service and an unreliable train service. Now of course the area is much improved, especially regarding public transport, but too late for me. (But I’m back in town where it’s at, so happy.)

I’ve recently purchased a new build (while I save for a self build).
Here were my main annoyances.
Not many options as I would expect, for kitchen style/ appliences etc. after all that was one of their main selling points.
No thought into the placement of wheely bins/recycle baskets etc.
Poor street lighting. Light the pavement not peoples gardens and bedrooms.
Poor parking (due to those dreadfull planners). Cars are forced to park on pavements and people with pushchairs are then forced into the road!!!!
No network cabling options or surround sound options ( luckily I was able to get them to put these in as a special.)
They don’t register the postcodes? For the first 6 months, in the age of internet shopping, no one can find you.

Why are there no modern properties being built. Why all this fake design?? I hate it just like I hate all the never ending period tv programming. We are stuck in the past!!! Boy would the Victorians be turning in their graves if they could be us now. Scared off by the mistakes of the 50’s (just look at the age of the people on most council planning boards). Do any of these council departments have any training in design or planning, probably not.

Why no basements? They are very easy to do, and can be pre-fabricated in a factory.
Before this house move I was a first time buyer. I initialy looked into several new build developments only to find that the reality of so called affordable housing does not exist. I had the money, but the houses where excluded from me. They are either sold directly to housing associations, buy to let scum or they are only available though some shared ownership scheme.

I cannot personally say I ever experienced a developer hiding or disguising parts of there schemes that where for social housing. In a lot of cases I found that the social housing occupied some of the prime locations on the sites, and these where from higher end developments.

I also think the whole buying process is a complete mess. 3 months of messing about (putting it politely). For searches, mortgages etc. in this day and age this is not acceptable.