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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?

Comments
Member

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!

Member

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.

Member

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” ?

Member

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.

Member

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.

Member

I haven’t seen a new house with larger than 8mm pipework to the radiators for some time. Houses built from about 1990 onwards have generally had the small-bore pipework. I doubt it would be possible to specify 12mm radiator pipework unless you were commisionning a bespoke property. Personally, I find the output from the radiators in our house more than sufficient even in the coldest weather and we usually have the room thermostat set at 17 degrees and the TRV’s at mid-point settings. I expect the higher insulation value of the house and the correct number and capacity of the radiators make up for any possible radiator output deficiency. It’s possible that over time, after the NHBC warranty has expired no doubt, it will be found that the small bore pipework is not up to the job if it is more prone to becoming clogged with sludge.

Member

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.

Member

“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! : )