Working families want to be home owners. 82% of American millenials say buying a home is a priority. In Britain, 80% cannot afford to buy a newly built home. The restricted supply of new housing puts the price of this purchase out of reach for would-be home owners.
And it’s not just prospective home buyers asking for more homes. The affordability of housing has become a political issue. Regional and national governments are putting pressure on housebuilders to increase the supply of new homes.
In 2017, builders in the UK completed 217,350 new homes, surpassing the government’s target of 200,000. However, in their 2018 budget, the British government has pushed the target even higher: 300,000 new homes a year.
How can builders increase their pace of construction without sacrificing quality or adding more workers?
“Fast-growing housebuilders could be prone to poor workmanship. If the government tries to force [housebuilders’] hand too much, there will be inevitable compromises in terms of quality and design,” states Neal Hudson, director at Residential Analysts. “Where you’ve got people really trying to accelerate growth and build more, you will get issues where the quality deteriorates.”
More than half of the buyers of new homes experience major problems with their properties. Almost all (99% of home buyers) report minor problems to their builder after moving in and request them to be fixed. 7 out of 10 of those snags are related to aesthetic finish and décor.
“For customers dealing with what are usually finishing items, the frustrations experienced are hugely significant. Buyers rightly expect a perfect product on the day they complete their purchase,” explains Home Builders Federation deputy chairman Peter Andrew.
Unlike safety and structural integrity, building regulations do not address finish and aesthetics. Those are covered by warranty programs. The 1- or 2-year defect and workmanship warranty (depending on the region) means the builder is responsible for non-structural items like cabinets, countertops, doors, flooring, ceramic tile, drywall, interior trim, carpet, and paint.
Identifying defects and waiting for repairs impacts customer satisfaction and leads to brand damage for the builder.
“When a customer is unhappy with their builder or there is a problem with their home,” says 30-year home building veteran Matt Swyt, president of Alluring Homes in Charlotte, NC. “The news spreads throughout the rest of the neighborhood. People pick up on the negatives very quickly. And this negative publicity can really take a bite out of the builder’s profits. Often these costs are intangible, but they are hidden everywhere in the home building process.”
“The bottom line is that valuable time that could be spent making money is lost when a builder has to manage the damage that can be caused by a disappointed customer.”
Lack of Skilled Workers
Why do the vast majority of new homes suffer from such quality issues?
Recruiting, training, and keeping skilled workers is now a decade-old challenge: 400,000 workers left the industry during the crash of 2008-2009. “During the recession 40-50% of skilled labour, both in offices and on-site, left the industry. Some of these people have retired, some have other jobs, and we are in the process of recruiting some of them back,” Andrew notes.
Inexperience, scarcity, and time pressure are conditions that contribute to poor outcomes for builders and their customers. Governments in many countries put responsibility for construction of defect-free homes “with the housebuilder, not with regulatory inspectors.” Ultimately, compliance is the responsibility of the person carrying out the work. Builders with infrequent (or absent) quality control inspections miss the issues that customers later complain about.
Improved Quality With No Time, Labour, or Cost
Preventing defects rather than waiting for the home buyer to find them is the best, least expensive way to ensure a happy customer. Evolving building practices and products are helping to reduce the chance of defects while speeding up builds.
Advancing building tech is now addressing some of the top call back complaints:
- Engineered subflooring made of high-quality polyurethane adhesive is eliminating annoying subfloor squeaks.
- A new process to lower the frame’s moisture content using dehumidifiers and fans before installing drywall reduces cracks and nail pops.
- Pneumatic window and door levelers make hanging times faster and prevent scratches during installation.
- Wire-free switches and power controls eliminate the need for wired switches. The switch can go on any surface without cutting a hole and installing a box or wire inside the wall. This eliminates delays and damage between the electrical, drywall, and painting trades.
Builders have the means to improve the quality of their homes and reduce the number of defect and snag complaints. Whether it’s adopting an improved construction process, product, or customer-facing procedure, housebuilders who make these changes will finally be able to stop going back and repeatedly servicing “finished” homes.