Christopher Browne meets a couple whose spirits were dampened by their new home
Family ties and low property prices persuaded Gavin and Julie Griffin to buy a new house on a George Wimpey Homes estate near their childhood city of Sheffield.
"We wanted to live near our parents now that they've retired and can help us out by looking after our three young children, while we are at work," says Gavin. The Griffins sold their four-bedroom house in Northamptonshire and looked forward to moving into their new home in South Yorkshire.
It wasn't long before their spirits were dampened. "Just before we moved into the house, we noticed water pouring down an inside wall. We contacted Wimpey and it said that a nail had pierced one of the plastic water pipes," says Gavin, a service manager with a car company.
Then, a second pipe sprang a leak. This time it was in the top-floor lavatory of the couple's three-storey house. "Wimpey said the pipe had been cut too short when it was plumbed in," says Gavin. The dining-room, kitchen and hallway were flooded and their new laminate floors lifted by escaping water.
The third leak was even more serious. Water splashed onto the cupboards after a pipe problem in the kitchen. Then the couple spotted drips seeping out of several electrical sockets and light fittings. "The steady drip, drip, drip went on morning, noon and night. It was like Sheffield's answer to Chinese water torture," says Gavin.
After weeks of complaints, Wimpey said it would replace the water-logged walls, floors and ceilings and recarpet the Griffins' leaky house. However, the two parties couldn't agree on the terms or the timing of the work.
Worse was to follow. Julie was gardening when she was splashed by a cascade of boiling water from an outflow pipe. "Wimpey said the problem was caused by a faulty thermostat on the boiler. However, an engineer from the manufacturer discovered that the boiler's two main entry pipes had been plumbed in the wrong way round. It was like a constantly boiling kettle and we daren't let the children go outside in case they were scalded," says Gavin.
"Our dream home has turned into a house of nightmares and we are fearful in case anything else goes wrong.
Julie is so worried that it is affecting her health and she cannot sleep," says Gavin. The exasperated couple are considering legal action and have asked George Wimpey Homes to buy the house back from them.
"Our customer services team does not seem to have been doing the job it is supposed to do and we apologise. There are some lessons to be learnt from the case, and, to cope with this and similar problems, George Wimpey is about to set up a new customer options centre staffed by people trained to sort out after-sales difficulties.
"New homes are not always the best products in the world, as the Griffins have found to their cost and, instead of a dream home, they have now ended up living in difficult and damp conditions. We have agreed to do the work and put the house back into good shape but have so far been unable to agree terms with the family."
"Any homeowner facing problems like these should consult a solicitor who will thrash out any difficulties with the developer's solicitors and, if nothing can be resolved, take the case to the county court.
"The Government should tighten the regulations on the work and performance of developers and builders. New clauses imposing higher and more rigorous standards of building, structural work and finishing should be introduced in the new sellers' Home Information Packs, so buyers will get guaranteed product satisfaction when they exchange and complete on a property.
"It is imperative for buyers and solicitors to read the small print on all new home contracts, as specifications vary widely from estate to estate. The Griffins can enforce the two-year NHBC [National House Building Council] certificate that was issued with their home through the courts [NHBC certificates apply to all new-build and conversion properties], as builders or developers must return and put right all structural or building defects during that period."
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