When purchasing a new house, it’s usually the responsibility of the buyer or their representative to make sure it’s structurally sound. This often involves hiring a qualified surveyor to carry out an inspection of the property before completion, or multiple inspections throughout construction.
Unfortunately, every construction project carries the risk of defects occurring. Even the most diligent of designers, architects, and construction workers can make mistakes sometimes, whether that’s failing to complete a task to the adequate standards or not recognising a defect during the project.
This is why the developer and/or seller should have some kind of policy to ensure that the property isn’t misrepresented to the buyer, and that if any defects are discovered, the appropriate insurance can help to cover the repair costs. Typically, there should be a relevant structural warranty in place.
Buying a new home can be stressful enough without having to worry about structural defects. So, if you’re in the housing market and want to be prepared, this blog addresses the important questions – what exactly is a structural defect, and who is responsible for them under a new build warranty?
A structural defect, also known as a construction defect, is part of the work that doesn’t meet the specifications set out in the contract and/or construction law. There are many types of defects, but structural defects tend to result from faults in the design, materials, or quality of construction work.
Examples include workers using the wrong materials, installing elements in the wrong order, or laying foundations or load-bearing walls that aren’t strong enough. Mistakes like these can lead to further issues like breaches of planning permissions, cracking foundations, or even total collapse.
In extreme cases, hidden defects can gradually worsen until windows and doors get stuck or break, roofs or floors cave in, or walls crumble. The longer it takes to notice or address the fault, the more expensive it’s likely to be to fix it – if it’s possible to repair the structure rather than write it off.
When facing the possibility of structural defects in your new build home, it’s best to have an expert such as a chartered surveyor on your side, who can help you to identify problems before they get to that point. They can also make the important distinction between patent defects and latent defects.
In construction, a patent defect is an easily recognisable fault that can be picked up early in the process. This could be during the building works, or within a limited period following completion of the structure. If anyone involved identifies an ‘observable’ defect during this time, whether it’s the workers themselves or a third party inspector, then the contractor is responsible for fixing them.
These surface defects are often referred to as snags; the client or their representative will usually do a walk-through at the end of construction and draw up a snagging list of visible defects. The seller and contractor should rectify these issues before the buyer completes the purchase and moves in.
Patent defects are more straightforward to take care of. Since they’re generally obvious to the eye, people can pick up on them quickly and resolve them before they become more substantial. They’re also likely to be discovered sooner, meaning they can often be corrected before the build is finished.
By contrast, latent defects are not immediately detectable. A latent defect can either be concealed or not yet developed, and can take weeks, months, or even years to become apparent. These are more serious for the homebuyer, as the issue tends to be severe by the time there are visible signs.
For example, it may not be possible to assess a defective foundation after completion, and shifting of the ground and subsequent movement of the structure can happen so slowly that nobody notices until the building is sinking or the walls are cracking. Similarly, once all the plastering and laying of floorboards is done, it can be difficult to assess the load-bearing elements for potential defects.
Since they aren’t usually identified during construction or even the first few years after completion, latent defects can be more difficult to resolve. Depending on when the defect becomes known, the original developers and builders may no longer have a contractual obligation to rectify it for you.
The responsibility for new build defects, or structural defects of any kinds, depends on the contracts for the works and the insurance policies of the parties involved. Accountability can be a grey area, especially for latent defects, as it can be difficult to determine who was at fault years afterwards.
Catching patent defects early is preferable, as it’s easier to identify the responsible party, and they will likely be obligated to fix the problems in line with the specifications of the ongoing contract. On the other hand, if a latent defect develops down the line, taking corrective action can be complex.
Firstly, determining the extent of the damage and who is at fault for the flaw (architect, designer, builder, contractor, etc), and whether they are still contractually bound to rectify defects, is an onerous process. Secondly, legal liability often depends on the terms of your property’s structural warranty. If you don’t have one, or a specific liability period has passed, you could be in trouble.
The best way to protect yourself against potential structural defects is to make sure that a new build warranty is already in place before you finalise the sale, and that you’re happy with the terms. Generally, the protections of a structural warranty don’t kick in until the date of completion, but some warranties can also cover you if the developer or seller goes out of business before completing the build.
If a patent defect is discovered during construction, you’re likely to be covered by the building contract itself, as they legally must meet certain specifications in order to fulfil the contract. It will also be difficult to get a certificate of completion if defects and other snags aren’t rectified first.
However, if you pick up on a defect after practical completion, you may only be able to contact the contractor about it if this happens within the first two years. This is the defects insurance period of a structural warranty, during which you can report any problems with the completed work for fixing.
After this (two years from the date on the completion certificate), the next part of the new build warranty kicks in, which is the structural insurance period. This tends to last for eight years, as the remainder of what is usually a ten-year policy. During this time, if a latent defect arises, you can no longer contact the seller or builder. Instead, you must claim the costs directly through the warranty provider.
Depending on the scale and type of defect, the warranty may only pay for partial repair expenses, or none at all if the value is below a certain amount. While you can claim for a variety of problems with the home during the first two years, the following structural insurance period only covers serious structural defects.
As a property buyer, you have several choices. Often, the easiest route is to take on the seller’s own structural warranty, which they should have set up before beginning construction work on your new build. You may be able to adjust the contract terms after consulting with the seller and the provider.
Since it isn’t actually a legal requirement to have a new build warranty, you should make sure to set one up yourself as soon as possible if the developer hasn’t yet. The more the warranty provider’s chartered surveyors can inspect the build throughout, the less likely it is for defects to go unnoticed.
Alternatively, as extra security on top of your latent defects insurance, you could ask the developer about a collateral warranty. This would extend their original construction contract to include you as a third party, creating a direct legal link that should theoretically make it easier to handle defects.
If you’re looking for a new build structural warranty, why not try the ABC+ Warranty quick quote form? Here at Architects Certificate, we provide a range of structural warranties to suit a variety of construction projects, with expert structural assessments included in our many services. For more information, give our team a call on 0161 928 8804 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org today.
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