New-build dream becomes living nightmare on Corby estate
Families living on Corby's Priors Hall estate say buying their ‘dream’ homes has become a living nightmare after developer Larkfleet Homes left the houses unfinished, damaged or with urgent repairs outstanding a YEAR after they moved in.
A Northants Telegraph investigation has uncovered a catalogue of hundreds of issues at the homes in the area advertised as ‘Gretton Valley’ on the new 5,000-home estate.
Our reporters have spoken to eleven families that have been affected - but it is believed there are many more who have experienced problems, with claims several have already been asked to sign non-disclosure agreements.
Now, many of the desperate families have decided to go public after Larkfleet ignored their pleas for help, repeatedly failed to make the promised repairs to their homes or stonewalled their efforts to get to the root of the problems.
Major problems reported on the estate include unworkable solar panels, unusable gardens, water ingress, ill-fitting doors and windows, poorly-fitted bathrooms and issues with the timber frame.
Families say hundreds of snags identified by the homeowners have simply been ignored by Larkfleet. Mould, damp, floods, gas leaks and dodgy boilers have all been reported to the firm.
Larkfleet has since apologised "unreservedly" to those affected and said they will carry out a number of inspections to find out how the problems happened.
One couple told of how their puppy nearly died after falling into a water-filled trench that wasn't fenced off by builders, and then was again injured after more builders left cables exposed in their living room.
Another family spoke of how their autistic son had been prescribed Vitamin D supplements by his doctor because he couldn’t go outside into their unusable garden.
And neighbours spoke of how they’d been left embarrassed to have visitors round to their house because of the state it had been left in.
The families moved into the Larkfleet development about a year ago - with many buying under the government’s Help to Buy scheme.
Larkfleet’s own marketing materials for Gretton Valley say that the firm is here to help customers ‘at every stage of your move - and beyond’ and promise homes are built to LABC standards, backed by a ten-year, NHBC guarantee.
The Bourne-based firm - who reported a record turnover of £80m in 2017 - claims all homes are fitted with solar panels ‘as standard’ saving customers up to £600 per year off their bills. They say they are a ‘local business’ employing ‘local people.’
Tom Pursglove, who was Corby's MP until Parliament was dissolved this week, and his political opponent Beth Miller have both stepped in to help after householders said they wanted a change in the law so that others do not have to go through the same ordeal.
Natalia Dresler, 27, who along with fiance Liam Underwood, 31, paid £262,000 for their five-bedroom detached house in Merlin Road in October 2018, said the pair had been ‘blanked’ by Larkfleet, adding: “Sometimes I just wish we could go back in time and back out without losing our deposit."
Liam said that solar panels are simply ornamental - they’re not workable, are not wired-in correctly and cannot be used to save money off electricity bills. Hours after being contacted by the Northants Telegraph, Larkfleet's head of customer care contacted residents to book an urgent inspection to make sure their solar panels had been installed accurately and safely.
Jennifer Christison, who lives next door to Natalia and Liam, had to spend five weeks living in two Corby hotels with her children and two cats after Larkfleet failed to finish her house in time for the new school term. She had moved up from Hertfordshire with her husband Alex and their three children after he got a new job in the town.
Her 17-year-old son Leon is autistic and struggles with change. The family was clear with Larkfleet that a garden was a necessity so that Leon could go outside. They’ve been unable to use their garden since they moved in back in October 2018 because Larkfleet have failed to finish it. Leon has been prescribed Vitamin D by his doctor because he was not getting enough sunlight.
Jennifer said: "It's bad enough when you're a straight forward family but when you have a child who has the issues Leon has, it becomes more difficult. We moved here so he could have some more independence and Larkfleet sold themselves as a family-friendly company. Their customer care is shocking.”
Ryan Reeves, who grew up on the Beanfield estate, bought a house in Merlin Road in November last year. He’s also suffered a series of issues. He said: “I spent £215,000 on my first house and I felt really proud but now I feel I’ve got nothing to show for it.”
His neighbour, a serviceman who we cannot name, cannot use his own driveway because it has been laid incorrectly and, as a consequence, his garage floods every time there is rain.
Aimee Fogg, who lives in nearby Kestrel Road, found 100 issues the week she moved into her £259,000 townhouse. That was despite a five-month delay because the house wasn’t ready, which forced her to live at Billing Aquadrome.
She said: "We thought we were being picky but then we found so much more. It was meant to be perfect."
Jordan and Stacey Cuff heard horror stories before they even moved into their home in Merlin Road. They had a gas leak over Christmas and maggots through their doors that had not been correctly fitted.
Stacey said: “This is meant to be our forever home, our family home. It was our big investment and we wanted it to be perfect.
"But we haven't been able to make it a home."
Stacie Smith was first featured in a Northants Telegraph story back in March, which prompted her neighbours to come forward. But she says there have been no improvements despite the negative publicity. Just 70 of their 230 snags have been fixed and her husband Marc has been left stressed, unable to eat and taking time off work. Larkfleet promised at the time to investigate their issues but no investigation appears to have taken place.
Neil Poole rents a house in Merlin Road with his wife Claire and daughters Sophie and Elicia. When the family went on holiday they returned to water pouring through a bedroom ceiling, which was not acknowledged by Larkfleet for five days.
He said: "We really like the estate and we had a long-term plan to purchase a Larkfleet home.
"That plan has gone out of the window and now we're getting to the point where we are looking to move out.”
Danielle Lynes lives in the same row of Merlin Road homes and faced issues so severe she had to move out for five nights.
Plumbing issues caused three leaks in their bathroom with one causing such damage to the house’s structural timber frame it had to be cut out and repaired. Workmen fitting one bedroom window plastered over air vents, floors and ceilings are uneven and they struggle to sleep when it rains because of a hollow roof.
Jadelouise York moved into a one-bedroom home just around the corner in Redwing Place two-and-a-half years ago and still has fixes outstanding.
She said that when she first moved in the snags amounted to 28 pages of A4 paper. All of the doors in her house have been replaced at least once due to bowing.
Dean and Tracy Durrant, who live in Merlin Road, say they feel ‘fairly lucky’ with their home compared to some of their neighbours - but remain concerned as they still have issues despite just passing the two-year guarantee.
Our request to interview a Larkfleet Homes representative was unsuccessful. We asked the developer a series of questions including whether they would offer compensation to the affected families, whether they've taken action against any of the firms involved in the errors, and how any potential house buyers could reasonably expect a Larkfleet home to be the perfect house they are marketed as given the extent of the problems at Priors Hall.
In response, a Larkfleet Homes spokesman said: “Unfortunately, some of our work at Priors Hall Park has not met the expectations of our customers and some of them have experienced problems with their homes. We appreciate that this is causing frustration for those concerned.
“We take our customer care responsibilities very seriously, with a system in place to handle issues in line with the consumer code. This is an ongoing matter, and it is not appropriate to
discuss the details relating to specific properties or customers within the media, but every problem that has been identified is being dealt with on an individual basis with those customers concerned.
“We are progressing a number of inspections to find out exactly what is wrong and how this has happened, and we are working with customers to put those things right. We are also
working with Local Authority Building Control, the provider of the warranty on these homes, to ensure that any work we carry out is completed to accepted house-building industry standards.
“Additional staff have been appointed to ensure that we carry out work as swiftly as possible and with the minimum disruption to residents. We apologise unreservedly to those customers who have been affected, and would like to take the opportunity to thank them for their continued patience throughout this process. Any customers that need to get in touch with us relating to an outstanding issue, or would simply like an update, can contact [email protected] or the individual assigned to their case.”
Over the coming days we will tell you more about the issues facing these families, how they have been let down time and again, and the response from the authorities.