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Home buyers’ remorse?

The UK’s new home builders are seeing a real bounce-back after the 8-year low of 2020. New home registrations were up 25% in 2021 – a total of over 150,000 new properties.

New homes are certainly springing up in my area, with all the major housebuilders making the most of booming prices. It’s a bit of a weird hobby of mine, but I like to go and take a nosy at the show homes (particularly the ones I can’t afford!). But these days, I’m checking out more than the latest styles in wallpaper. I’m interested in seeing what the housebuilders are offering in terms of heating systems.

And guess what? Every new home I’ve looked at in the past few weeks has a gas boiler for heating and hot water. Except for one or two small projects around the UK, housebuilders aren’t offering buyers a choice of heating system. And I can tell you from experience that the sales reps tend to look a bit nonplussed if you even ask about a heat pump option.

Of course, there is absolutely nothing legally wrong with what the builders are doing. They are entitled to build homes with gas boilers, particularly as new houses coming out of the ground right now are covered by Part L 2016.

But I wonder if buyers paying anything up to £500,000 or above are aware that within a few months, those houses are going to be behind the curve on renewable heating systems? It’s like a new-model smartphone launching six months after you’ve upgraded. Only this time, you’ve spent a lot more cash. That’s buyers’ remorse on a grand scale.

The 2021 Part L ‘uplift’ comes into force officially from June 2022, but a ‘transition period’ of twelve months allows for homes already in the planning process. Construction of the new dwelling must be underway before June 2023 for it to fall under the current (Part L 2016) rules. So there are plenty of homes that could still be coming onto the market with gas boilers as far down the line as the end of 2023.

Although government offered the transition period to allow housebuilders time to grasp the new requirements, I am not sure it’s fair on new home buyers, who are largely unaware of what changes the new Part L will introduce.

This is not simply about installing heat pump technology. Part L 2021 requires that every home on a new estate is airtightness tested (not just a sample); that there are photographs of major fittings at handover to demonstrate proper installation; and generally more focus on delivering better overall energy performance. You are getting a much better product under Part L 2021.

The result is that someone who buys a new home in April 2021 and wants to sell five years later may find they’re out of pocket because homes built under the new rules are better quality. Either the seller or the buyer of that property will have to consider the potential costs of additional insulation, new windows and the installation of heat pump heating to bring it up to the standards of homes built just a few years later.

Market transformation can be a great way to bring about significant change to benefit the environment. Look at how electric car sales are taking off. Car buyers understand why they should invest in electric and are willing to spend their money. As a result, vehicle manufacturers are switching to electric vehicle manufacturing on a huge scale. I think the same could be achieved with lowering the carbon footprint and increasing the energy efficiency of our new houses.

But if government wants the market to take the lead on reducing the carbon footprint of new homes, then it can’t just focus on being fair to the housebuilders. Homebuyers should also understand what the new regulations mean for the value of their homes so they can use the power of their spending to change the way houses are built. I am certain that if consumers were made aware of what’s coming, I wouldn’t be the only one in the show-home asking about heat pumps.

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