The year 2009 can be captured in two words: The economy. It dominated the headlines and saw governments engage in huge stimulus spending in an effort to rescue us from an impending recession. At Tarion, we feared the Ontario housing market might collapse. We worried about how declining new home enrolments and reduced home enrolment fees would impact our ability to deliver the level of service that homeowners and builders require.
Fortunately, enrolments did not decline as precipitously as we had forecast. While we had anticipated that just below 30,000 new homes would be enrolled in the warranty program during 2009, this number actually reached 47,649. However, we realized that the market would not recover quickly and we would have to become a much more efficient organization over time without compromising customer service.
Challenging times can often prove an inspiration. At Tarion we took this past year to reach out to our stakeholders and let them tell us how we could become a better organization. You spoke and we listened.
We engaged a market research firm to help us survey both our customer groups: homeowners and builders so that we could learn more about what they feel we do well and where we could improve. We heard from more than 10,000 homeowners representing all stages of the seven year warranty—the first time Tarion has completed a survey of this magnitude. We conducted a similar survey among 275 active builders. A fuller description of the results can be found in the Providing Services and Support section of this report.
We also commissioned The Hay Group to survey our employees. The results of this research are important because the way staff view the organization directly impacts the service they provide to customers. In terms of overall results our employee engagement score was three per cent higher than the results of a similar survey conducted in 2007 and 10 per cent higher than a group of 500 North American companies that participated in a similar survey. The detailed findings are being analyzed and will be used to improve employee training.
Last year we also negotiated a new Accountability Agreement with the Ministry of Consumer Services that will provide further transparency to consumers. In addition we launched the first of what will now be annual public meetings to provide all of our stakeholders with the opportunity to hear about our business and financial results as well as meet and interact with the Tarion Board of Directors and senior management.
In an effort to improve public consultation, Tarion established a Non Builder Industry Expert Group which provides an avenue for us to consult with professionals from the residential construction industry on our policy development process. This group includes home inspectors, building officials, condominium corporation representatives and other interested parties. We also made an improvement to our corporate governance with the creation of a Regulatory Affairs Committee, made up of members of our Board, that will oversee regulation changes going forward. In 2010 we will be expanding this effort to include formal public consultation on key policies and regulations.
On the education front, we developed a new homeowner welcome package that will be delivered to purchasers within the first 30 days after they take possession of their new home. It includes a 10-Minute Warranty Guide DVD and highlights key dates and useful tools such as MyHome, our homeowner portal launched last year to allow homeowners the convenience of managing their warranty online. We also established educational webinars to help purchasers better understand the warranty.
In addition, we re-instated a past practice that has the potential to significantly reduce the time and expense of conciliation inspections for builders, consumers and Tarion. It is an outreach program in which our staff intervenes early in the warranty process to help homeowners understand what is covered and ensure builders are honouring their warranty obligations. We will be monitoring this program throughout 2010 and expect it to improve our overall service effectiveness.
We think all of these initiatives have made Tarion more accessible and responsive to our stakeholders. Our objective in 2010 will be to build on these accomplishments, while continuing to be open to change and willing to listen to the voices we were created to serve at Tarion Warranty Corporation.