Snagging – the very name is enough to put you off. No one likes having to deal with problems or hitches. But for anyone who buys a newly built or converted property, the S-word can be crucial. Do it right and you could save yourself thousands of pounds. Do it wrong and you could end up with a problem property.

Ask Derek Charlton. He and his wife Susie had exchanged contracts on a new four-bedroom house in Peebles, near Edinburgh, and were waiting to move in. ‘The house was part of a small luxury estate and, as we needed a bigger place with a garden for us and our growing family, it was just what we were looking for,’ says Charlton. Just before they completed on the £240,000 home, the couple’s solicitor advised them to ‘snag’ the property.

‘Snagging? I’d never heard of the word and so I asked our solicitor to explain,’ says Charlton, a clothing store manager. Snagging, as he was to find out, means checking over a property for defects and poor finishing. This can be anything from poor paintwork to badly hung doors, broken window-catches and faulty sockets.

This wise move was rapidly followed by another. The couple contacted a professional snagging company and paid just under £350 for an inspector to help with their survey. Snagging day arrived and the little team found 90 defects in the Scottish new-build.

‘As the average for a house or flat is five snags per room, it was unusually high. Most snags are cosmetic, ranging from poor plastering and paintwork to scratched tiles and screws with no plastic caps,’ says Catriona Bright, managing director of the snagging company New Build Inspections (NBI).

Big snags are another prospect altogether, as the Charltons were about to discover. ‘When we went into the kitchen, Susie and I threw up our hands in horror,’ says Derek. ‘It was in two distinct colours. It was meant to have a cedar finish, but the kitchen company ran out of cedar units and completed the job with teak finish.’

There was more to come. The patio doors leading to the back garden would not budge. ‘Luckily our inspector knew about such things and noted that the glass panels were slightly bigger than the door frames and had been bodged in by the builders. It meant they were totally immovable,’ says Derek.

Suddenly the family’s enthusiasm for their dream home started to pall. ‘Because we had paid a 10 per cent unreturnable deposit, there was no going back and we simply had to continue with the transaction,’ says Charlton, who proceeded to wise move number three.

He and his wife sent a report of their findings to the Edinburgh-based developer – backed by an even more detailed report from the snagging company. Then came wise move number four. The couple talked to their solicitor, who advised them to insert a ‘retention clause’ in their completion contract. This is a sum – in this case £10,000 – that is held back until all the snags in a property are put right. ‘It puts a real stranglehold on the developer,’ says Bright.

Not surprisingly, the Charltons’ kitchen and patio doors were replaced in a week. Property investor Jonathan Cartwright was not so lucky. After buying two bijou apartments in a Liverpool new-build, he decided to inspect them before letting them out. ‘When I checked over the apartments, I found poorly fitted tiles in both bathrooms, several kitchen units that needed replacing and a glass door with a hole in it – plus 80 or so other defects,’ says Cartwright.

The young investor then approached his developers and asked them to sort out the defects. Six weeks later he is still waiting. Unlike the Charltons, Cartwright snagged his property after completion, not before. ‘It was only when I heard about it from a friend that I knew anything about it,’ he says. ‘Now I’m on the phone every day trying to get the developers to do the work.’

NBI’s Bright says: ‘All properties should have ‘try before you buy’ and 14-day cooling-off periods. We advise the homebuyers who come to us to make regular checks during the building phase of their new-build or conversion property and to snag it five days before completion so they have time to manoeuvre and negotiate with the developers.’

David Erica of Surrey-based chartered surveyors Roy Ilott and Associates says: ‘UK developers are mainly profit-driven. If they make a sizable margin on a new-build development or conversion, they’ll usually be happy to send in a team of six or eight within a couple of weeks to put right any snagging problems. If their profits are tight, they’re far less likely to do so.’

The other snag, it seems, is ignorance. ‘Most home-buyers haven’t heard of snagging,’ says Bright. ‘Developers are invariably reluctant to mention it, and the only way most people find out is through a friend or neighbour or their conveyancing solicitor. It’s time it was on the checklist of every independent financial adviser and mortgage broker.’

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