A family bought a house found hundreds of defects. They could have avoided the heartache, explains Christopher Browne

The McGuire family could hardly contain their excitement when they moved into the five-bedroom house they had just bought on a new estate in Cambridgeshire. “We’d been anticipating the big day for months,” says Hazel McGuire.

However, elation turned to disappointment when the McGuires found many items in their £298,000 house were either faulty, missing or unfinished. “As we’d already had a five-month delay when the top floor was destroyed by fire and had to be rebuilt, we were totally gobsmacked,” says 43-year-old Mrs McGuire, whose husband had just moved jobs from Leeds to London.

Many walls and ceilings had no plaster, the roof was not secured properly, there were holes behind the radiators and next to the electrical sockets, many windows didn’t fit, several walls had no insulation, and most of the kitchen units were damaged or poorly fitted. “It was so dirty that we had to spend three days cleaning it up,” says Mrs McGuire.

When the couple reported all their problems to the developer, the company told them the house was “perfectly adequate”. It did, however, promise to put ceramic tiles on the floors of the two bathrooms and a toilet “as a form of compensation”, says Mrs McGuire, mother of three children aged nine to 20.

But worse was to come. As winter approached, the family discovered the house was getting colder. “Though the central heating was on, the gas fire’s flue wasn’t working properly and so smoke and fumes kept seeping back into the room,” says Simon McGuire. The couple called in a Corgi-registered heating engineer who said that part of the chimney had been blocked with debris.

Over the next few months, the McGuires found fresh defects, had an animated correspondence with the developer and spent £7,000 on legal fees and structural surveys. Then, when one surveyor found more than 300 defects, the couple asked the developer to buy the house back. They are now negotiating a suitable price.

A device called snagging could have saved them all this trouble. This is the system by which a buyer inspects a new-build or conversion property for defects in workmanship or finishing. It’s also the property industry’s answer to try-before- you-buy. If you snag your property before you complete, you can hold back a sum of money that is known as a “retention” until the repair work has been done.

Prudent buyers and investors should always use professionals when they snag – to make sure they don’t miss anything. You can either approach a quantity or building surveyor you know and get it done for a fee of £100-£250 or contact a specialist snagging company. The key national one is New Build Inspections (0845 226 6486) which will send out a former building inspector or site manager to help you snag for £150-£300 (plus VAT).

Though every new-build or conversion is signed off with an NHBC (National House-Builders Council) certificate, some developers try to wriggle out of those nasty little snags by saying they are part of the structure or fabric of a building – both are covered by the two-year NHBC guarantee – and not due to their own poor workmanship. But if you snag before you complete, you will be able to force the developer to carry out the work thanks to that crucial retention.

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