WHEN PR executive Heather Scott moved into a new six-bedroom detached house in the East Lothian village of East Saltoun, she wanted to be sure it had been finished to the high standards she expected. Homes on the exclusive 21-property estate sell for £350,000 upwards – and at that price it wasn’t an unreasonable request.
As is standard practice, she did a tour of the house with the developer before she was handed the keys and was asked to point out any defects she could spot. As a layperson she found only two. But she chose to seek a professional opinion.
“We didn’t have the expertise to know what we should be looking for but I wanted to make sure the house was checked by an expert,” she says. “I hadn’t heard of ‘snagging’ at the time but I did some research on the internet and I found a company that provided detailed inspections.”
She paid 400 for an inspection which lasted two and a half hours and turned up 77 “snags” – from minor defects such as a scratch on a window, to more significant things like problems with guttering.
“It might seem a lot of money, but when I think of the amount of money it might save us, I think it’s worth its weight in gold,” she says.
While one of the prime reasons for buying a new-build property should be the knowledge that your home will be pristine and maintenance-free, for an increasing number of buyers, moving into a new home means compiling a lengthy list of defects. Fed up with second-rate finishes and unfulfilled promises, buyers are turning to a new saviour: the professional snagger. Snagging companies, which provide detailed inspections of all aspects of a new property, estimate that the average new-build home can contain anywhere between 60 and 120 flaws or “snags” – defects from the major to the minor which the untrained eye rarely spots – found in the 20,000 or so new homes built each year in Scotland.
As homebuyers become more aware of the potential pitfalls when making the biggest purchase of their lives, some are now willing to pay for a thorough “snag-spotting report” that goes well beyond the basics of a normal structural survey.
As Scott says: “Most of the things that were pointed out, we would never have noticed because we are not experts in house building.”
These “snagging” lists are an accepted part of the building trade. When a construction project is finished, site foremen and inspectors normally carry out detailed checks to highlight the dozens of defects that inevitably remain after the main work has been completed.
For individual homebuyers to hire private snaggers is something of a new departure. Even so, Scott does not see the 77 “snags” reported in her in a nine-page report as a criticism of the builders. She views it as extra information on flaws – most of them minor – that perhaps no-one would ever have noticed. “It is a conundrum,” she says. “The builders have worked with us throughout and the houses are done to a good standard but I hope they will take notice of the report.”
BUT A SPOKESMAN for the House Builders Federation, the trade body for private-sector house builders, said snagging services were not necessary.
“All new-build homes come with a warranty and they are inspected anyway before any mortgages go ahead,” he says. “It is a matter for the individual, but these services are very expensive. They may provide reassurance – but are they necessary? No. A homeowner moving into a new home will ascertain any problems that there might be by living in it. They will discover the snags for themselves. Do you really need to pay somebody else to find those problems for you?”
New Build Inspections, the company which completed Scott’s report, operates across the UK. It employs some 30 inspectors from a variety of backgrounds linked to the building trade – from architects and surveyors to developers themselves.
“We have only been going for four months but already we have had fantastic feedback from customers,” says managing director Catriona Bright. “Most people have no idea what they should be looking for – it’s not just internal things such as the paintwork and plastering, it extends to all the exteriors as well, like the fences and driveways.”
ACCORDING TO THE rules of the National House Building Council, new-build homeowners have two years after taking possession of a property in which to report snagging defects to the developer, who is then obliged to put them right. But Bright claims that some builders encourage customers to notify them of problems within seven days.
“Some developers have their own snagging inspectors, but very few because it’s not in their interests. But in our experience when a third-party expert is involved they do take notice and make the improvements. They take it far more seriously and accept the defects.”
With an estimated 2.4 million snagging defects across the 20,000 new-build properties constructed in Scotland last year alone, the potential market for professional snaggers is enormous.
“The trouble is people don’t realise when a snag is a snag,” says Bright. “Sometimes they think it’s just a scratch and just dismiss it. But when you’ve paid a lot of money for a brand new house, you deserve perfection.