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What are non-standard properties and why are they problematic?

You may be intrigued by the idea of owning a quirky property that’s different from the usual homes for sale. But when you’re looking to buy residential property in today’s market, daring to be different can be harder than you think.

Unfortunately, when it comes to financing your purchase or obtaining home insurance for your new unique home, most lenders and insurers won’t share your enthusiasm for individuality. A property that’s built from anything other than standard bricks and mortar will take you into ‘specialist’ territory, meaning fewer providers prepared to take the risk, a much narrower choice of financial products, and higher premiums.

What is meant by ‘standard’ and ‘non-standard’ construction?

In the eyes of mortgage and insurance companies, it all comes down to the building materials and methods used. Standard construction for residential properties is generally defined as the walls being made from bricks and mortar or stone, and the property having a slate or tiled roof.

Non-standard houses, by extension, are built from materials that don’t conform to the ‘standard’ definition. These present a higher commercial risk when it comes to repairs, refurbishments and rebuilding costs on account of the specialist materials, building methods and labour skills required for these unconventional homes. What’s more, some non-standard materials may have a shorter lifespan, pose a greater fire risk or are susceptible to damp or other serious building problems.

Types of non-standard properties

Lots of residential properties – new and old – are built using materials that fall outside of the standard definition. You may not even realise that when you’re looking at quaint flint cottages in the countryside, historic homes in the city or quirky eco homes made from innovative materials, you could be heading into non-standard territory. Even regular buildings that have non-standard roofing materials – shingle, thatch, plastic, rubber – may throw up unexpected problems.

Regardless of the exact object of your desire, if you have your heart set on one of these unconventional beauties, whether you’re a cash buyer or need finance, it’s more important than ever to get a surveyor involved. A building condition survey will provide you with a detailed analysis of the condition of the property in question, including advice on defects, repairs and maintenance schedules. Mortgage companies may additionally insist on a structural engineer’s report before agreeing to lend on a non-standard building.

Here are some of the main examples of non-standard properties that you are likely to encounter:

• Timber framed houses

Standard-build houses typically consist of an inner supporting wall made of concrete blocks and an outer supporting wall made of brick. With timber framed buildings, the inner wall is made from timber while the outer wall can be clad in brick, stone, render or timber boarding. The wooden frame’s susceptibility to fire is cited as the main reason for their unpopularity with lenders and insurers, though many historic timber framed buildings, some going back to the 15th century, are still standing.

• Wattle and daub

Wattle and daub is an ancient method of building dating back to over 6,000 years. The wattle framework is fashioned by way of a reed lattice inserted between the structural timber framework. Daub, a mixture of mud, straw and manure, is pressed into the lattice and left to dry solid. Repairs to wattle and daub structures are not something your average builder would have the skill to carry out; specialist treatment is required.

• Cob

A natural building material mixed from subsoil, water, lime and straw or similar, cob house construction is one of the oldest building methods, going back hundreds if not thousands of years. Mostly found in Devon and across the South West, cob is an extremely hardwearing material but one that needs specialist construction knowledge to maintain its strength and moisture resistant properties.

• Clunch

Another traditional, natural building material that is mainly found in Eastern England, clunch is made of chalky limestone rock. Buildings made from clunch have been found to be less durable than those constructed with standard building materials, particularly when it comes to withstanding pressure. Not surprisingly, this makes it tricky to get a mortgage for a clunch home.

• Bungaroosh

Bungaroosh is a composite building material commonly used in 18th and 19th century house building in the South East, and almost exclusively in the Brighton & Hove area. It uses a broad mixture of materials including bricks and broken bricks, cobblestones, flint and pebbles alongside sand and bits of wood, but is known to have poor water resistance.

• Steel framed houses

A modern method of construction that is both affordable and lightweight, steel frame constructions are non-combustible but may warp in a fire, causing untold issues that could affect the entire structure. One type of steel framed construction, BISF houses built by the British Iron and Steel Federation from 1946, also have asbestos containing roofs and suffer from corrosion in humid conditions.

• Prefab / modular houses

Prefab homes built off-site and assembled in situ largely came into use after WWII as a temporary solution to the housing shortage. Modern modular houses are a far cry from the old (and largely negative) prefab stereotypes. Many occupy the luxury end of the housing market, often showing considerable architectural merit. Due to the nature of their construction, whole sections of the structure may need to be replaced if  damage, making repairs costly.

• Concrete houses

Constructed from concrete blocks or pre-cast reinforced concrete (PRC), this type of non-standard construction was also very popular after WWII and produced many desirable homes from a lightweight, hardwearing and fireproof material. Sadly, concrete deterioration and cracking, steel support corrosion and weakening have made this material unpopular with lenders.

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