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Buying a Steel Frame House

Zenyx Griffiths

Written by

8th Sep 2021 (Last updated on 17th Sep 2021) 7 minute read

Steel frame houses are considered as ‘non-standard construction’ or ‘non-traditional’ properties. If you’re considering buying or selling a steel frame house, know that there will be added implications when it comes to finding insurance, a mortgage and a property survey.

Steel frame houses are built using a modern method of construction and will often have great strength to weight ratios. However, some steel frame properties will be difficult to notice at first due to the external brickwork, render or other types of cladding. If you’re looking to purchase a steel frame home, it’s advised you arrange a building survey (level 3 home survey) to thoroughly inspect the home before finalising the transaction.

Compare My Move work with a number of professional property and finance experts to create insightful guides that will aid you through the process of buying and selling property. In this article, we will discuss the differences between a steel frame house and a brick house, the type of mortgage you will require to purchase one and the complications you may face throughout the process.

This article will cover the following:
  1. Steel Frame Houses vs Brick Houses
  2. Can You Get a Mortgage on a Steel Frame House?
  3. Problems With Steel Frame Houses
  4. Why Do You Need a Building Survey (Level 3 Survey)?
  5. Is it Difficult to Sell a Steel Frame House?
  6. Should You Buy a Steel Frame Building?
  7. Next Steps of Buying a House

Steel Frame Houses vs Brick Houses

Brick-built houses are considered as the standard or traditional construction in the UK, with the vast majority of properties being built this way. According to The Architect’s Journal, an estimated 150,000 steel houses have been built in the UK. It is a rare and more recent form of construction that became popular after the Second World War as the increase in demand required additional, temporary houses.

When building traditional brick properties, the builders will lay a concrete foundation and erect the walls on top of that using layers of bricks and mortar. The floors and internal roof will then mostly be made from wood. Most steel construction, however, will involve mild, light or hot rolled steel - the term for this is light gauge steel construction.

When constructing a steel frame property, the builders will require a number of light steel gauge members that consist of thin sheets of steel that are measured at around 1-3mm wide. These sheets will have previously been cut and constructed into the correct shape needed for the foundation panels.

Various lengths of light steel will be used to frame the property similarly to the way timber studs are used. These will be attached to the concrete foundation where a variety of materials could then be used to complete the final structure of the house. These materials could include any type of render such as bricks or cement. The design of the frame in question should have been developed in line with the architecture’s original design.

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Can You Get a Mortgage on a Steel Frame House?

It’s generally easier to purchase a steel frame house as a cash buyer as it can be fairly difficult to get a mortgage on such a property. It’s not impossible to get a mortgage on a steel frame house, but it’s advised you seek the help of a mortgage broker to ensure you find the correct lender.

Many mortgage lenders will be quite restrictive about the type of steel frame properties they are willing to lend on, especially if they have previous experience with a defective home. Some lenders may not even grant mortgages on this type of house at all as they are non-traditional properties.

When assessing a mortgage application for a steel frame house, most mortgage lenders will define the properties as 1 of 3 categories:

A - The home is mortgageable in its original condition.

B - The property could be mortgageable 'following an approved scheme of repair'.

C - It is defective and therefore unmortgageable.

Non-Standard Construction Mortgages

One option available when buying a steel frame house is to apply for a non-standard construction mortgage. These mortgages will be different compared to mortgages for standard buildings as a non-traditional property can be a risk to the lender.

Before obtaining a mortgage application, you will need to know what type of non-standard property you’re purchasing by arranging a home survey. If the property is indeed a steel frame building, you can apply for a non-standard construction mortgage.

Problems With Steel Frame Houses

1. Potential Structural Issues

Many types of steel frame properties can develop structural issues, causing the building quality to be questioned. This also makes the houses much more difficult to sell, insure and get a mortgage on. Steel can corrode severely, adding to the potential safety issues. This corrosion isn’t always easy to detect and you may instead require an intrusive survey to open up the walls.

2. Poor Insulation and Energy Efficiency

Steel conducts heat around 300-400 times faster than wood and reduces the insulating properties of the walls by approximately 60%. This could result in the property receiving a rather poor EPC rating.

3. Steel Frames Aren’t Always Easy to Detect

When you first view the property, you may not be able to tell that it’s a steel frame house. This makes it even more difficult to detect any issues or defects. Whilst subsidence in brick houses will result in large cracks around windows and door frames, you may require an experienced and specialist surveyor to detect even the smallest of issues in a steel frame home.

4. Non-Standard Construction

As steel frame properties are regarded as non-standard construction properties, you may potentially need to arrange a more intrusive survey as well as a Level 3 Home Survey, which can greatly increase your overall costs. This survey will provide you with further information on the condition of the property and its structure as the body of the steel frames will be beneath layers of render.

5. Maintenance Can Sometimes Be Difficult

When dealing with a steel frame house, special tools will be required for its maintenance. It can be rather difficult to make adjustments to the panels should you encounter inaccuracies and you will likely require the help of a specialist.

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Why Do You Need a Building Survey (Level 3 Survey)?

No matter what type of property you’re buying, you should always arrange a property survey before finalising the sale to ensure it’s a worthy investment. As steel frame houses are classed as non-traditional properties, it’s advised you organise a Home Survey Level 3, previously known as a building survey or full structural survey, as it is the most thorough type of inspection available.

A Level 3 Survey is best suited to properties older than 80-years or those built with non-traditional materials making it the best choice for steel frame houses. However, it would also be helpful to find a RICS property surveyor who has experience in surveying steel frame properties as they will have the vital knowledge required to highlight any hidden defects.

It’s important to note that some surveyors will recommend arranging a second and more intrusive survey to assess the building’s overall safety. Some surveyors will not be completely confident stating that the steel frame home is structurally sound and will advise you to arrange another inspection. This is often due to the unusual form of construction on the building. Who pays for this additional survey must be discussed between the buyer and seller.

Is it Difficult to Sell a Steel Frame House?

Yes, due to problems mentioned earlier in the article, it is generally more difficult to sell a steel frame house compared to a traditional brick house.

Steel frame properties are notoriously difficult to insure and get a mortgage on, meaning many buyers will likely avoid this type of home.

Should You Buy a Steel Frame Building?

There are a number of advantages to purchasing a steel frame house, such as:

  • Steel is a very durable material
  • Steel can cope better with water damage compared to wood
  • There's a high strength to weight ratio
  • Approximately 60% of structural steel sourced in the UK is recycled, according to The Waste Resource Action Programme (WRAP)

However, despite these potential benefits, buying a steel frame property can be a difficult process. The transaction will likely take longer than usual as it’s difficult finding a mortgage lender or even an insurer who is willing to cover a steel building.

It will likely also increase the cost of buying a house as you might require a specialist property surveyor to conduct a rather intrusive survey. You will also require a much more substantial deposit when purchasing the property and could be expected to pay a higher interest rate.

Ultimately, the choice to buy a steel frame house will depend on a number of factors such as your budget and the date you’d wish to complete by. They can be very tough properties to sell so don’t forget to consider the potential issues that may crop up further down the line.

Next Steps of Buying a House

This article is the last of our home buying guide. In the next article, we look at buying at auction. To learn more read buying a house at auction with a mortgage.

Zenyx Griffiths

Before Compare My Move, Zenyx once wrote lifestyle and entertainment articles for the online magazine, Society19 as well as news articles for Ffotogallery.