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Buying‌ ‌and‌ ‌Selling‌ ‌a‌ ‌Non-Standard‌ ‌Construction‌ ‌House‌

Zenyx Griffiths

Written by Reviewed by Mike Ashton

13th Sep 2021 (Last updated on 14th Dec 2021) 7 minute read

The UK property industry generally classifies residential property into ‘standard’ (or ‘traditional’) and non-standard (or non-traditional). A standard property usually means one with brick or stone walls and pitched roofs with slate or tile. Anything that doesn’t conform to this is usually considered non-standard construction.

When purchasing a traditional brick and mortar property, the buying process will often be pretty straightforward. However, when buying a non-standard or non-traditional property, you’re more likely to encounter extra considerations. For example, the cost of maintenance and insurance will often be higher and you may struggle to find an appropriate mortgage lender.

As the home of moving home, Compare My Move works alongside a number of experienced property and finance experts to create guides that can successfully aid you through the buying and selling process. In this article, we will discuss the issues that come with buying or selling a non-standard construction property, as well as the importance of arranging a home survey for a property such as this.

This article will cover the following:
  1. What Is The Difference Between Standard and Non-Standard Construction?
  2. Types of Non-Standard Houses
  3. Can You Get a Mortgage on a Non-Standard Construction House?
  4. Problems With Non-Standard Construction Properties
  5. Why Do You Need a Property Survey?
  6. Non-Standard Home Insurance
  7. Next Step of Buying a House

What Is The Difference Between Standard and Non-Standard Construction?

The main difference is the building materials used during the construction. Standard construction for residential homes in the UK generally means bricks and mortar or stone. The roof must be tiled or clad with slate. Non-standard construction means the construction materials do not conform to this standard.

An example of non-standard construction materials would include walls being made from glass or metal and roof coverings being materials such as plastic, steel or thatch.

Non-standard construction properties often come with a higher commercial risk, as the maintenance and repair costs can more be expensive due to their specialist nature. These properties often have a shorter lifespan, a greater fire risk, or can be more susceptible to damp and other structural issues.

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Types of Non-Standard Houses

There are many residential properties across the UK which have been built with non-standard materials - some you may not even initially realise. Anything from standard homes with non-standard roofing materials (such as flat roof homes) to innovative eco-homes could be classed as non-standard construction.

Some common examples of non-standard homes include:

Steel Framed

One type of non-standard construction that is fairly affordable and lightweight is steel framed construction. However, steel frames often corrode over time, may warp in a fire and can often come with the risk of hidden structural issues. Due to these problems, it can be rather difficult to find a willing and appropriate insurer and mortgage lender.

One type of steel frame property is BISF houses built by the British Iron and Steel Federation. They were originally constructed in 1946 and many have since been found to contain asbestos and suffer from severe corrosion.

Timber Framed

In a traditional brick house, the inner wall will usually consist of concrete blocks and the outer wall made of brick. Timber-framed houses, however, have an inner timber frame and an outer wall clad with stone, brick, render or timber boarding.

Timber frame houses have higher susceptibility to fire and damp-related risks, which mean it can be more difficult to find an insurer or mortgage lender willing to accept this type of non-standard construction home.

Prefabricated/Modular

Prefabricated or prefab homes began to appear after the Second World War. The UK required a temporary solution to the housing shortage that occurred after the devastation of the Blitz and so these types of properties were built. They can be very expensive to repair and large sections of the structure may need to be replaced.

Concrete

Many concrete homes will be considered as prefabricated buildings as this was a common material at the time they were built. Concrete properties were often lightweight and hard-wearing. However, concrete can often deteriorate and steel reinforcement will often corrode and weaken, making these properties unpopular amongst mortgage lenders. One example of concrete homes is PRC properties.

Cob

Cob construction is one of the oldest building methods available. It includes a natural building material that consists of water, subsoil, lime and straw, and many similar materials. It is extremely hard-wearing but requires specialist knowledge to maintain. You can find cob properties in many areas of the UK, in particular across the South West and Devon.

Can You Get a Mortgage on a Non-Standard Construction House?

Some specialist mortgage lenders will offer non-standard construction mortgages. Non-standard properties are considered higher risk and more difficult to finance, thus requiring their own mortgage deal.

However, due to these properties being seen as higher risk, many lenders will have their own criteria to follow and will only accept certain types of non-standard construction homes.

It is possible to convert a non-standard property into one that is more mortgageable but it this can take a lot of work and result in a lot of repair costs. To do this, you would either have to modify the building until it’s able to be moved into the ‘standard properties’ category or somehow reduce the amount of structural risk. For example, some buyers will reinforce their steel-framed house to an approved standard to ensure it's safer.

Non-Standard Construction Mortgages in Scotland

Whilst still possible, you may find getting a non-standard construction mortgage more difficult in Scotland compared to England and Wales as fewer mortgage lenders will offer them.

Many non-standard construction lenders in Scotland will have postcode restrictions, meaning it could be difficult finding this type of mortgage in the Highlands or anywhere away from the mainland. If you have a bad credit score, your options will be fewer again.

If you’re considering buying a non-standard construction house, it’s advised you seek advice from a specialist mortgage broker to ensure you have a higher chance of finding the right lender with the best rates for you.

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Problems With Non-Standard Construction Properties

There are a number of problems that can arise when buying a non-standard construction property, meaning you will need to find specialised insurance or mortgage deals. The type of materials used to construct the building will be the biggest factor when it comes to the potential issues that could be found. For example, concrete houses may deteriorate over time and start to crumble, while thatched cottages pose a higher fire risk.

Non-standard construction properties can be difficult to maintain and might need a greater degree of care and specialist help, increasing the repair and maintenance costs. Demand for non-construction homes is lower due to this. Many mortgage lenders will also be wary about these buildings, making it much more difficult to apply for a mortgage.

Why Do You Need a Property Survey?

No matter what type of non-traditional property you’re considering purchasing, it’s always recommended to hire a specialist property surveyor to assess the building. As non-standard construction properties are made from unusual materials and can come with structural issues, the most recommended type of survey to arrange is the Level 3 Home Survey, previously known as a building survey.

The Level 3 Survey will include a thorough and detailed inspection of the home in question, highlighting any potential defects or problems that need consideration. However, it’s also recommended that you find a RICS chartered surveyor who has experience with non-traditional homes as they will have the vital knowledge required to accurately locate hidden defects that other surveyors may overlook or be unsure of.

If necessary, some property surveyors will recommend that you arrange a second, more intrusive survey, to successfully assess the building’s structural safety.

Non-Standard Home Insurance

Due to the increased costs and risks associated with non-standard properties, you will require specialist insurance which could potentially cost more when compared to insuring a traditional house. Finding a specialist insurer can be difficult but it is not impossible. It’s recommended that you find a specialist insurer before buying a non-traditional home to protect your property investments and decrease the chance of losing money.

Many mainstream insurers will not possess the vital specialist knowledge required to accurately assess the risk of the property. This can sometimes lead to them charging too much for premiums or even refusing a quote altogether.

Subsidence

A term dreaded amongst homeowners, subsidence is a common concern that many buyers of both standard and non-standard construction homes will have to consider. Most insurance policies will cover loss or damage from subsidence. However, they will usually only cover the repair cost and not the cost of preventing it - many non-traditional homes will require work and modifications to ensure they are structurally sound. It’s important to note that the excess will likely be higher with these insurance policies as subsidence claims are often expensive for the insurer.

Next Step of Buying a House

This has been part of our home buying guide. Next, we take a look at steel frame houses and the risks that can come with purchasing one. To learn more read buying a steel frame house.

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.

Mike Ashton

Reviewed by Mike Ashton

Director, Cambridge Building Surveyors

With over 20 years of experience in the property surveying industry, Mike Ashton is now the director at Cambridge Building Surveyors.