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Why not buy a former council house?

WDB5 Council house
Former council house

Why not buy a former council house?

Often RICS valuers will comment that there is a negative effect of a property being an ex-local authority house. We tend to take a different view. You can get very good value for money because ex-council houses are often solidly built and in convenient locations.

The residents on such estates have often lived there for long periods of time. Many may have purchased their houses under the Right to Buy scheme. If you can see that the properties on an estate vary significantly in the details, probably the right to buy has been exercised frequently!  For instance, look for changed window openings, roof coverings of a different style, render being applied to brick faced buildings and extensions being added.

Financial considerations

You can often buy such properties at a discount. However, be aware of an element of risk with regards to ex local authority housing that has purchased under Right to Buy. Your solicitor should check on potential buy-back arrangements or the correct time-period having elapsed between purchase from the Local Authority and the period within which there is no claw back on the price.

Designs and Acronyms

1920s Stock

Local authority properties constructed before the Second World War are often well-built and to an exact design such as the early 1920’s REA25s.  These were built in Seamills, Bedminster and Hillfields.  They were built in terraces of four houses, often with an alleyway through the middle; they have hipped roofs at each end.  A similar design is the BOA25s. These styles led the way in council housing in Bristol, designed and built by the Local Authority.

The later Bristol-designed WSA2 makes up some of the 1920’s housing stock; they are readily recognisable and found in large numbers in Shirehampton and Hillfields. These normally have a large open plan Kitchen and an open plan Lounge running front to back.

1930s Stock

In the 1930’s the WDB5 made up a large proportion of the council housing stock. These are found in Southmead, Horfield, Bedminster and Knowle, and tend to front the wider roads in the area. They were called ‘parlour houses’ as they had a separate front parlour or snug, normally later used as a Dining Room. They were also equipped with small cupboards and had a coal shed on the ground floor running from side to side across the back. The small cupboards and parlour walls created fussy little rooms; these have normally been removed and large open plan lounges and kitchen-diners created.

In the later 1930’s a collaboration between two architects created the HBA2 on council estates in Horfield and St Annes Park. These were fairly common and had a touch of flair – the four-house terraces are completed with a dutch gable type front with sloping eaves. These are becoming very popular due to their large gardens and close proximity to Gloucester Road. The valley roof constructions of this type of flared gable front can suffer from water ingress issues. However these are relatively easy to fix and once done correctly can give many years of trouble-free service.

More Acronyms

We have only touched on the extent of pre Second World War council housing around Bristol. There are many other codes that the design departments used to refer to their houses such as the A2, CEA2, D5, CNH25 and HBB2. These were normally abbreviated from the original designer’s initials. There were other speciality designs such as the “aged couples flats”.This terminology may not be politically correct nowadays, but is a reminder of a bygone era.

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Gardens

Gardens

Landscaping

An attractively landscaped garden is a great feature, but it requires maintenance, time and effort.  Is that decking going rotten? Is it dangerously slippery? Are there broken paving slabs or loose handrails to steps? Is there a pond that may be hazardous to small children?

Boundaries

First look at the size and shape of the garden; can you tell where the boundaries lie?  Does it seem regular and consistent with neighbouring gardens?  Often concrete posts are used to divide properties and demark the boundaries; see if these are visible. Is there access from a walkway or alley at the back or side of the property? How secure is the back gate?

Fences

Are the fences damaged? The cost of replacing a simple panel fence set in concrete in the ground is around £80/linear metre. Disposal of damaged material is extra. This may seem a simple DIY job but don’t overlook the cost of materials mounting up.Some sources suggest that a fence constructed to the British Standard (1722) should last around 15 years. However,careful treatment every couple of years will significantly extend the life.

You might try gently and discreetly leaning on the fence to test for movement!

Walls

Walls are constructed of many differing types of materials. They may be retaining significant amounts of soil, especially on terraced sites.  Hence,there should be holes to allow the soil to drain. Look for cracks or significant leans. Again like fences, the cost of disposing of a damaged wall is very time consuming, heavy and costly, before it is even rebuilt. We estimate £120 per square metre to simply rebuild a wall that is 9” or 220 mm in thickness, assuming that the foundations are acceptable and that does not include disposal of the old wall.

Plants

The words “Japanese Knotweed” strike fear into the heart of any home owner, let alone a purchaser. And this is becoming more common in Bristol and we are receiving more and more calls to confirm its identification. We have found it from Clifton to St George and St Pauls to Fishponds, to name a few areas. But it can be eradicated! So, if you see a plant you don’t recognise, Google images will help, but be wary of a quick identification as many plants look very similar. Some web sites do offer free identification from photographs, but often they do not respond if they are busy so don’t expect too much for free.

Trees and Hedges

Again trees can cause concerns for even the most experienced purchaser. If you are viewing in winter, remember that full summer foliage will shut out daylight. Leaf falls from nearby trees block gutters and drains. Tree roots can damage the foundations and drains, causing subsidence issues.  Such roots can lift paving, too.  Remember the rule of thumb that the height of the tree is often the spread of the roots.

is the tree a particularly large or a striking specimen,if so ask the vendor if there are any Tree Preservation Orders in place. If so, even basic maintenance will need planning permission!

And those high, thick hedges will require cutting regularly in the growing season, as well as draining all the moisture from the adjacent flower beds.

 

Floors

FLOORS

Floors aren’t just places to put soft carpets or smart tiles. They are integral to the structure of the building, providing support for the internal walls. Hence they need to be firm and reasonably level.

They are generally either ‘solid’ or of suspended timber.

Solid Floors

These are made of concrete and can be found as the ground floors of properties of any age. They may be original to the property or put in place when the house was refurbished later. They are very  common in 1950’s housing as the shortage of timber meant concrete was a cost-effective alternative.

Such floors should incorporate a damp proof membrane that should link to a damp proof course. This is an area of potential weakness! Solid floors in older properties can be problematic as often they have replaced original ‘breathing’ timber floors. So if you find solid floors in a Victorian house, look out for blistered decorative finishes near floor level, caused by dampness. Look for any movement in the floor – is it flat and level? If not, this can suggest a chemical attack or poor laying technique.

How do you tell a solid floor from a timber one?

Some properties have solid floors in parts of the ground floor (particularly extensions) with suspended timber in other rooms. And there are likely to be fitted carpets or parquet flooring, ceramic tiles or vinyl covering the floors.

The easiest way to differentiate between solid concrete and suspended timber is the “heel drop test”. Basically, stamping or jumping on the floor! Is there is any give to the floor or reverberation of the furniture in the room?  Then chances are that it is a suspended timber floor. If it is hard and your body jars, then it is likely to be a solid floor.

Is there noticeable reverberation when you impact the timber floor? If so, this may suggest issues with the joists beneath –  perhaps they are damaged or undersized. This applies to both ground floor and upper floors.

It is also very common in certain areas for timber floors to slope. The agents refer to “Easton Creep” in BS5 postcodes, as most properties there have settled over time and the floors slope. As long as the movement is not on-going, this is acceptable. Assuming you can live with it?!

Beneath the Suspended Timber Floor

Timber floors are vulnerable to any dampness as timber will decay when in a damp situation. And the ground underneath a building is damp!

Substantial decay in timber has a very distinct mushroom smell , so use your nose! What can you smell? Take a look outside – are there plenty of airbricks?  These should be present to both front and rear of the house with suspended timber floors. They allow air to circulate beneath the house to prevent condensation and rising damp building up, decaying the supporting timbers. Even when an older property (say Victorian) has been “damp proofed”, remember that the floor joists are still likely to be built into damp walls.

 

Floor boards

Frequently in older properties, floor boards show evidence of wood worm when uncovered. Are there any lighter coloured holes or small tracks on the timber? This may suggest an active infestation and may indicate that there are further infestations out of sight, possibly in the joists or rafters.  And an infestation may prove costly and disruptive to treat to prevent it spreading.  Treatment  includes lifting the floor boards and spraying the undersides of them.

Are there loose floorboards beneath the carpets? These can form a trip hazard and make a lot of noise when walked on. The soles of your feet are useful tools! Offer to take off your shoes when entering a property  – especially if the vendor is there!  This not only shows respect but will give you the opportunity to feel through the carpets for any loose boards.When these are split, cutting new boards and securing them correctly can be very time consuming.

In newer or refurbished properties, chipboard is often laid over the joists, especially on upper floors. Chipboard will sag over time anyway.  And new floors are often installed fast, meaning they are seldom are well laid with supports where the joints meet.  So these chipboard floors often creak! How much noise can you tolerate? Can you live with the creaking?

What is on top of the floors?

Do check the condition of the floor coverings, which can be costly to repair or replace.

Where high quality solid timber or engineered floor coverings have been laid on a DIY basis,  the joints can open up or sections can lift, due to poor fitting and thermal expansion. Re-laying floors of this type is expensive.

Are those ceramic or slate tiles cracked? If so, will the pattern and size be easy to match if necessary? Runs of tiles only last say 5 years so replacements may be hard to obtain.

When laminate is mopped many times, it tends to absorb water at the joints (called crowning); then it is unsightly and can be a trip hazard.

In properties built around the 1950s – 1970s, plastic type tiles were used which often contain asbestos.  Sometimes these can be identified by their deep colouring, commonly red, green or dark brown.

And do ask what carpets will be included in the sale, as well as those matching curtains…