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interested in house with illegal loft conversion...advice please

(21 Posts)
CarrieBo Wed 24-Jun-09 14:13:02

We're going to view a house tomorrow which ticks every box of what we're looking for - move in condition, lovely garden, conservatory, new kitchen, right catchment area blah blah blah. BUT it has an illegal loft conversion. Its being marketted as a three bed semi with 'boarded loft space' and the EA was very honest about it. He said it doesn't have a dormer so the staircase is illegal - you have to duck your head as you go up. I suspect is more than a matter of just putting a dormer in though, so:

-are we being mad to consider it?
-when we view tomorrow, what other things should we look for that might give an indication of what needs to be done?
-who should we contact for advice - solicitor? builder? loft expert? council?
-as a ball park figure, how much would fitting a dormer cost - £2k? £10k?
-we can use it as a loft, but if a guest spent a night sleeping there, would that invalidate insurance?

Thank you wise ladies of MN!

LIZS Wed 24-Jun-09 14:53:22

You are right it isn't necessarily just a dormer that is the problem. iirc the window in the loft space has to be sized minimum 1/20 of the floor area as an emergency escape plus both the space and stairs need to meet fire regs(such as smoke alarms on all floors, use of fire retardant materials and self closing doors).

Ours was sold as 4 bed with a loft room as it hadn't got buildings regs for the space itself but does for the stairs. It almost certainly complied with regs at the time(15 years ago +) and the staircase was subsequent to the loft (it was built with the loft and the stairs added a year or so later but we have an indemnity policy to cover it. If you contact the council you will not be allowed to have such a policy. Ask a surveyor or builder with loft experience to have a look.

I'm not aware of any insurance issue and we use it as a playroom and occasional bedroom. You could perhaps put velux windows in which are a lot cheaper as a dormer might be £5k +.

Blu Wed 24-Jun-09 15:05:55

You also need to check whether a proper conversion (dormer, staircase) would come within your permitted development, or whether you would need planning permission.

I would check whether any work done had been done within building regs, too. Your solicitor can search that for you, or you should be able to do it through your local council. I checked whether some work to our house had been approved, it wasn't complicated.

PuppyMonkey Wed 24-Jun-09 15:14:33

My friends sold their house with an illegal loft conversion (no building regs) a couple of years back. They knocked quite a bit off the price to the eventual buyers because stuff needed to be sorted out on it.

LIZS Wed 24-Jun-09 16:10:13

As long as it is priced as a 3-bed then there should n't be any need to discount further to allow for any work. View it and see if you like it as it stands. The loft is then a bonus room , to use as you wish. The issue is if you need a 4-bed and it is priced as such.

SusieDerkins Wed 24-Jun-09 16:12:46

Also factor in the costs of having to rip the loft conversion out and reinstate, just in case you are ordered to do so by the council.

ABetaDad Wed 24-Jun-09 16:18:15

CarrieBo - I rented a house that the owner eventually sold and the buyer asked for the owner to go an get retrospective planning permission as a condition of buying the house and at the owners expense. The garage had been converted to a lounge/diner and the owner did agree to the condition of sale, the council surveyor just came round, looked and and it was granted as a matter of formality with a modification to the sewer manhole cover under the floor boards.

Do not buy it in the hope you wil get the permission though. The council may order you to rip it out at your own expense.

Flibbertyjibbet Wed 24-Jun-09 16:37:22

Its not as easy as just fitting a dormer though. you'd need the staircase to comply with building regs re height and angle of stairs which may mean some re arrangement of the first floor. Bedroom ceiling joists are only meant for hanging a ceiling off and are not usually made to take the weight of people/furniture in a loft so most loft conversions put new beams in. Then there is the insulation, plasterboard, electrics to put up there to make it a habitable room. And planning permission for a dormer as it may overlook your neighbours.

if I were you I'd go and look at the house as a 3 bed with a loft thats accessible for storage space. If you like the house then arrange a 2nd viewing with a builder who can give an estimate for a loft conversion.

If you need a 4 bed house then I'd view 4 bed houses, sorry. The work and dust and shit for weeks on end from a proper loft conversion to make a proper bedroom compliant with building regs....

LIZS Wed 24-Jun-09 16:55:39

"Do not buy it in the hope you wil get the permission though. The council may order you to rip it out at your own expense. " An indemnity policy is supposd to mitigate that scenario and reality is very few councils would enforce it unless you wanted to ensure it was officially a "habitable room" ie. to sell as a 4 bed house or make further modification. You/vendor cannot get such a policy if you offically know it hasn't been granted though, which may be what the EA is implying has already occurred (if a previous sale has fallen through when this issue was raised for example).

Blu Wed 24-Jun-09 16:57:00

I have just watched my neighbours have a loft room put in - they needed several big steel beams - one for the dormer, one for the floor and staircase I think.

CarrieBo Wed 24-Jun-09 19:43:15

Thank you for all your advice, really really appreciate your thoughts and its given me lots of ideas of the questions to ask when we go for our first viewing tomorrow.
It is marketed as a 3 bed, and we had been talking today about the loft room being for storage and 'hobbies' - a place for dh's guitars, for train sets as the dcs grow, and for a teenage playroom paradise. But one of dh's colleagues made the same point as Flibbertyjibbet about the joists - so its a key question to know whether or not new beams were put in when the 'conversion' was done.

duckyfuzz Wed 24-Jun-09 19:57:21

I ahven't read all the replies so apols if repeating anything...we bought a 3 bed with illegal loft conversion in 2001, when we came to sell it in 2003 we had months of hassle over it, with buyers pulling out as solicitors weren't happy about the legalities of it. We ended up having to remove it to get a sale, which was loads of messy work but worth it! We found the space really handy whilst we lived there, but do be wary of the potentail problems when you come to move on

CarrieBo Wed 24-Jun-09 20:04:37

Those who've lived with illegal conversions, had the beams been re-done, if not, did this bother you? Did you have any problems with it? I have visions of crashing through the floor straight into my children's bedrooms...
And its making me wonder if we store too much in our current 'regular' loft if the beams weren't designed to take weight!

scaryteacher Wed 24-Jun-09 21:34:05

Our house has two boarded attic rooms with a removable staircase going up to them. They were done 25+ years ago by the previous owners and almost certainly wouldn't fit with building regs.

Didn't bother us as used as a spare study/potential teenage room for PS3s etc when we move back to UK. Doesn't bother the tenants either as they use it for lumber as well.

I don't think they apply building regs retrospectively, so am not too worried about it tbh. Will cross that bridge when we come to it....

LIZS Fri 26-Jun-09 08:33:04

how did it go ?

CarrieBo Fri 26-Jun-09 13:43:28

Thank you LIZS for asking...we viewed it yesterday...and we loved it!
The loft space is massive because, not being a bedroom, it doesn't need the landing and firedoor. It was done by the person who owned the house before the current vendor, he was a builder and only lives round the corner. When the vendor bought it their survey and solicitor didn't raise any issues. The fact that it was built by a builder poss means that the floor was strengthened since its clearly intended to be used for more than just storage, but obv we would get this checked out by our solicitor.
We think the space would be brilliant for dh's guitars, and a sort of second playroom when the dcs are older. Also as two dcs will have to share a bedroom, it creates a bit of extra space so they don't have to live on top of each other.
We're trying very hard not to mentally move in, we told the EA that we're interested in putting in an offer, so they're working extra hard to sell our house - first viewer this afternoon!
Another bonus of the property is that at the end of the garden is a gate leading to some school playing fields which you're allowed to use out of school time - amazing! And we'd never be overlooked.
<tries very hard not to get overexcited but really can't help it>

noddyholder Fri 26-Jun-09 13:47:49

carrie we bought a place with an 'illegal' loft.a.few yrs ago.It was huge too and we filled it with drums guitars and teenagers and it was fab kept the rest of the house so tidy!No issues at all when we sold as a music teacher bought it and it was a bonus to her

Flibbertyjibbet Fri 26-Jun-09 19:27:24

Thats good news.
A structural survey will show whether the joists were replaced with something stronger.

btw you don't need to put a dormer on if its a nice big space, we have velux windows on our conversion and as they fit flush to the ceiling, and you can't look 'down' from them onto your neighbours (without climbing out on the roof in our case!) you don't need planning permission to fit them.
The windows themselves are not the cheapest, but the fitting of them is lot less labour and therefore cheaper, than having a dormer put in.

CarrieBo Sat 27-Jun-09 11:39:30

flibbertyjibbet there are two velux windows already, we would only need a dormer to get the legal head hight on the stairs if we wanted it as a bedroom.

I signed off the details for our house today so they can go on the net and we'll be officially on the market on Monday. Had one viewer already and it was a case of 'lovely house, shame about the area'. I really want to sell so we can get this house!

HerHonesty Sat 27-Jun-09 19:56:43

sorry if this has already been covered, but are there three bedrooms and a boarded loft or is the boarded loft one of the bedrooms? if its the latter then i would tread very carefully.

CarrieBo Mon 29-Jun-09 09:32:46

Its three bedrooms, plus a boarded loft. On the agent's details its called an 'attic room' and not a bedroom.

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