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Buying a house with no building regs for extension or loft conversion

(22 Posts)
nm123 Tue 07-Aug-12 21:07:58

Just been on a second viewing on a house we're thinking of buying. The vendors are a busy/stressed couple with a child who had the house on the market last year but all interested parties then wanted something "done up" which this house isn't. So they've spent the last year trying to do it up and it seems like they've bitten off more than they can chew as there are half-finished jobs and mess everywhere. During the first viewing the vendor told us she'd had enough of it and just wanted rid. They've got somewhere to move to.

We went back with a (trusted family friend) builder today and he immediately asked about building regs for the half-finished extension and the bodged loft conversion. The vendor seemed to not really know what he was talking about and our builder said that the extension may have regs, but there's no way in the world the loft conversion would have (he specialises in loft conversions so knows what he's talking about). He also says the mortgage survey would pick up on all this too...

Now, to complicate matters, the house isn't officially on the market now. It appeared on the estate agent's mailing list by mistake (complete change of personnel in the EA office)... The agent confirmed they have not signed a contract with the vendors for this.

The price on the mailing list info is £282,500. I can't remember whether it's for sale as a 3 or 4 bedroom (no particulars available due to not being on the market). It wasn't clear as to whether that price is the asking price before or after the work has been done. Houses down that road in a good state would go for £300k.

Our builder reckons to re-do/finish the downstairs extension (we'd do more than has been done, knock through to the kitchen, add skylights etc etc) it would be no more than £30k. He says to re-do the loft would be no more than £20k. We can afford the kitchen initally and would do the loft (ie 4th bedroom) in a few years' time.

So now my questions (finally, thanks for reading if you get this far):

1. We're thinking of putting in a very cheeky starting offer of £235k, negotiating to a max of £250k if pushed (no higher because of stamp duty). I'd like to know how to position the offer in light of the suspected lack of building regs - any advice on how to word the offer please? should we get confirmation of definitely no building regs to begin before making the offer?

2. I don't really know what to do about the lack of contract with the EA. Should I try and deal with the vendors direct? The couple seem nice but clueless overworked and busy, so I kind of think having the agent's involved would help push things along etc. But also the new personnel in the EA office are a bunch of spotty TOWIE looking lads quite young and look inexperienced so I'm not sure they'd really get all the stuff about lack of building regs etc. Is it worth attempting to miss the middle man and swerve the EA? How do I do this if so? Drop a note through the vendor's door? Or is this not really my issue?

ecuse Thu 09-Aug-12 13:31:47

1. Personally I wouldn't bother getting the confirmation of no buildings regs. If they didn't know what you were talking about when you asked, they don't have it! However I don't think no buildings regs is a massive deal if they've done a decent job (see my comments on this thread). If they've done a bodge job that's another question.

2. I would have thought it couldn't help to approach the vendor directly (letter?) . If they can sell privately they'll save several thousand pounds in agents fees. If you point this out to them they might be minded to accept a lower offer than they otherwise would. EAs are useless bastards - their primary function is to publicise the place and get buyers through the door. Thereafter they mostly get in the way, IME.

I would make the cheeky offer if you're prepared to walk away. Why not?

ecuse Thu 09-Aug-12 13:32:14

*couldn't hurt (not help)

FatherReboolaConundrum Thu 09-Aug-12 15:15:03

Personally, I'd run a mile from anything like this. Building regs exist for a reason - to verify the quality of the work done. No building regs means no quality control: they could have built the extension out of papier mache and there'd be no-one to pick up on it. No reputable builder will try to dodge building regs - so no building regs means the work has almost certainly been done by a cowboy. You have no way of knowing if the house is structurally sound without a highly intrusive investigation (digging around base of extension to see if there are foundations, removing plaster and flooring to see what lintels/joists have been used). Obviously, the chances that it'll fall down around your ears are small, but are you willing to bet your lives and a quarter of a million pounds on it? And there's always the less important risk that the council will take a sudden interest and require you to alter/remove the changes these people have made.

We had an offer accepted on a house which turned out to have no planning permission or building regs approval for the large extension and loft conversion, and no building regs approval for the removal of a chimney breast and interior wall. The owners lied about not having needed any documentation (they claimed to have done the work before new rules were introduced in 1995, even though we knew that they'd bought the house in 1996 hmm), but even if they hadn't been that stupid, we'd have walked away from a house we couldn't be sure was safe to live in.

nm123 Thu 09-Aug-12 18:58:22

Today the EA said the vendors had spoken to the architect who confirmed building regs weren't required due to the smallish size and the plastic/conservatory roof. I guess it's kind of irrelevant as we'll knock down what's done and change it all anyway.... I was thinking more of it as leverage for us to offer low if it doesn't meet building regs.

Our mortgage broker reckons it sounds like the survey will come back with the recommendation of a retainer... Not the end of the world but just pulled out of another house where this happened so know its a PITA.

I reckon putting in an offer and getting a survey done is the only way!

FatherReboolaConundrum Thu 09-Aug-12 19:26:22

Hi OP, I think either you or the EA (God help everyone if it's the architect) are confusing planning permission with building regs approval. Small extensions and some loft conversions fall within the limits of permitted development (changes to the house that don't need planning permission), but this is not the same thing at all as building regs approval, which exist to make sure that buildings are safe. Examples of what requires building regs can be seen here: www.richmond.gov.uk/home/environment/building_control/building_regulations_explained/when_do_you_need_building_regulations_approval.htm

One thing to think about is not just removing whatever mess the vendors have half built but how much it might cost you to correct any structural problems that their cowboy efforts have created in the original house (for example, the impact of dodgy alterations to supporting walls). This is what could cost you serious money (and create insurance problems).

Not trying to be a doom merchant, just saying that if you really want the house, be aware of what your structural survey might turn up and what work might then be involved. On the other hand, if it did turn out that major work needed to be done, you could sensibly offer a hell of a lot less than £235K!

Sausagedog27 Thu 09-Aug-12 19:42:06

Loft conversions and extensions always require building regs, planning unlikely but it's the building regs that are important. If your planning on correcting the work anyway I wouldn't be too worried, but I'd use it to get the price down. They will have to get indemnity insurance on the sale which will cover the lack of consent. Good luck!

nm123 Fri 10-Aug-12 11:24:04

Thanks all, that's really useful.

I think they are confusing the planning permission and the building regs as the vendor mumbled something about the size of the extension not requiring any approval when we went to see it.

So just for my own knowledge - are building regs required on any building work, regardless of whether planning permission was required?

libelulle Fri 10-Aug-12 14:30:09

Yep, other than for minor repairs, building regs approval and sign-off is absolutely required. It's a completely different issue to planning. Of course, a lot of stuff will pass under their radar - but for any kind of extension or loft conversion there is no question that it's needed.

FatherReboolaConundrum Fri 10-Aug-12 14:31:53

Hi nm, if you have a look at the link I posted above, that should give you an idea of what kind of work needs building regs approval. It's a completely separate thing from planning permission.

It's needed for anything that's likely to affect the structure of the building, and therefore its safety - knocking through internal walls, converting a loft (whatever the size), building an extension, and a whole load of other things. It's there to stop houses falling down/blowing up/burning down, basically.

Not having planning permission when you're supposed to is less of an issue, because the worst that can happen is the that council turns up and makes you undo the alterations. No building regs is a big problem though, because it means no-one has checked to see if the work has been competently done and the house is safe to live in. Without building regs approval, all you've got is the word of the person who did the work that it's okay - and since the only builders who will try to skip building regs approval are the ones who have a reason not to want their work inspected, their word is absolutely worthless.

If you're serious about this house, get a definite answer from the owners about whether building regs approval has been sought (if they say yes, get the reference number the council have given the application - if they can't produce one, they're not telling the truth). If it hasn't and you still want to go ahead with the purchase then tell the surveyor doing your structural survey, so that they will look over the house with that in mind. They'll be able to spot any potential problems and give you a sense of what would be needed to put it right.

FatherReboolaConundrum Fri 10-Aug-12 14:40:14

Forgot to add: I'm a bit concerned that the EA told you that they'd been told building regs weren't needed. A house owner might well not know about this stuff, but an EA certainly will - if the EA is telling you that building regs weren't needed because it's only a small loft conversion, then you need to start taking a very hard look at everything they're saying, because they're bullshitting you. It sounds as if they're being very careful not to actually lie and say "this doesn't need building regs"; instead, they're misleading you by saying "the vendor tells us this doesn't need building regs" which is probably true as far as it goes, but misses out the important fact that the vendor is completely wrong.

nm123 Fri 10-Aug-12 15:38:45

Thank you. I really appreciate the clarification.

I've called the EA (who seriously looks like a work experience kid) and explained that whilst it's possible PP wasn't required, bregs would definitely be needed so I'm looking to see either a certificate or application number, and that this sign off is compulsory for any building work regardless of whether PP was needed.

In terms of the survey, is a full structural survey separate from the mortgage one? Can the two be covered in one survey (albeit at a higher cost)?

nm123 Fri 10-Aug-12 15:44:33

Hmm. Just looked at our councils building control pages on the web and it would seem that a conservatory of 30m squared is exempt from building regs. I think the vendor knows this hence the small size and plastic roof.....

I guess I'm not too concerned about the actual work as we'd change it all anyway, I'm just keen to know how I can use this as a bargaining tool.

nm123 Fri 10-Aug-12 15:57:47

Ok so EA spoke to vendors builder who confirmed as a small conservatory buildings don't apply (so that's the extension).. And the vendor bought the place with the loft as it is (9 years ago) and just use it as storage.... The staircase looks newer than 9 years to me but whatever....

So am I right in thinking the lack of building regs isn't something we can use in our favour? Looks like our leverage is "the cost of finishing work already started" which isn't going to come to the £50k (£30k kitchen diner extension + £20k loft work)...

FatherReboolaConundrum Fri 10-Aug-12 18:25:13

It depends. Have they done anything else - any rooms knocked through? Are they counting the loft room as a bedroom (they can't if no permissions for it)? If they are, you can point out that they can't do this - that the EA is misrepresenting the property if they've got the loft room down as a bedroom - and so you should make an offer based on 3 beds if they're advertising it as a 4 bed. Your first post said the loft conversion had been done by the current owners - where did you get that impression? If that's what they told you, I'd get back onto the EA, tell them that, and ask them to get the vendors to clarify.

In any case, whoever did the loft conversion, if it hasn't been done properly and is causing or might cause problems (for example, if the roof isn't properly supported), it could be very expensive to put right, and you may need to do it immediately rather than wait until you've got the money together for a proper loft conversion.

And whether the current vendors are responsible for the mess is immaterial - they are selling you damaged goods. If you were selling a second hand table that was missing a leg, the fact that a previous owner had chopped the leg off wouldn't mean you were entitled to expect to sell it for more money than if you'd chopped it off yourself. If the current owners have been stupid enough to buy a house with a dodgy loft conversion and not get a massive discount on the price they paid for it, that's their problem - there's no reason they should expect to pass the cost of their mistake on to you. Any sensible buyer will say the same thing to them.

By the way, if the EA or anyone else tries to tell you that the problem can be solved by taking out indemnity insurance (which they sometimes do), tell them to take a running jump. Indemnity insurance covers you against the cost of the council taking enforcement action if they decide to take an interest in the stuff that needs planning permission and/or building regs but doesn't have it. It won't cover you against the cost of remedial work if the dodgy loft causes structural problems.

And get a full structural survey (building survey) rather than the mortgage survey, which much more superficial and isn't designed to uncover the kinds of problems that could be at issue here.

Good luck and let us know what happens!

nm123 Fri 10-Aug-12 22:34:01

Great stuff, thanks TRC!

House is being sold as 3 bedrooms+ loft room. No other walls knocked down. They bought it for £210k in 2003.

Offer went in this arvo at £230k, agent's immediate reaction was "I know they were looking for more". My response was "The house was in a better state before they started tinkering with it".

To be honest, we'll be happy to walk away if they want much more. Whilst it will be lovely when it's done, it will be a ballache getting it done.... OH is thinking we should cap it at £240k and not even go to £250k.

Really appreciate the good advice and support smile

flow4 Mon 27-May-13 22:35:29

Hi nm123, I'm just wondering how you got on in the end? I'm in a similar position, and have put an offer in on a house that seems to have no building regs for loft or conservatory, so I am looking round for all the info/advice I can get...

MinimalistMommi Tue 28-May-13 11:21:01

Flow we lost a house due to exactly this in the winter, we were strongly advised to pull out as it would be nightmare to seek down the line eventually. What made it worse is that bedrooms were in the loft conversion which made them not habitual in legal terms so it could not be classed as a three bed house we thought we were buying, it reduced it to a one bed house!

flow4 Tue 28-May-13 14:13:56

That sounds a nightmare mini! I've been on the phone to my solicitor and EA half the morning... Looks like the vendors may (reluctantly) seek retrospective BRs...

MinimalistMommi Tue 28-May-13 18:17:23

Seek? Meant sell, on iPad and it seems to auto correct everything!

MinimalistMommi Tue 28-May-13 18:18:03

flow4 let me know what happens!

flow4 Wed 29-May-13 06:35:58

Will do, Mini!

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