SPECIAL FEATURE: Why it pays to check
Building Control or what is more commonly known now as Building Standards exists for a purpose. If there was not a codified structure of what is and what is not permissible in altering a building, human nature dictates that we would live in a land of eyesores, with the added spice of structural danger.
But despite the fact that the first thing anyone contemplating alterations should do is check whether the work requires a Building Warrant, it remains surprising that so many neglect to do so – until, of course, the time comes for them to sell.
At that point, when a surveyor or other property professional draws attention to whether or not the requisite consents have been obtained, the process of rectifying omissions can delay or even derail the sale of the house.
Although, buyers, sellers and professionals are more aware of the issue now than in the past, it is surprisingly no different from when I left the Building Control department in 1990 to embark on a career in surveying.
Even then, there were probably more people applying for retrospective permissions than were applying for Warrants.
As in so many cases in house transactions, Home Reports have changed the landscape, with transparency for the buyer and a duty of disclosure regarding past alterations on the part of the seller.
When a surveyor is instructed in a house sale, he or she will be alert to alterations, will ask relevant questions, enquire whether appropriate consents are in place and will make an impartial comment which can inform agents, solicitors and lenders.
The legislation surrounding Building Warrants changed substantially in 2005 and relaxed a lot of the procedures relating to work done inside the house. But the condition remained in the legislation that work “must still comply with the building regulations”.
A valuation surveyor will not be able to decide a) if the work is exempt and b) if it is compliant. And by compliant, that means compliant with today’s standards, not those in place when the work was originally carried out.
Surveyors investigate, inspect and report any alterations to the solicitor and explain the procedures available to remedy the situation. It would then be up to the solicitor to advise his client accordingly.
Some alterations may appear minor, such as installing a downstairs loo under the stairs, but compliance means that the work may have to take disability access and activity space into account.
Structural work and alterations that affect external walls always require consent and it should be noted that there is nothing exempt as far as a flat or maisonette is concerned.
Outside the house, sellers may find that even garden features such as decking may not be compliant if the deck is above a certain height and does not have adequate access stairs or guard rails.
The streamlining of the regulations has meant that the many terms previously used by different councils for post-facto applications, such as “qualified statement” or “letter of comfort”, are now uniformly covered by a Completion Certificate (where no building warrant was obtained).
The beauty of the Home Report is that issues should be flagged up very early in the transaction and can be dealt with before the lender starts to ask potentially awkward questions which could well affect the lending decision.
An Alterations Report is the first step – and the matters raised in it should be taken very seriously if the transaction is not to run into unnecessary hitches.