Q. My buyer’s solicitor has asked me to provide any FENSA certificates. What are these certificates for?
A. If any double-glazed windows or doors have been installed at the property since 1 April 2002, the installer should have issued a FENSA certificate to confirm that the installed windows or doors complied with thermal performance and building regulation standards. FENSA stands for the Fenestration Self-Assessment Scheme and avoids the need for a separate sign-off for building control purposes from the local authority, as the installer self-certifies the windows.
FENSA has an online database at www.fensa.co.uk where you can check if any FENSA certificates have been issued for your property. If you are selling a property and are aware that double-glazing has been installed but cannot find a FENSA certificate, you should first check the FENSA database as duplicate copies can be ordered online at a cost of £20.00 per certificate. If the database indicates that a FENSA certificate was not issued, you could contact the window installer to ask them to obtain a FENSA certificate retrospectively. Alternatively, it is possible to take out an indemnity insurance policy (which should be satisfactory to a buyer and their lender) to insure against the lack of available FENSA paperwork for a previously installed double-glazed window or door.
Q. A property I would like to buy borders open land. How can I find out about any proposed development plans on this land?
A. As part of the standard questionnaire which the seller will complete on the property, the seller must confirm whether they are aware of any proposals to develop property or land nearby. The Local Authority Search report, which is ordered to ascertain the purchase property’s planning history, will reveal whether the property is located in a conservation area. If this is the case, the property is located in an area which the local authority has decided has special architectural or historic interest and which should be preserved. Therefore, there is stricter focus by the local authority on proposed works (including development) in the vicinity of the property.
If you are concerned about the development of adjoining land, it is strongly recommended that you visit the local authority’s planning department to inspect their records and speak to a planning officer. Local authorities also typically have an online planning database to peruse. Additional search reports can also be obtained through your solicitor to provide information about planning applications near to the property and local authority land use policies, as well as an evaluation on the future risk of development being carried out in the vicinity of the property and any nearby identified potential development sites.
Q. I have heard that a property I would like to buy is located within a radon-affected area. What is radon?
A. Radon is a radioactive gas which occurs naturally in rocks and soils. You cannot see, hear, feel or taste it. Exposure to particularly high levels of radon may increase the risk of developing lung cancer, and is therefore something to be aware of when considering to purchase a property.
As part of the usual investigation and enquiries carried out by your solicitor, an environmental search report will be obtained which will confirm whether the property is located in a radon-affected area and, if so, what percentage of properties in the vicinity of the purchase property are above the “action level”. (The “action level” is the radon reading above which radon protective measures are necessary in the property to reduce radon exposure and therefore the risk of developing lung cancer). Typically in Kent and East Sussex, only between 1% and 3% of properties are above the “action level”. However, the only way to identify the level of radon concentration at the property is to have the property tested. Public Health England (www.ukradon.org) has more information in this regard, including a UK map showing the areas most at risk from radon exposure. As part of the standard questionnaire which the seller will complete on the property, the seller must
Q: I have been told that the property that I am buying is a listed building - what is this?
A listed building is a building that is considered to be of particular architectural, historical or cultural interest. There are just fewer than 400,000 listed buildings in England.
The ‘Listing’ of a building is a reference to it being placed on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. For buildings located in England, the list is known as the National Heritage List for England.
The Government body responsible for deciding whether a building should be added to the List is the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
There are three grades of listed building; Grade I, Grade II* and Grade II.
By far the most common grading for listed residential properties is Grade II. A Grade II listed building is considered to be nationally important and of special interest.
On the Historic England website (www.historicengland.org.uk) you can look up your chosen property and check its listing.
Q: What are my obligations as the owner of a listed building?
Owners of listed buildings are required to maintain the building and not allow it to fall into disrepair.
The Local Authority can serve the owner of a listed building with an Enforcement Notice if they allow the building to fall into disrepair. This notice can compel the owner to repair and reinstate the building.
Listed building owners can face criminal prosecution if they allow the building to seriously disintegrate.
Q: What restrictions might affect my use of the property if it is a listed building?
When buying a listed property it is important to remember that it may not only be the building itself that is listed, but also everything in what is known as the ‘curtilage’ of the building. This can often mean that the garden falls within the protection of the listing.
If you are planning to carry out refurbishment or other building works to a listed property or its garden you should bear in mind that you will need to obtain Listed Building Consent for the works as well as any planning permissions and Building Regulation approvals.
It is a criminal offence to alter, extend or demolish any part of a listed property without Listed Building Consent. Anything which changes the fabric of the property will need consent; this can include changing windows and doors. Even the colour of the exterior paintwork can be protected under the ‘Listing.’
If your chosen works are given listed building consent you may be obliged to use certain materials and techniques. This can greatly increase the cost of the building project.
Q: Are there any other considerations that I should be aware of when buying a listed building?
Listed buildings are often more expensive to insure than non-listed buildings. This is because the cost of repair or reinstatement can be significantly higher as any works will need to meet the requirements of the conservation officer.
You should carefully research the cost of insuring the property to ensure that you will be able to meet the premiums during your ownership.
Q. I have a lease of a flat that now has less than 70 years left to run. I have read that I might have trouble selling or getting a mortgage. Can I extend my lease?
A. There is a legal right for a leaseholder to extend their lease once they have owned it for two years. The right is to add 90 years to what is left on the existing lease at a "peppercorn rent" (i.e. no ground rent is payable). For example, if your lease has 70 years left to run, the new and extended lease would be for 160 years.
The landlord is entitled to a premium for the lease extension based on a particular formula and advice on the premium should be obtained from a specialist surveyor. You will probably have to pay the landlord’s legal and surveying fees in addition to the premium and your own professional fees. If agreement cannot be reached with the landlord about the premium or other terms, the matter can be referred to a tribunal for a decision.