HOME TRUTHS

Your questions answered by experts
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The Independent Online
SHALL I SHELL OUT?

I am buying a shell apartment in a new conversion of 1930s office buildings in central London. The valuation survey has come back clear and I wonder whether I need another survey, bearing in mind that the developers have (presumably) checked everything out recently?

Elizabeth Dales

Londond, EC1

You should not rely on the developers. You need a full structural survey as a homebuyers' report is not sufficient, but this will cost a good deal of money. You are probably right in assuming that the developers will have had engineering reports carried out, but these will have been prepared for them, so don't rely on them. However, the developer will be able to tell you who prepared these reports. You need to ask them if they will prepare a full structural survey for you. They will still charge for this service, but as they have all the information to hand, it will cost a lot less than starting from scratch. You may be offered a warranty on your apartment by the developers through the National House Building Council (NHBC). While there is nothing inherently wrong with this warranty, you should bear in mind two things: first, it only lasts for ten years; second, it applies to you only and you cannot transfer it if you sell the apartment in three years.

THATCHED DREAMS

I am interested in buying a property that has a thatched roof. Are there any pitfalls associated with this form of roofing?

David Clarkson,

Bristol

Thatched roofs can be problematic. Find out how old the roof is and how much longer it is likely to last. For this you will need to call on the services of a surveyor or a thatcher. There are three main types of thatch, and they have different life expectancies: Norfolk reed lasts between 45 and 80 years; long straw, which is winter wheat, will last between 15 and 25 years; combed wheat reed (or Devon reed) also uses straw combed to improve the rate of flow of rainwater. This will last between 35 to 40 years. The life expectancy of a thatched roof depends on such variables as where the property is and how well maintained the roof is. A relatively damp climate, such as in the West Country, is not ideal for thatch.

You need to bear in mind that you will have maintenance costs for the roof. The ridges on all thatched roofs, which are made of straw, heather or sedge, and the wire mesh that covers the whole roof will need to be replaced every 12 to 15 years. The wire covering is important as it will keep out infestation by birds or vermin. Thatched roofs also bring insurance implications. You should check that a roof has been treated with a fire retardant chemical. If it hasn't, your insurance company will insist on it. Even it it has, you will still pay more for your insurance cover.

On the positive side, thatched roofs look pretty, they provide excellent insulation, so you will probably save on heating costs, and there is always a market for homes with them.

BUYER'S CHOICE

Are there any advantages of buying a leasehold property over a freehold one?

Mark Howells

Lincoln

The short answer is no. If you can afford either freehold or leasehold, then freehold will almost certainly be the better choice. The key element in leasehold property is the length of the lease. Most lenders as a rule will lend on leasehold properties where the unexpired lease is at least twice the length of the mortgage. But you should bear in mind that the shorter the length of the unexpired lease, the more it is likely to adversely affect the price and saleability of the property. And if at any stage you, or a subsequent leaseholder, wants to renew the lease, the freeholder could demand a sizeable sum of money. However, leasehold remains a good form of tenure, provided that your solicitors have checked out the lease properly, they know who is responsible for the repairs, and are satisfied with the covenant. You should also check with your solicitor to see if you have the right to renew the lease or buy the freehold outright when the lease expires.

Answers were supplied by a panel of experts at Woolwich Property Services and Ekins, the group's surveying services subsidiary. The panel is headed by Alan Oliver, managing director of Woolwich Property Services, and will answer published queries on buying and selling, valuations, surveys, and market factors such as price trends.

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