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First time buyer – BISF house – safe to buy?

Hi Marc / others

I’m a first time buyer who has been previously unaware of BISF construction until finding a property that I like but have been told is BISF construction. I have to admit it has made me rather wary of this purchase. Would it be possible for you more experienced folks to look at this and confirm it is BISF and not one of the defective types that I should stay away from?

The address is 153 Brocket Way, Chigwell, Essex. IG7 4LY. It is currently being marketed by Douglas Allen and can be seen on RightMove at the below URL:

http://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/property-55571131.html.

Does this look like a safe purchase? Should I be concerned about anything? Does this type of property suffer from rust / concrete cancer? Should I invest in a structural survey before I buy?

I cannot see much of the roof and from what I see, an inexperienced person like myself is unable to tell if it is Asbestos. I asked the estate agent but they were quite clueless and said “No asbestos because it’s steel frame”. I also asked about the age of the property and got “Post war so probably 60’s, not too sure”.

Can you please help out and point out any things I should be mindful of with this purchase?

Thanks


8 comments

  1. Hello Mohsin and Bhabin,

    First may I say Mohsin that I’m surprised that didn’t receive a reply to your question when it was initially posted.
    Some do appear to fall through the net from time to time for a variety of reasons and this appears to be so in this case.

    I suspect that by now you have either purchased the property or chosen another as your link to the listing at Rightmove above is now showing the property as sold.

    However I’m going to responding to your initial questions as they may help other home-buyers in a similar situation along with Bhabin who recently responded to your question regarding a possible solution.

    153 Brocket Way was indeed a BISF House.

    You asked if the property was a “Safe to buy”.

    No property whatsoever is guaranteed to be a Safe Buy unless you order a full structural survey of the property which will give you an in-depth report of the structural condition of the property and frame.

    A BISF Just like any other property on the Market may or may not have issues. This is true despite the construction type of the building be they brick, steel framed, concrete or timber.

    A BISF House is built around a steel frame, unlike a brick built house which is self supported by the load bearing brick walls alone. It is therefore very important that the condition of the steel frame is checked by a surveyor before buying any steel framed property. In the majority of cases the frames of BISF houses are found to be in excellent condition but in a small number of cases, corrosion has been found that requires repair before the house is sold.

    There are many houses in the UK that are built in this way as well as a vast number of commercial premises including factories and retail stores.

    Steel framed houses are built all over the world where they make popular homes of all shapes and sizes.

    The UK however is one of the few countries in the world who prefer homes to be made from brick over any other material.
    In the United States for example, the majority of homes are built using timber or steel frames with less desire placed upon brick construction. New Zealand is very similar in that many other materials are commonly used to build homes and brick is not always the first choice.

    The BISF House was built shortly after WWII as part of an effort to build thousands of new homes across the country.
    The BISF House was built as a permanent steel framed house that was more expensive to build than a similar brick house. But, unlike a brick house, the BISF house could be built far quicker as fewer skilled tradesmen were required during construction.

    In the looks department, the BISF was pretty average at the time however the designer Sir Frederick Gibberd decided to clad the upper portion of the houses with pressed steel panels. These panels were very similar in design to the steel panels that were used in the construction of temporary prefabricated bungalows leading many people to wrongly believe that they were a two storey temporary house, which of course they were not. The BISF House was built as a permanent dwelling with a e similar lifespan to a traditional brick built house of the same period.

    Today, we see that many of these houses have been improved in a variety of ways with external wall insulation (EWI), being the most popular.

    The house mentioned above has had the steel panels over clad with clay tiles, which produces an attractive finish. Clay tiles are lighter in weight than concrete tiles and this is also a popular choice for many homeowners looking to change the appearance of their home.

    Many BISF houses were built with corrugated steel or corrugated asbestos roofs as they were quick and easy to fit.
    Asbestos roofs tend to be grey in colour and they look very similar to the panels used on garage buildings here in the UK.

    This type of Asbestos is not particularly dangerous if not broken or damaged but the original sheets are now coming to the end of their serviceable life and many lenders are insisting that the roof must be replaced with a lightweight steel roofing system before a mortgage is secured.
    A replacement roof can cost anything from £8k – £10k depending upon what material the roof is made from. Asbestos roofs are more expensive to replace that those made from steel.

    The house above has had the old roof replaced using a lightweight roofing system such as Decra Tiles or Britmet Tiles. These are made from steel but they have the appearance of real roof tiles which look far better than corrugated sheeting.

    Personally, if I were buying a BISF house, I would look for a property that has already had it’s roof replaced.

    In answer to the other questions above:

    No, these houses do not suffer from concrete cancer.
    The properties were built between 1944 and 1950 and so they are now around 70 years old.

    I would have no problem whatsoever buying a BISF house providing a full survey and not just a home buyers survey was carried out.

    BISF Houses tend to be around 10 – 15% cheaper than similar brick properties but this gap can be reduced on the properties that have been externally insulated.

    The house are quite large inside and they are very easy to refurbish and non of the interior walls are load-bearing as such, apart from two support stanchions in the wall between the living and dining room.

    Santander is one of the main suppliers of Mortgages for this type of property as well as the Halifax, subject to survey of course.

    I hope this answers some of the questions that you may have whilst considering a BISF House purchase.

  2. Hello Liam
    Thank you for your kind compliments, they are very much appreciated.

    I’ve taken a look at the property in your link which is a nice example of a well presented BISF House. It does appear that the current owners have already undertaken a considerable amount of work within the property already.
    Obviously, without a physical viewing it’s hard to say exactly, but it does look as though the walls have possibly been plastered which saves quite a lot of work and the kitchen too, appears to be pretty modern and well fitted.

    I think that the camera lens that the estate agent used to take the pictures, does make the kitchen and dining room appear narrower than it actually is.

    It’s always good to see a garage as this can also offer a number of opportunities in the future as I know of one BISF homeowner who converted the downstairs into a bedroom, replacing the garage door with a window. As a result he was able to market the property as a 4 bedroom house which raised his valuation from a typical price of around £180K to a new price of £245k, which represents a significant increase.

    I’m surprised to see that a cupboard has been installed beside the kitchen window, which I suspect will house the gas boiler. It takes up a little more room this way but it does provide for handy storage without taking up too much space.

    I’m surprised that the agents haven’t included a floor plan but I suspect that the garage may well run the full depth of the building plus a little extra with the front extension which is a bonus.
    There’s also an excellent sized garden too which would easily accommodate a future rear extension or conservatory.
    Either way, I would definitely remove the dining room window and install patio doors or french windows there as it makes a huge difference to the dining room for relatively little cost.
    In fact, installing patio doors is probably one of my top must haves for any BISF house with this type of layout.

    I also like the fact that the property has already been fitted with a grey lightweight roofing system, as I think grey is the best colour for this type of roof as it tends to not discolor like the red roofs sometimes do.

    I’ve also had a look at the street in Google Maps and I must say that the entire street appears to be well presented with a variety of fascia designs and well kept gardens.

    I hope all goes well for you if this is the property you have chosen and if you need any advice we’ll always do our best to help.

    Best regards

    Marc

  3. Hi Again Marc,

    You was correct about everything about the house, even down to the cupboard with the boiler!

    I was initially concerned regarding the structure of the house but you’ve given me confidence that BISF houses are a legitimate option and we have decided to go ahead and buy the house.

    Most of the walls have been plastered so there is minimum work to do with the exception of the top of the stairs which seems to have some electrics to the bathroom which may be an issues to remove? We’re looking forward to moving in and potentially converting half of the garage (it does run the full length of the house) into a toilet & small utility room.

    One thing i thought i’d ask you about is the facias/rendering of the outside walls. One of the resident suggested that there are some grants available to carry this work out and that waiting a few months may result in a better grant. Do you have any advice about this?

    Thanks again for your help and advice, i likely wouldn’t have considered buying the house without it.

    Liam

  4. Hello Parashar, welcome and thank you for providing a link to the property.

    The property appears to be well presented internally and externally from what I can see. The original roof has been replaced which is a bonus and the grey rendered walls of the lower elevation appear to be in good condition as the photographs have been taken from a distance, it is difficult exactly how good they are. I would want to look closely for signs of cracking or bulging of the render as this is one area that can sometimes be an issue if the walls have not been well maintained over the years. I don’t see any cause for concern from what I can see, but it’s always worth a closer look. 

    I would always suggest undertaking a structural survey using a company who has experience with BISF houses as many surveyors have no experience with these properties. This can result in incorrect information or assumptions being sent to your lender which you may have to try and correct if this occurs. 

    I would also like my surveyor to take a look at the state of the metal cladding that lies under the white plastic upvc cladding. It may require removal of one or two pieces of the plastic near to where the plastic ends and the grey render starts. Corrosion can sometimes occur at the steel lip here and although not serious, it can give a general indication as to the condition of the steel sheeting which you cannot see underneath.

    There are other areas which your surveyor should check, including a visible inspection of the exterior outer corners of the house close to floor level, checking for signs of cracking to the render or more importantly, any cracking to the concrete base which should be just visible under where the rendered wall slightly protrudes outward near the base. If any severe cracks are visible, it may suggest further inspection of the steel support stanchions using a borescope.

    Essentially though, you will need to be guided by your surveyor as without being physically present in the building myself, it’s almost impossible for me to provide any further views.

    On the whole the property appears to be in good condition. It hasn’t been externally insulated on the outside which I would always recommend having done in the future. Not only does it make the property much warmer and visually more appealing but it can also help to protect the exterior of the structure for the future. 

    I hope this helps

  5. Hello Marc,Thank you very much for your opinion. I was really looking forward to your reply. I’ll contact you on your email if I want to share some sensitive information with you for my query. I hope that’s okay.Thanks a lot,Parashar

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