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In the wake of the Grenfell Tower Fire, it became clear that a number of blocks of flats across the UK had been built with flammable cladding attached. The horrific outcome of the fire sparked an effort to make sure that properties across the country were safe to live in.
Unfortunately, the cladding crisis now impacts thousands of people across the UK - particularly owners of high rise flats - regardless of whether the building has unsafe cladding or not.
In this article we'll look at what cladding is, what makes it dangerous, and how it might impact your home sale.
'Cladding' is simply one material placed on top of another, creating a layer.
In construction it has a more specific meaning. Cladding is a 'non-structural' layer, usually used to provide extra insulation or weather resistance, but it can also just be decorative. It might be the final outside layer, or it may be included as an intermediate layer.
It can be made out of a whole range of materials, but is most commonly: metal, timber, or tile.
No. There are many types that pose no risk to the residents. In fact some forms of cladding are added for extra protection. For example, to prevent fires from spreading too quickly, or to increase protection against harsh weather conditions.
Some forms of cladding however, are incredibly flammable. These types of cladding do pose a serious risk to the property's residents. A few types that are of particular concern because of their fire risk include:
ACM is made up of two sheets of aluminium on either side of a core of another lightweight material such as, polyethylene or polyurethane. This type of cladding is most commonly used to protect buildings from rain, and was the kind used on Grenfell Tower.
This type of cladding is considered particularly unsafe because the lightweight core can be made of highly flammable materials. This core then accelerates the spread of fire, and causes the large aluminium panels to melt and fall off the building.
HPL is made by layering sheets of paper or wood fibre with resin. These are then bonded together with heat and pressure.
MCM is made in a very similar way to ACM, but uses different types of metal, such as: zinc, stainless steel, or copper.
There is also some concern over the use of timber on buildings and balconies.
In the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, new regulations have been brought in which require fire safety checks on buildings with cladding. These fire safety checks have to be conducted by a specialist surveyor.
The process is quite complicated. It requires an expert to investigate not only the exterior of the property, but also how the cladding layers are attached to the framework of the building. Many of the blocks affected haven't got detailed records of the materials that were used in construction, and so a sample has to be taken and tested before it can be approved by the surveyor.
Until these checks have taken place, many mortgage lenders and insurance providers will automatically assume that your property is 'unsafe' or a fire risk - whether this is true or not.
There have been cases where banks have automatically valued flats in blocks with cladding at £0, until they've been tested and proved safe. This makes it incredibly difficult for buyers who need a mortgage to purchase their flat.
If a potential buyer can't borrow money against your flat until the entire block has been certified as safe, you may have to wait a long time until you can sell. Until your building is assessed it's likely you'll be limited to offers from cash buyers, who don't need a loan to progress with the purchase.
The best way to ensure this isn't a problem is to get evidence from your management company about what material was used to clad the block. One way of doing this is to show buyers and mortgage lenders an EWS1 certificate.
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EWS stands for 'External Wall System'. The external wall system includes all of the things that make up the outside wall of a building, such as: the insulation, the cladding, and the fire break systems.
An EWS1 certificate is the outcome of an EWS1 survey.
This survey is a way for building owners to confirm that the external wall systems have been assessed for safety by a qualified expert. The resulting EWS1 certificate will confirm whether or not the cladding on the building is safe. If it's found to be dangerous, the surveyor will provide a list of recommendations for the freeholder, who will then be responsible for sorting it out.
The EWS1 survey includes a fire safety assessment, and the form is valid for the entire building for 5 years. This means that once the survey has been completed the results can be used by any flat owner in the block to prove the safety of their flat to insurers, mortgage lenders, and potential buyers.
Important: Be wary of fraudulent EWS1 certificates. Given the complex nature of the investigations, these forms can only be completed and signed off by a specifically qualified chartered surveyor. If you're unsure, check out the list of qualified EWS1 surveyors on the Royal Institutes of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) website.
If your building is taller than 18 metres (about six storeys), and has cladding, it's likely that you'll need an EWS1 form before you're able to sell or remortgage your home.
Some buildings below 18 metres will also need an EWS1 certificate, if they're considered to be 'of concern'.
Most properties shorter than three storeys won't need one except in particular circumstances. For example, a care home, where fire safety considerations are different to a standard occupation residential property.
It's the building owner's responsibility to arrange the EWS1 process - not the leaseholders. However, you can push to get the process started. It's within your rights to be made aware of how the process is going and how it might impact you.
The best way to get started is to join together with other residents and contact your management company or freeholder as a group, in writing.
Firstly, ask for confirmation of what materials were used on your building, and for information on when it was established that unsafe cladding used.
If the freeholder or management company is unable to provide these answers, request that they arrange for a qualified chartered surveyor to test the building for unsafe or combustible cladding.
If your building owner doesn't comply with their legal obligations and begin the EWS1 process, you should contact your local council, and the fire and rescue service.
Unfortunately, given the limited number of people qualified to undertake these assessments, there is a significant waiting list, with many taller and more 'at risk' blocks being given priority.
If you're one of the many flat owners impacted by cladding issues and are still waiting for the EWS1 form, you may find it difficult to sell your property, even if it's actually safe to live in.
There are a few options that you could consider:
Unlike buyers who need a mortgage, cash buyers don't need a survey or EWS1 form to allow them to purchase a property.
Some cash buyers are taking advantage of the situation to invest in flats for less than their true value. And, while you may have to accept a lower than desirable sale price, a cash buyer could be your best option if your really need to sell your flat soon. For example, if you can no longer afford to pay the flat's service charge.
Talk to your estate agent about the best way to attract these types of investment buyers. A good estate agent with the correct experience may have direct contacts with interested buyers, or know what sort of marketing strategies are most effective.
If you need a rapid sale, you might also consider alternative methods of selling, such as a professional cash property buying company. If you choose this route, make sure to thoroughly research any company you might work with. The industry is not regulated in the same way as the mainstream property market, so it's vulnerable to a number of scams.
If you're unable to sell, but need to move, you could consider renting your flat out. Receiving income from rent should hopefully cover, or contribute to the costs of your mortgage and service fees, so that you can afford to buy elsewhere.
You'll have to check the conditions of your lease first to see whether renting out is an option for you. If it is, you'll also need to request permission from your mortgage provider to switch to a 'buy-to-let' mortgage product, and change your insurance to landlord cover.
Remember: there are a large number of costs that come with renting a property out, and you're not always guaranteed to have tenants living there. Weigh up these costs with the benefits of moving, before you decide whether it's the right option for you.
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