Buying a semi-detached house

Almost everyone knows somebody who lives in a semi-detached house. From art-deco 1930s semis to mock Tudor mansions to council houses, semi-detached homes are as much a feature of the British architectural landscape as Georgian terraces, country farmhouses or blocks of flats. But what are you in for if you’re considering buying one? This guide will help you find out…

History

  • The very first designs for semi-detached housing in London were drawn up and carried out by architect John Shaw and his son, also John Shaw, in the 19th Century – examples of their work can be seen in North London
  • They were associated with middle-class home owners, who considered the living conditions to be more dignified than those within terraced houses.
  • During the 1920s and 1930s the housing boom saw many upmarket, often Art Deco inspired, semis springing up in the suburbs and areas which are now ‘commuter belts’. These semi-detached homes, especially in the Home Counties, can fetch upward of 1 million pounds due to their large size, relative modernity and convenient location for high-paid city workers.
  • Immediately after the Second World War, council semis sprung up all over the UK. Despite their kitsch value though, semi-detached homes command serious clout on the UK housing market. Semi-detached ‘villas’ in London suburbs are now sold for upwards of two million pounds.
  • The current housing boom has seen the role of semi-detached houses evolve, with some detached homes being partitioned in order to create two more lucrative – if smaller – homes. Other developers have taken advantage of the space to demolish two semi-detached houses and build two detached homes in their place, thus creating a higher value for the same real estate.

Advantages

Naturally, as semis vary so much in style, location and quality, it is difficult to pin down ‘advantages’ that apply to all. Nonetheless, the popularity of semis amongst British homeowners is in part down to the following factors.
  • Buying a semi-detached house compares favourably with buying a detached house in terms of finance: you will pay more if your house does not share any of its walls, even if the neighbour only lives a few feet away.
  • UK semis typically have a driveway or garage and sizeable garden, where terraced houses have to make do with yards and on-street parking.
  • Noise pollution from neighbours is a lesser problem in semi-detached homes than in terraced homes.
  • Semis often feel as if they occupy the relative privacy of a rural location…
  • …while preserving a certain social aspect of urban living, and avoiding the potentially isolated feel of a rural home.

Disadvantages

  • Close proximity to your neighbours can be a problem for some. Not only will they be effectively in the next room but they will also, unless your garden fence is particularly high, be looking into your garden on a regular basis. The importance of a good relationship with those who occupy the other side of your semi cannot be overestimated.
  • The advantages of a semi-detached home can also be disadvantages: suburban semis are characterised by a close relationship with your neighbour, as well as the high population density and relative lack of privacy of the city…
  • ...yet remain some distance from a town centre, which can be a problem for workers or those who wish to live in a cosmopolitan environment.

What to look for

  • If you can, make a point of asking about, or even meeting, the neighbours.
  • The advantage of a sizeable garden can be great even for those who are not keen gardeners. A large but badly-kept garden can offer an opportunity to raise the value of the property with very little effort. A little ‘restructuring’ of the garden can be extremely cheap, while an attempt to improve the value of a home by carrying out internal improvement or restructuring can be expensive – and stressful.
  • Semis which used to be council-houses may not be particularly attractive, but they may be available to buy for very reasonable prices in terms of size and location.

What to avoid

  • Because semi-detached houses were originally developed as cheap housing schemes, it is important for the buyer to be on their guard against less-than-perfect workmanship. Within the massively-inflated UK housing market, buying a semi can constitute a canny investment- or it can be a disastrously pricey mistake.
  • Meticulous attention to the surveyor’s report is vital as some of the semi-detached homes built during the post-war period were cheaply built and now the cracks are starting to show – sometimes literally. Small problems should all be investigated and quotes for repair or modification of the property should be obtained before the sale goes through.
  • It may be worth paying for the fullest type of survey possible, a Full Building Survey, which takes several hours and will ensure all aspects of the structure are scrutinised. Registered surveyors can be found online through the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.
  • Houses with thin dividing walls are something to look out for, as close proximity to neighbours means they will probably cause headaches, unless you always wanted to live on a commune.
  • In the same way, if the neighbours seem noisy or difficult in any way, it’s probably not worth tying up your capital in living next to them. Even if you’re buying to let, responsibility for problems with the neighbours effectively rests with the landlord.

The buying process

  • One of the advantages of semis is that they are not unique – most are built as part of multiple-build schemes, and because of this, you can often feel safe about the relative value of your home by checking out the conditions and sale prices of similar – or even identical – homes.
  • The Land Registry Residential Property Price Report, issued quarterly free of charge, provides information on average house prices, including county-by-county prices for semi-detached houses. The information is drawn from the large governmental database which keeps track of residential housing transactions. You can access the report and further information online on the Land Registry website.
  • Make sure your lawyer is thorough. Your lawyer is responsible not only to you but also to the seller and agent to ensure the contract is as it should be. If you can trust your lawyer, this will make the buying process a lot less risky and a lot more comfortable.
  • Council and private multiple-build schemes mean that some – though by no means most – semi-detached homes are bought under leasehold conditions. This means that in effect you are purchasing the rent for the house and the land it is built on for a very long time – any number of years from 10 to 999. You may be leasing the house off your neighbour or off a governmental body rather than owning it ‘freehold’.
  • With leasehold properties, it is important to ensure you are familiar with all the terms and conditions of the ‘tenancy’. Again, your lawyer is responsible for ensuring that everything is in order and that you understand all of the clauses.
  • Mortgages are often confusing, to the first-time buyer in particular. Again, the variation in semi-detached homes and the circumstances of those buying semi-detached homes means it is impossible to make generalisations about mortgages on semi-detached properties.
However, as semis are so common in the UK and Ireland, there is a wealth of well-informed advice at hand which can be tailored to your conditions as the buyer of a particular semi-detached home. Fair advice should be obtainable from your bank, and there are a number of charities and websites offering unbiased advice to the novice. This government website gives basic guides to buying a home and has links to other websites.
  • Finally, ask around for advice – friends, family and neighbours can be the most helpful resources when looking to buy a certain type of property. After all, almost everyone knows someone who lives in a semi-detached house.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *