How to Choose Your Dream Home Part Two: Type of Property
Properties are classified by estate agents into several basic types indicating their status relative to neighbours. The main ones you’ll almost certainly be familiar with are detached, semi-detached, terraced and flat. But you will also come across mention of bungalow, end-of-terrace, and maisonette. So what do these all mean, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
i. Detached houses: advantages and disadvantages
Do you desire a detached house, and if so, can you really afford one?
Detached houses give you the advantage of not sharing party walls with neighbours, which means you should be able to make more noise in your property without attracting complaints, an important advantage if you like to sing or play music at high volumes. At the same time, if you prefer peace and quiet, you should hear considerably less indoor noise from your neighbours, though you may still hear plenty of lawnmowers and hedge trimmers.
A typical detached house will have its own driveway and / or garage, a useful asset if you are a car-owner. It is also much more likely than any other type of property to have a substantial garden area, though detached homes built during or since the 1980s tend to be on much smaller plots than earlier ones.
The main disadvantage of detached houses is that they are much more expensive to buy than all other types for the amount of floor space you get. If maximising indoor living and storage space for your budget is important to you and your budget is not so high that all houses in your target price range are detached, then a detached house could be a poor buy.
ii. Semi-detached houses: advantages and disadvantages
Semi-detached houses can offer a good compromise between affordability and autonomy. You will have a party wall with just one neighbour, but depending on when the house was built and to what design, you may have a substantial amount of living space for your money and even a decent area of garden.
The official government definition of a semi-detached house in the UK stipulates that it be attached to just one neighbouring house as part of a block of just two houses. The length of the overall block of houses is what differentiates it from the end-terraced house (q.v. below).
The typical semi-detached house is set against a neighbour of a symmetrically opposite design, so that the two together resemble a single large detached house. However, they are not always found thus in practice.
The UK has many semi-detached houses constructed to a similar design from the 1930s to the 1950s, typically with two fairly long but relatively narrow main reception rooms leading off the same side of a hall set against the party wall. These houses tend to have bay windows at the front and render-covered walls. They look attractive and welcoming inside and out, and some have substantial gardens, but they can be relatively pricey for the amount of internal floor space they have.
Later semi-detached houses built from the late 1950s to the 1980s are more likely to be brick-set (without render), with large-paned windows. These are variable in size but usually fairly compact, and often have one large reception room instead of two smaller ones.
iii. Bungalows: advantages and disadvantages
A subset of detached and semi-detached houses is the bungalow, a house built on a single storey without a staircase (though it may still have an attic accessible via a ladder). Bungalows in Great Britain often date from the mid-late 20th century, and can make for pleasant, modern low-maintenance living spaces for those for whom the use of a staircase is otherwise problematic. They are not all tiny by any means, but you will probably pay more per square metre of indoor living space than you would with a conventional detached or semi-detached house on two or more storeys.
iv. Terraced houses: advantages and disadvantages
Terraced houses are usually the best-value propositions on a tight budget, and some older ones (especially those constructed before the 1920s) can be quite spacious. Just be aware that there will be no room in your house that does not immediately adjoin a room of one of your neighbours’ houses, so you’ll have to keep the noise levels down or face the consequences of unhappy, complaining neighbours.
Most of the UK’s terraced houses were constructed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but some are older still and others are modern. Much of our older terraced housing stock was quite cheaply built, and if not property maintained and modernised will be found to have problems such as damp, poor insulation, cracks in walls, and roofs in need of repair. Insulation may be poor as a result of their originally being built with working fireplaces, few of which are still used today. Bathrooms may have been fitted on the ground floor instead of on the first floor.
Depending on how recently they have been modernised, not all will be found to have fittings that are considered of an acceptable standard by today’s buyers. All in all, old terraced houses may need quite a lot of work done on them to bring them up to comfortable early 21st century living standards. Room sizes and configurations are very variable, and prices will tend to vary to match.
Many older terraced and end-of-terrace houses lack front gardens, facing directly onto the street. Some may have small front and slightly larger back yards but no green space. Think carefully about whether you would be willing to forfeit having a garden in order to pay less for your house. You might find there are some very good deals if you don’t need or care to maintain a garden.
v. End-terraced houses: meaning, advantages and disadvantages
The end-terraced or end-of-terrace house is a house attached to just one neighbour that in its turn is attached to two neighbours. Thus, although in common with the semi-detached house it has only one neighbour, it is classified differently thanks to the terraced status of that neighbour.
End-of-terrace houses tend to be slightly more expensive than terraced houses for their size and location, as a result of having no neighbours on one side, but cheaper than semi-detached houses. In some cases they will have private access around the side that lacks a neighbour, while in others the side-wall will immediately give onto a road.
Because they were constructed as parts of a terrace, end-terraced houses are of the same age as the terraced houses they are joined with, and may have similar needs for modernisation and maintenance.
vi. Flats or apartments: advantages and disadvantages
Flats, known outside British shores and in some aspirational estate agent literature as apartments, are typically residences occupying part or all of the living space on a single storey within a larger building, though in some cases they may be spread over two storeys.
Flats vary in size from tiny to substantial, and the fittings may be primitive and antiquated or modern and luxurious. Small flats in less upmarket areas are generally the cheapest properties available to buy, but the larger and more luxurious ones, and those in expensive areas, will be a lot pricier than the cheaper terraced houses.
A major disadvantage of most flats is that you will most often have to buy them leasehold, which means that when you sell them on, you will be selling only the remaining portion of the lease, so if for example you purchase a flat with a 70-year lease at the age of thirty and live there until you decide to move to serviced elderly care accommodation at the age of ninety, there will be only ten years of your lease left at the time of sale, and it will accordingly be worth very little compared with the price you paid for it adjusted for house price inflation.
Leasehold properties also tend to attract monthly or annual standing charges, and if (as is quite commonly the case) the freehold is owned by a management company comprised of the current leaseholders in the building, then you will be expected to participate in meetings at which the expenditure of these charges on repairs, maintenance and other common issues is decided. Such meetings may be contentious, as not all residents may feel inclined to agree that certain proposed pieces of work are necessary, and if you have pushy, domineering or unfriendly neighbours, they can be trying on your skills of negotiation and relationship management.
Finally, because flats have neighbours not only on both sides but also above, below, or both above and below, there will be much stricter limits on the amount of noise you will be reasonably expected and permitted to make than with any other type of property, and the risk of fire spreading from neighbouring properties is also significantly increased.
vii. Maisonettes: meaning, advantages and disadvantages
Maisonettes are effectively flats occupying parts of at least two storeys within a larger overall building, but with their own separate entrance to the grounds or street, which distinguishes them from two-storey flats accessible only from an interior hall.
Maisonettes can sometimes be very substantial if they form part of a large old house, and these can be costly properties. But they may also be small and poky. Some will occupy the upper storeys of a building that has commercial premises on the ground floor. Depending on the nature of the premises, this may make them cheaper than other properties of similar size as a result of added noise and risk.
As with flats, many maisonettes will be leasehold, so you’ll have to pay standing charges to cover common maintenance costs.