For many people, buying a dream home in the country means falling in love with the classic picture postcard look. Timber-framed thatched cottages may epitomise the quintessential English countryside home – but these types of homes don't come without challenges. If you have your heart set on one of these historic beauties, you need your head to be equally engaged.
Do your homework so you understand what these period properties are all about, and make sure you take specialist advice to help you find a good one. There’s nothing worse than investing your hard-earned cash into your dream home, only to find that you’ve bought a money pit. Here are four key questions you should be asking before you sign on the dotted line:
1. How difficult is it to get a mortgage and home insurance?
You may struggle to raise finances for your dream home if it is timber-framed and has a thatched roof. Mortgage companies typically require properties to be of conventional brick construction with a tiled or slate roof and built with standard building methods. Non-standard properties such as your dream cottage are unlikely to satisfy mainstream lending criteria, so you will have to shop around for a specialist mortgage provider or pay cash.
It is a common misconception that house insurance premiums for thatched properties are sky-high, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Your best bet is to approach niche insurance companies that deal with non-standard properties and specialise in thatch. This way, you will find competitive prices based on real risk rather than on inaccurate assumptions.
2. Does the property have a listed status?
There are more than 60,0000 thatched properties in Britain, and over three-quarters of these buildings hold listed building status. Dorset has more thatched houses than anywhere else in the UK. Properties are designated Grade I, Grade II* or Grade II Listed according to the significance of their historical and architectural special interest.
Listed buildings are subject to additional planning restrictions and require Listed Building Consent for any alterations and improvements that impact their protected features. There will certainly be guidelines you must follow when it comes to rethatching, and permission will have to be obtained from your local authority for different thatching styles and materials. Many district councils run historic building schemes to help protect and maintain listed properties within the area, and rethatching grants may be available.
3. Is there a recent Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR)?
You may be shocked to find that two-thirds of homes are not checked for electrical safety before purchase, leaving their new owners at risk of high electricity bills, electric shock, and fire. With a thatched cottage, getting a full electrical check done is even more important - straw and dodgy wiring are not a good combination!
An electrical inspection should be carried out as an addition to your main home survey. A qualified electrician will check for any overloaded or broken power sources and test the state of switches, sockets, wiring, and any other power sources in the property to ensure they comply with international safety standards. Most home insurance companies will require an inspection of electrical circuits every five to 10 years.
4. Is the thatched roof in good condition?
Unless you’re an expert in the field, it is unlikely that you will be able to accurately assess the state of the roof. Just because it looks dirty doesn’t mean it needs rethatching. In order to ascertain whether the roof needs a good clean, the thatch needs repairing or strengthening, or a new roof is required, we urge you to take specialist advice. Have a thatched roof survey carried out by a specialist surveyor and use evidence of any serious defects to negotiate a discount on the purchase price.
Get recommendations for several professional thatchers to take a look and quote for any work that needs doing. You can also search the National Society of Master Thatchers here for members in your local area. One final word of caution: Don’t be confused by the title of Master Thatcher – it does not indicate any particular level of skill or qualification, means nothing more than that the thatcher is an independent craftsman.