If their architect has walked away, should we?
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We agreed to purchase a recently completed barn conversion and arranged for a survey. The results gave the property a sound bill of health, with a completion certificate being issued by the local authority building control last September.
But our solicitor then discovered that the project’s architect had not issued his completion certificate. The vendor told us that he and the architect had fallen out. As a result, the architect had not seen the development through and refuses even to discuss the property. Our solicitor says that without this certificate the property is unmortgageable and strongly advises us to withdraw.
We have consulted other architects and they say they cannot issue a retrospective certificate; other experts warn us that the resale of this barn will be extremely difficult.
Surely there must be a way of selling an attractive, solidly built house that satisfies local authority building regulations but is denied a piece of paper because of a spat between the present owner and his architect?
Lorna Vestey writes:
There are basically two types of certificate issued by architects. The first certifies that various stages of building works are finished. The second type, often called an “architects’ certificate” but in reality a “Professional Consultants’ Certificate”, is normally in a standard format issued by the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) and is used where there is no building warranty such as that provided by the National House Building Council. Your solicitor is entirely correct as to the importance of this.
Professional liability may exist if something goes wrong which could reasonably have been evident at inspection, so retrospective CML certificates are seldom issued by architects on buildings with which they have not been involved. The Royal Institute of British Architects, for example, warns members of the potential perils of doing so and suggests justifiable qualifications to such a certificate – which might render it insufficient for a mortgage lender.
I would tell the vendor, through your solicitor, that you cannot buy the property without the CML certificate and neither is anyone else likely to do so. Ask him to use RIBA’s dispute resolution function (020 7580 5533); only he as the architect’s client can do this. We do not know when the disagreement occurred but the original architect might issue the certificate if the dispute could be solved.
Alternatively, there are Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors building surveyors who have a significant part of their business based in this and similar activity, and who may undertake inspection and issue of a retrospective CML certificate (0870 333 1600 or www.ricsfirms.com). Lorna Vestey is a former partner of a blue-chip London estate agency.
I am about to ask a question I guess everybody is asking. Do you think interest rates will continue to increase in the way they have in the past year or do you think the rise will slow down and possibly even go into reverse?
My boyfriend and I are about to purchase our first flat together. A month ago we thought taking out a two-year fixed mortgage was the better financial option. Now, however, we are wondering whether we should take out a tracker mortgage for two years.
Is it best to tie yourself into a mortgage for two years with a rate at 6.3 per cent, or wiser to ride the wave with a tracker and hope that, even if interest rates do increase once more, it still works out cheaper?
James Cotton writes:
This is definitely a popular question at the moment and one to which I wish I knew the answer! First, I think it is safe to say that interest rates should not continue rising as they have done recently. Since August last year, the Bank of England has increased rates five times, by a total of 1.25 per cent. The general consensus is that while one more rise is a possibility, we are now at, or at least near, the peak of the current cycle.
However, the recent stock market volatility shows that it is difficult to predict exactly what is going to happen in the future. It is therefore best to choose a mortgage deal that suits your own circumstances.
As first-time buyers, you may simply prefer to get a fixed rate just so you know exactly what your payments will be each month – for a lot of people, this certainty is worth paying a higher rate. However, if your monthly finances are in good health and budgeting is not a concern, a tracker may work out cheaper if rates move as expected.
Overall, there is not a great deal of difference between the two at the moment. Britannia for example has a two-year fixed rate at 5.49 per cent with a £999 arrangement fee, while Nationwide has a two-year tracker at 5.38 per cent with a £1,499 fee.
What is most important is that you consider your budget, think which type of deal you would be most comfortable with and shop around to get the best deal available. James Cotton is a mortgage specialist at L & C (0800 953 0304; www.lcplc. co.uk)
The outside edge of the damp course in our 20-year-old house is covered by a cement bridge, which is coming away in various places, and makes the house look a bit tatty. I would like to make good and tidy it up but common sense tells me that it should not have been covered in the first place. All the nearby houses have their damp course bridged in the same way. Should I go ahead, or chip the whole lot off?
David Snell writes:
Old-fashioned or bituminous felt damp-proof courses needed to be sandwiched between two fairly substantial beds of mortar, one below and one above. This often led to the mortar joint at the damp proof course being very much thicker than for the rest of the wall. To disguise this, many bricklayers opted to make some sort of feature of it by creating a weatherstruck or sloping joint to mask the damp proof course itself.
No real harm can come of this but over time the very thickness and exposure of this mortar joint means that it will begin to fall away. The trouble is that trying to replace or patch it up will leave the repairs as a hostage to the first frosts. Chipping it all off will not do any harm at all, but you might need to rake the joint back above and below the damp proof course in order to get a flush point. David Snell is contributing editor to ‘Homebuilding & Renovating’ magazine and author of ‘Building Your Own Home’, available at £25 plus p&p from 0870 155 7222.
We have had our planning application rejected by a “locum” acting for the local council on the grounds that it is “out of keeping with the area”, and adds an unacceptable 70 per cent mass to the house. We live in a community of nine houses in a private road with all dwellings surrounded by dense trees and not visible to our neighbours or the public.
Most of the houses in our lane have had extensive developments, while our plan is much more modest. The planner said that “precedent is not a consideration” and what others in his department have allowed in the vicinity is irrelevant to him.
We will obviously go to appeal but believe the planning department will close ranks. Should we consider the courts as a more appropriate route to try to reverse an injustice? How can one man act as judge and jury?
John Winter writes:
Planning committees usually have too much work, so they delegate less contentious applications to the planning officer dealing with the case. As much of the decision making is purely subjective, it will rest on the personal viewpoint of the planning officer. This one person does have to act as “judge and jury”. It is bad luck that the particular officer dealing with your case was unsympathetic to your views.
I do not understand your comment about the planning department “closing ranks”. In my experience, appeals are considered by intelligent people who understand the planning system and have the power, indeed the duty, to issue a decision. Courts, on the other hand, are not so good at dealing with subjective issues: they can question the local authority’s process, but, as that seems to have been satisfactory in administrative terms, they can do little to help you. They do not have the power to reverse a legally made planning refusal. Have faith in the appeal process. John Winter runs his own architectural practice.