Understanding if the home you own or want to buy is of standard or non-standard construction is extremely important. The type of construction can affect the mortgageability, insurability and saleability of your home.
BISF houses make up around 3.5% of all non-standard construction properties in the UK.
So, what is a BISF house? And are they hard to sell?
BISF (British Iron and Steel Federation) houses are a type of steel-framed house built in the UK in the mid-20th century. They were designed to be quick to construct to address the shortage of housing after World War II. BISF homes can be hard to sell due to their insurability, poor insulation and limited appeal.
There are many common misconceptions when it comes to BISF houses. In this ultimate guide, we will dispel those misconceptions and provide answers to the most common questions surrounding durability, saleability, energy efficiency and insurability.
If you are a seller, this guide explores the challenges you may face trying to sell a BISF home, and the ways you can improve your chances of securing a sale. We also look at suitable alternative methods of selling if you are struggling to find a buyer down the traditional estate agency route.
Want home sale help now? Take our free quiz for personalised BISF home-sale advice:
This ultimate guide also caters for the buyers out there. This guide will help you identify a BISF house and weigh up the pros and cons of BISF homes, so you can make an informed decision on your future purchase.
1. What is a BISF House?
BISF houses are a type of steel-framed non-standard construction house, developed by the British Iron and Steel Federation (BISF) and manufactured by British Steel Houses Ltd. BISF houses were built around the country from 1946 onwards to satisfy housing demand, at a time when raw materials and skilled labour were in short supply.
BISF houses are system built, rather than prefabricated in its construction.
There are around 35,000 BISF houses in England, Scotland and Wales. 97% of all BISF houses are semi-detached. The remaining 3% are terraced homes.
BISF houses can be identified by their characteristic corrugated roof, ground floor render and first floor vertical metal sheet cladding appearance.
1.1 Common BISF House misconceptions
There are many misconceptions when it comes to BISF properties.
In my experience, many estate agents do not have a sound understanding of BISF properties and can often unknowingly put buyers off by sharing false facts.
It can be very difficult to navigate a sale or purchase of a BISF house when you are being fed misleading or false information.
With that in mind, let’s dispel some of the most common misconceptions about BISF houses:
- BISF houses are not temporary dwellings.
- BISF houses are not “prefabs”.
- BISF houses are not classed as “defective” under the Housing Act 1985.
- BISF houses do not require a PRC certificate to be mortgageable.
- Not all steel-framed houses are BISF houses.
Why these common misconceptions cause problems
BISF houses are often confused with prefabricated houses, such as Airey houses, built in the same post-war era. This can cause problems when it comes to selling a BISF home as several prefabricated house types were designated as “inherently defective” under the Housing Defects Legislation (now Part XV1 of the Housing Act 1985).
For a “defective” property to be mortgageable, any repairs carried out under the Scheme of Assistance must have been licensed, inspected, and certificated by PRC Homes Ltd.
This one may come as a surprise to you, but BISF houses are not temporary dwellings! BISF houses were designed and built as permanent homes with a similar expected lifespan to that of a traditional brick-built house.
They are often incorrectly classified as temporary dwellings due to their visual similarity to the Aluminium B8 and Arcon temporary bungalows, which did have an expected lifespan of only 10 years.
Now we’ve dispelled some of the most common misconceptions, let’s look at some of the genuine problems associated with BISF homes…
2. Problems with BISF Houses
BISF houses often come with a number of associated problems that can ultimately make them harder to sell in the long run. Problems associated with BISF houses include:
- Difficulties obtaining a mortgage.
- More expensive to insure.
- Can be expensive to repair when specialised tradespeople are required to fix a defect.
- Asbestos found in the corrugated asbestos cement roofing sheets.
Let’s look at each of the associated problems in greater detail below and explore how they can affect your home’s future saleability…
2.1 Can I get a mortgage on a BISF house?
You can get a mortgage on a BISF house, but your choice of lenders will be limited due to the non-standard construction type. Mortgage lenders favour houses built according to standard construction criteria.
With that being said, there are things you can do to improve your chances of securing a mortgage on a BISF house:
- Talk to local surveyors. It is likely that there’ll be a few BISF properties in the area. A local surveyor who has experience working with lenders on this type of property will be able to give you a better idea of how lenders view BISF homes, and if they lend at all.
- Contact local building societies. It is worth asking local buildings societies if they’ve lent on such properties. They might be less inclined to avoid risk if it’s a property in the local area.
- Speak to a mortgage broker. If you’re struggling to find a lender, you can speak to a mortgage broker. They should be able to help you pinpoint the lenders most likely to approve your application.
- Lower your loan-to-value (LTV) ratio. Mortgage lenders view non-standard construction properties as greater risk, which is why they are more hesitant to lend. A way to reduce the risk for the lender (and potentially increasing your chances of securing the mortgage) is by increasing the deposit you put down on the property.
- Be transparent from the outset. You should always be transparent about the property type with the lender from the outset. The discovery that the house is BISF later down the line can cost you both time and money.
You should also keep in mind that a lender will only refuse a mortgage on a property if there is not enough security for the loan. Sometimes this is about the employment status or credit history of an applicant. But some lenders will also view the structure of a property as being a mitigating factor.
2.2 Is it more expensive to insure a BISF house?
BISF houses can be harder and more expensive to insure. This is because they are a non-standard construction property, and so the insurers feel the potential risk and repair costs are less predictable than those of a traditional build.
The good news is that BISF houses are still insurable. Go Compare states that “Steel-framed houses made by the British Iron and Steel Federation (BISF) were built to last and should still be insurable.”
Inevitably, you will need to shop around to find an insurer willing to provide home insurance for a BISF property. If you are struggling, speak with a specialist insurance broker who has experience with this type of construction.
2.3 Expensive repairs
BISF properties can be expensive to repair. If the property has defects, it is likely that you’ll need to hire a specialised tradesperson to carry out the necessary repairs. Tradespeople specialising in BISF properties are few and far between, meaning you can expect to pay more and there might be a long waitlist.
2.4 Asbestos and BISF
Asbestos can be found in the roofs of some BISF houses. The most common material used for BISF roofing was bold-roll white cement asbestos sheeting, but other materials were used such as profiled aluminium sheet roofs.
This obviously has some worrying implications, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that selling a BISF house will be impossible.
Generally speaking, the asbestos will not be a problem if it’s undamaged and undisturbed. While this is by no means an adequate reason to leave it there, it shouldn’t pose any immediate problem unless it is tampered with or showing signs of damage.
If you are thinking of selling a BISF house, asbestos roofing will be picked up by a survey and can put potential buyers off. It will likely also make the property considerably more expensive, and trickier, to insure.
If you suspect your BISF house may contain asbestos, it’s best to have it inspected by a professional who will be able to test for the presence of asbestos.
A licence is not needed to remove an asbestos roof if it’s made with asbestos cement, but it is advisable to bring in professionals to deal with the safe removal of the asbestos to ensure the HSE guidance is followed.
It shouldn't take too long to replace an asbestos roof, but it will obviously involve a cost. Remember to get a quote for the safe removal and disposal of the asbestos, as well as the labour, scaffolding and materials of the new roof that will be fitted in its place.
3. How do I know if my house is BISF?
BISF houses have many recognisable characteristics which make them relatively easy to identify. The easiest way to identify a BISF house is by the characteristic exterior combination of ground floor render and first floor metal cladding. If in doubt, speak with a local surveyor who will be able to give you a definitive answer.
3.1 BISF house visual identifiers
Here are a few ways to identify a BISF house:
- Render and metal sheet cladding. BISF houses can be identified by the materials used on the exterior of the property. A BISF house will tend to have cement render on the ground floor, with large vertical profiled and galvanised metal sheet cladding on the first floor.
- They tend to come in pairs. The majority of BISF houses were built as semi-detached pair properties. This isn’t always the case though as some short terraces were also constructed at the time.
- The absence of a porch. BISF houses don’t usually have a porch unless they’ve been modified later down the line. Instead, most BISF houses will have an external canopy held up by two metal posts, like the one in the picture below.
- Corrugated roof. The most common roofing material used on BISF properties was generally corrugated asbestos cement, or corrugated metal sheeting.
- You’re finding it hard to get a mortgage. Mortgage lenders favour houses built according to standard construction criteria. As BISF houses are non-standard construction, you may find it harder (but not impossible) to secure a mortgage.
If you are thinking about buying a property and suspect it may be of non-standard construction, you should get a home survey to clarify the construction type. You should ensure that the surveyor you commission is familiar with the construction type and is a member of one of the two main accrediting bodies: RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) or RPSA (Residential Property Surveyors Association).
3.2 BISF Location Index
NonStandardHouse.com has created a handy tool which lists all currently known BISF house locations in England, Scotland and Wales.
Select the relevant location index and use the search tool to find the street name of the property you are interest in. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list, but is an excellent starting point if the property you have viewed has any of the recognisable characteristics listed above.
4. Buying a BISF property
BISF houses are almost always cheaper to buy than an equivalent standard construction house, which can make them a more affordable option for some buyers.
BISF houses often tend to be in good locations and have sizeable gardens. If properly maintained, they can make great homes.
However, there are some things to consider before purchasing a BISF property:
- Condition. Is the condition of the BISF property good, or will it require significant repairs or renovations? You should get a structural engineer familiar with BISF properties to carry out a thorough inspection to identify any potential issues.
- Structural issues. A 1986 report carried out by the Building Research Establishment found that “the majority of BISF houses are structurally sound”. However, it’s worth checking whether there has been any corrosion to the supporting stanchions before you commit to the purchase. Thankfully, any substantial corrosion can be removed and replaced with a new section of steel (but will be an additional cost to consider).
- Energy efficiency. BISF houses in their original form are not energy efficient, which will lead to higher utility costs. It may be sensible to get some building quotes for suitable insulation systems before making your offer.
- Location. Is the location of the BISF property suitable for your needs? This isn’t “BISF-specific” but is something to consider. Generally, BISF properties tend to be in better, more central locations than new builds.
- Resale value & ease. Depending on the location and the market conditions, it can be harder and take longer to sell a BISF property compared to a traditional house. Keep this in mind if you are planning to sell the property in the future.
- Financing. Will I be able to obtain a mortgage? BISF houses are mortgageable, but only certain lenders will be willing to lend on this type of property. Speak with the seller and local surveyors for recommendations or a specialist mortgage broker to find a suitable lender.
- Maintenance. BISF houses may require more maintenance and upkeep than newer houses (depending on the condition). Issues found in this type of house can include cracking of the render, rusting of the steel profile cladding and deterioration of the asbestos cement roofing.
- Insurance. It can be harder and more expensive to find home insurance for BISF houses. Not all insurance providers will be willing to insure a non-standard construction home. It’s worth picking up the phone to the insurance company once you’ve received a quote to make sure you’re fully covered.
If you’re considering buying a BISF property, you should also consider any problems you may face if you decide to sell the property in the future…
5. Selling a BISF property
The good news is it’s possible to sell a BISF house, but it might take you slightly longer to find a willing buyer.
Not sure where to start with selling your BISF house? Our free quiz can help guide you in the right direction:
There are a few potential challenges that you might face along the way, including:
- Common misconceptions held by buyers and estate agents alike.
- Concerns over the energy efficiency of a BISF home.
- Buyers struggling to obtain a mortgage and/or insurance for a BISF home.
- Extensive and costly repair works if the property hasn’t been properly maintained.
- Limited kerb appeal.
Despite the challenges, there are ways of improving your chances of selling a BISF house if you take the right approach...
5.1 7 ways to improve your chances of selling a BISF house
Over the years, I’ve given advice to over 70 readers about the best way to sell their BISF property.
Here are some of my top tips to improve your chances of selling a BISF house:
- Pick the right estate agent. In my experience, so many estate agents do not have sufficient knowledge of BISF properties and can end up scaring potential buyers away with incorrect answers. Be sure to pick a recommended, local agent with good knowledge and experience selling properties of this type.
- Replace the original asbestos roof. Replacing the original asbestos roof will likely make the property more mortgageable and insurable for prospective buyers and will mean you can increase your asking price.
- Make the house more energy efficient. If you want to achieve the best price for the property and appeal to more buyers, it might be worth making internal and/or external improvements as BISF properties are known to have terrible insulation.
- Make any necessary repairs. It’s likely that any buyers will request an invasive survey of the property before buying, and any issues such as corroding stanchions are likely to be picked up at this stage. Some buyers will be put off by the prospect of repairs, so you can increase your potential buyer pool and asking price by making any necessary repairs before you put the property on the market.
- Tidy the property. A cheap but effective way to appeal to more buyers. Decluttering the property will allow buyers viewing your home to see the space on offer, imagine their furniture and themselves living in the property.
- Research BISF-friendly insurers and lenders. Buyers are likely to have concerns around the insurability and mortgageability of BISF properties. If you can provide them with options of BISF-friendly insurers and lenders, this will make the property much more appealing to potential buyers.
- Price the house appropriately. Be sure to set a competitive price for your BISF property. It may be helpful to speak to a local agent or review comparable sales in your area to determine the appropriate asking price.
If you don’t have the time or funds to carry out the building work suggested above, or you are struggling to find a buyer on the open market, there is another way to sell your BISF home…
5.2 Sell your BISF house by auction
Selling a BISF house by auction can be a great option if you are:
- Looking for a faster sale. Auctions can typically be wrapped up within 10-12 weeks, with a much greater deal of certainty that selling on the open market.
- Struggling to find a buyer on the open market. Auctions tend to attract more experienced investors who will not be put off by a non-standard construction property.
- Do not want to carry out repairs or improvements before selling. As I said above, auctions tend to attract more investors who will be looking for opportunities to add value. If your BISF house needs work, investors will see this as a plus.
To see if auction's the right fit for you, take the free quiz I've designed for you. If auction is right, I can connect you with my #1 Leading Auction House in your area. You'll have a free consultation with an auction expert, and a free auction appraisal within 24-48 hours.
You can also read more about the pros and cons of selling a BISF house by auction in my article “7 Ways To Improve Your Chances of Selling a BISF House [My Top Tips]”.
Q1 How much do BISF houses cost?
It’s difficult to give a precise estimate of how much a BISF house would sell for in the UK, as the price can vary widely depending on the location, condition and size of the property.
In general, BISF houses are less expensive than traditional brick-and-mortar houses, but they can still fetch a healthy sale price.
You should speak with a local estate agent to get a better idea of what a specific BISF house might sell for in a particular location.
Q2 Are BISF houses durable?
Many prospective buyers are put off BISF homes because they are concerned about the durability of a steel-framed house compared with the traditional brick-and-mortar home.
However, BISF houses were designed and built to be permanent dwellings with a projected lifespan equal to that of a traditional brick-built house. With proper maintenance and upkeep, a BISF house can be a durable and reliable place to live.
Q3 Are BISF houses energy efficient?
BISF houses in their standard form are amongst the most thermally inefficient property types in the country.
There are a number of ways in which a BISF house can be insulated to make it more energy efficient, including:
- Internal wall insulation systems. This is the cheaper option but can cause problems if the fitting is not properly incorporated or incorrect products are used.
- External insulated cladding systems. This is the more expensive option, but improves BISF home’s thermal efficiency, lifespan and aesthetic.
Q4 Do all BISF houses contain asbestos?
Not all BISF houses contain asbestos.
The most common place you may find asbestos in a BISF house is the roof. Corrugated asbestos roofing sheets were used in the construction of some BISF houses.
Asbestos roofing will be picked up by a survey and can put potential buyers off. It will likely also make the property considerably more expensive, and trickier, to insure.
Any original asbestos sheeting should ideally be removed and replaced. Make sure the asbestos is removed and disposed of safely in accordance with the Health and Safety Executive asbestos guidance.
By Matthew Cooper, Co-Founder of Home Selling Expert