Factors involved in residential property valuation

The residential market is imperfect. There is no central market place as a result buyers and sellers are relatively uninformed and even their professional advisors, valuers and agents, only have a limited knowledge of what is available for sale and of what is happening in the market.

Every house, flat, bungalow or other unit of residential accommodation is unique in some respect. Even a pair of semidetached houses differ as between right-hand and left-hand units.

This makes the task of valuation much more difficult than in those markets where there are standard units or products such as stocks, shares, gold, apples and cars. It is further complicated by the fact that there is no acceptable unit of comparison.

Residential property can occasionally be compared on the basis of a price per m2 (or sq ft) of floor space, but issues such as the number of bedrooms, reception rooms, car spaces, circulation space, views and the like can all vary between properties of precisely the same floor area, thus making the total unit of accommodation the only acceptable unit of comparison.

In the past the market had seasonal fluctuations, with greater activity and steadier, possibly rising prices, in spring and early summer, a quiet period in August followed by a mini-spur in September. These seasonal movements are less pronounced today but can still be detected. They can be different in different parts of the country and significantly different between London and popular holiday areas such as the Lake District. They can be affected by significant changes in market forces such as a change in mortgage interest rates.

In addition to seasonal movements, there are cycles of under-supply and over-supply and other movements of a migratory nature such as the desire to balance proximity to work with proximity to the country, and leisure activities with travel time and cost.

In most markets increases in effective demand against a fixed supply will lead to an upward movement in price. The upward movement in price encourages suppliers to produce more and for more suppliers to enter that market. In the residential market the response to such a shift in demand is slow.

It is argued that planning controls impede the supply of land and hence the supply of new houses coming on to the market. Even without such controls there would be a delay caused by the inability of the house-building industry to raise productivity in the short run. It is difficult for the market to respond precisely to match an increase in demand in an area because land becomes available in sizeable chunks and house-builders tend to be market followers, not market creators. The result is that an increase in demand in an area may in time be followed by an over supply.

The valuer’s task is to interpret the state of the market in an area at a point in time. Currently the residential market in the UK is experiencing a period of continuing price growth which is seen to be a reflection of: people living longer, greater single occupation of property, migratory growth in population and increased demand by individuals and investment companies to acquire property on a ‘buy to let basis’. The residential sector has been identified by many, at least in the short term, as a safe place for capital.

Over a number of years changes in consumer preferences occur which can be incorporated in new home design but are more difficult to incorporate in the existing housing stock. These style changes can shift the demand and hence value patterns of an area and must be monitored. The upper end of the market can be particularly vulnerable to these changes of fashion.

Residential property has a fixed location and can only be enjoyed at that location. The enjoyment of a property will depend upon general environmental factors and specific local factors. In the case of owner-occupation, the market reflects the relationship between employment opportunities, communications, general facilities of an area and the environmental factors. Growth in economic activity, more jobs and better pay, tends to cause a rise in values because of the relatively fixed level of supply.

Analysis of the economic opportunities of an area is essential if house buyers are to make sound house purchase decisions. Current concerns of global warming may begin to affect values in areas identified as liable to increased flood risk, coastal areas at risk and greater concerns by discerning buyers for environmentally sound energy efficient homes.

Total home demand has to be translated into effective demand. Effective demand is a function of the national economy and gross national product. The valuer needs to know and to consider what is happening to base indicators such as the level of unemployment, the way employment is changing, current wage levels, and the propensity of the population to save and to invest in their own homes.

The reduction in employment during the early 1990s caused by cutbacks and closures led in some areas to reductions in value both in real terms and in money terms. Money in bricks and mortar will not always be safe.

The housing market and levels of home ownership are closely connected with the availability of credit. Effective desire can only be translated to effective demand through the availability of credit, largely in the form of funds for mortgage loans offered by the building societies, the banks and the insurance companies. Availability of, and the cost of, finance are socioeconomic elements in the market-place, as are the loan terms of such organisations. Lenders are very competitive but changes in lending policy can increase demand. Thus increases in income multipliers or joint income multipliers can increase the number of potential buyers or their potential price range.

Credit for house purchase offered by banks and building societies is dependent upon two factors: the security of the property offered against the loan, and the financial status of the borrower. Very simply, the more one earns the more one can borrow. Thus in a housing market where demand exceeds supply higher salaries and wages will provide purchasers with greater purchasing power: this balanced against the fixed supply leads to higher property prices through competition between buyers. The cost of buying, the interest payable on house purchase loans (mortgages), is outside the control of the banks and building societies in that to maintain a flow of savings to sustain a flow of loans they have to compete in the money market. As a result, mortgage interest rates can rise and fall with the world’s changing view of the British economy and with changes in the Bank of England’s base rate. Many mortgage interest rates are linked formally or informally to base rate. A rise in base rate will generally give rise to an increase in mortgage interest rates and a fall to a fall in interest rates.

The government can influence the economy, finance and hence the marketplace. Governments set minimum standards for new homes, through planning control, building, energy and health regulations. These standards affect costs, which influence developers’ attitudes as to feasibility and influence the volume of new houses in the market-place. EU regulations may also influence market forces. The requirement for a statement as to the energy rating of a property may impact on the value of low rated properties in the same way as energy ratings have led to the disappearance of most non A rated electrical goods.

The government can and has influenced the market in other ways, such as by encouraging public sector tenants to purchase their homes, by imposing rent control and protection on the private rented sector, and by changes in taxation.

The general level of values depends upon the general and area-specific levels of economic activity, community income and wealth; the existing quality and quantity of residential property in an area; the rate of addition to that stock; the point at which a local market happens to be in a particular cycle, and the underlying confidence that people within and outside a particular area have in the economic future and prosperity of that area.

The fixed location of property means that the nature of the neighbourhood and the immediate surrounding properties are crucial factors in terms of buyers’ attitudes and hence in determining a value for a property within the level of values for that area.

A number of factors affect the attitude of buyers. These factors in turn determine whether an area at a point in time is considered to be desirable with rising values, acceptable with stable values, or depressed with falling values. A similar house in each such area could have very different values.

People need property, in this context people need somewhere to live. The size and composition of the population is an indication of the number and possible size of houses required by that population. But the residential market is a local market so it is important to consider the population within a definable area and to know its composition and the extent to which it is changing. Is it an ageing population, is it growing or declining naturally and/ or by migration into or away from the area? Demand characteristics can change both across the country and within local areas. Over recent years developers have become niche operators, seeking to satisfy current demand.

Market analysis identifies the need for, say, starter homes, single-person homes, family homes, luxury homes, retirement homes, student villages. Market analysis will also identify preferences in terms of type of accommodation, design, materials, construction, internal layout and facilities.

The socio-economic composition of a neighbourhood has a major impact on values. A socially deprived or underprivileged area will display that fact in the deterioration of the urban fabric, including the deterioration in physical condition of homes. Deprived means depressed, which signifies low incomes, multiple occupations and low values.

In time, however, a combination of other factors, including the architectural and historic nature of an area, may draw in a wealthier class who will gentrify or reinstate the properties to their original condition and turn such an area into a high value area. Such movements are observable but not always predictable.

In a similar way areas historically noted for housing the wealthier owner-occupier may go into decline as large units or large plots become a financial burden and are sold for conversion and multiple letting. In time the same area may revert back to single family ownership or be substantially redeveloped for low-cost housing or high-value housing, depending upon the level and nature of demand at a point in time when redevelopment is seen as the proper solution for a declining neighbourhood.

The level of vandalism and crime are regrettably indicative of an area’s undesirability. Such changes are partly attitudinal and, like a disease, can spread very rapidly If a community senses that no one cares about an area, in particular the authorities, then the residents cease to care. The result is decline, which is immediately reflected in falling property values.

Active residents’ associations and neighbourhood watch committees show concern by the community for their neighbourhood which can stimulate pride in an area and lead to rising values. The market and market values are obvious reflections of social desirability.

The extremes of social deprivation and social well-being coincide with the extremes of values to be found within a defined geographic area. The residential valuer must be alert to the potential for change and be aware that within broadly defined residential groupings there will be pockets of properties which appear to defy logic but nevertheless maintain high values in areas of low values or areas of low values in an area dominated by high values.

Once a change in an area is signaled the value movement tends to be fairly fast as the new socio-economic group moves in to replace the higher or lower socio-economic group.

These social features are closely related to the income profile of the population and the underlying economic activity of that section of the population that predominates in a given residential area. This is further reflected in market activity. Properties in desirable areas change hands quickly, with a minimum of properties remaining vacant. Properties in declining areas tend to remain on the market for longer periods, tend to become vacant and remain vacant, deteriorate, shift to multiple occupation, and may finally be condemned.

Local politics are a reflection of and a response to these changing social and economic forces. The future of a neighbourhood can be affected by the strength of the community in political terms. Strong representation can produce improvements to schools, health and community services and dictate the attitude of the authorities to that area. Small changes on their own have little impact, but in combination can strengthen a neighbourhood. Thus the attention of the authorities to street cleaning, refuse collection, repair and maintenance of roads and footpaths, street furniture, local schools etc will all become part of the environmental picture which impacts upon buyers’ attitudes and hence on their willingness to commit themselves to a purchase at a particular price.

Physical and environmental factors help to define the neighbourhood. Those areas which are, in physical terms, well maintained and environmentally most attractive are those which are likely to become socially most desirable and hence in time occupied by the economically stronger. This tends to create a community with political strength which becomes protective and perpetuates the status of the area.

Natural and man-made features may provide the boundaries to identifiable residential areas. In some cases there may be a spill-over effect, with values declining gradually from high value areas to low-value areas. In other locations there can be pronounced changes in value either side of a building or road. Roads, particularly motorways and main commuter routes, railways, rivers, lakes, village greens, sports fields, parks may all act as boundaries.

Proximity to one or another may give rise to higher or lower relative values depending upon the desirability or otherwise of being close to such a feature. There are rarely any hard and fast rules about the behavioural attitude of the residential property market. This is because it is often the combination of many factors that creates good or bad in the eyes of the buyer. Some river locations are highly sought after, others far less so given the current increased awareness of flood risk.

Motorways and railways may act as boundaries but the combination of ease of access, visual intrusion and noise, together with other environmental factors, will determine whether they add to, or take away from value.

Soil, subsoil, natural drainage, probability of flooding, micro-climate, topography and aspect are all physical factors which historically may have determined the desirability of building in an area and may still today have an impact on values. Proximity to the right schools, shops, libraries, golf courses, country club, leisure facilities, may add to value.

But on the other hand, proximity to anything likely to cause a nuisance such as factories, sewage-works, football grounds, bingo halls, discotheques or anything that might give rise to rowdyism and general misbehaviour will tend to depress values.

Communications to the rest of the area, surrounding public open space, motorway linkages and places of employment are all very important location factors. So too, is the existing quality of development, road patterns and standard of property maintenance in determining the good, the bad and the indifferent areas of a defined residential market. Nor would it be a complete story without mentioning the importance of pressure groups in the form of conservationists, environmentalists, ecologists and politicians.

All of these have an impact on the market for residential property. Thus at a given point in time these various forces will have combined together to create a particular level and pattern of values in an area. A change in one or more of any of the forces or components mentioned will alter the supply of, or the demand for, all residential property; or for a sector of the market or just for one specific property; the result being an increase in supply or a decrease in demand or a decrease in supply or an increase in demand and a corresponding change in prices and hence in values. It would be rare indeed for only one force to be moving, so interpretation of cause and effect can be very complex. The general economic climate together with the quality of different residential areas creates a pattern of values for a defined market. Within that market the valuer must now consider the site-specific qualities of a house and its physical condition in order to assess its market value.

Making it as an estate agent in a world of dwindling commissions

If you are an estate agent, and have been at it for a fair while, you may remember the days when a commission of 2-3% for each sale of property was pretty standard. Then as the years went by you may recall how this figure gradually dwindled by percentages, almost like the Bank of England base rate, until it gradually became as low as 1%.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any lower, the internet continued to slash commissions further, and periodically you had to do special promotions to get people to list their properties with you.

Could margins be squeezed any tighter? It certainly seems so. A quick Google search for the term “estate agents” will now see online agents offering to sell for fixed rates of around £650, or offering no sale no fee guarantees. How can you make it as a property agent?

Determine your minimum
The first thing you must firmly establish, and hold on to, is the minimum sum you want to make from each property sale. Never let the client bargain you down below that figure, even if they say there is another agent they are considering. If you go below what you can accept, you will find yourself unmotivated to make the sale, or to arrange property viewings. In other words, if you accept less than what you normally would, the property is a white elephant on your books, and would only take up display space in your store front. You might as well not bother. And if you show you can be pushed, you will only attract the kind of clients who want to squeeze out every pound’s worth out of you, never mind that you are already working at the bare minimum.

Emphasise what you can offer
Even if you commission rate is higher than other agents in your area, or more than the fixed fee online agents, all is not lost. You are hardly disadvantaged. Mention what you can offer for the price you charge. After all, it is not the lowest price that is important, it is value for money that people go for when it comes to deciding which estate agent to list with. In other words, if you charge more than the other agents, make sure you show how you can offer more.

Play to your strengths
Competing against an online agent? Emphasise your local presence. Emphasise to a potential client how they can walk in to your branch to chat about the property sales progress. They can’t do that with an online agent. An online agent may be willing to respond to emails, but mention how a prospective buyer can walk to your branch, discuss the property for sale and see it all in one fluid motion. You can’t do that with an online estate agent.

How do you compete with other estate agents? Find a way to use facts to your advantage. If a prospective client mentions your lack of clientele as an indication of a lack of trust, suggest how it means you will be more focussed on selling their property. If a client worries about listing with you because you have too many properties on your books, mention how your branch attracts large number of buyers because of this and the right buyer will come along.

Also emphasise your experience if it is an advantage. Show how knowledgeable you are in your field or in other areas. Always take the change to demonstrate your knowledge beyond the immediate sale, to show the buyer or seller you know about things such as flying freeholds or right to manage.

Be more prominent in your local community
Know any local events? Sponsor a stall or an annual fun run. Some estate agents sponsor school summer fairs. But why not sponsor a monthly competition, such as an art or story writing competition, where the prize is a grocery shopping voucher? Have different categories for children and adults. Parents will be urging their children to enter, and adults will be trying their luck in their own category too. Every one will be talking about your competition, and you’ll be the buzz of the town!

Or sponsor a singing competition or talent competition at a local fete where the judges are prominent members of the community. You can be fairly creative with your efforts and generate a great deal of publicity for yourself in the process!

It may pay to be more involved in your community. Elderly buyers will come to recognise your brand as a mark of trust. A word about trust though – make sure your practices build on these too. For example, try to avoid using sealed bids as a means of eliciting an offer from a group of bidders, because it leaves all but one buyer disappointed, and if you become known as the “sealed bid” estate agents for resorting to it, it does your name no good.

Be personable
Being an estate agent doesn’t mean sitting at your computer, checking emails, editing listings of properties or checking social media accounts. Get out there and be seen. Buying a newspaper? Chat to your newsagent. Make sure the people in the community know who you are by your live presence, and not just your avatar or twitter handle!

Flying freeholds: possible arising disputes

Whether you are an estate agent, or seeing to buy a property, it is always a good idea to understand the terms you may encounter during the conveyancing process, not just so that it expedites the process – which, if you are a property hunter, means you spend less time talking to the solicitor who is charging you by the hour – but also so that there is common ground and understanding that prevents any issues at a later stage. It is more difficult to break away at the later stage of the buying process because you may feel you have already invested too much time and money already, and the pressures of time – if you need to have a property to move in to soon – may mean that you have to go along with the purchase even if you are not entirely with aspects of it. Another situation that may arise is that the mortgage lender may not be willing to lend, grounding the whole process to a halt. So while it may seem like a hassle to have to familiarise yourself with these new terms, it is a worthwhile investment

One term that may cause a fair bit of confusion is the term “flying freehold”. Many people assume this to be a case of the freehold of a building being transferable to another party, or having some sort of fleeting existence, but that is not the case. The term actually has some physical connotations. A flying freehold actually refers to a freehold of a property that overhangs another space. For example, if an apartment is built in an overhanging archway, that freehold does not cover the space below the dwelling. The apartment has a flying freehold. But this does not mean you should start getting your tape measure out and calculating the overhang area of guttering and drain pipes. The flying freehold element only refers to spaces which are habitable and space taken up by chattels are not usually considered.

Nevertheless, if you have any doubts our concerns about the possibilities of a flying freehold you should notify your conveyancer so that this can be checked out fully at the start of proceedings. It is also a good idea to mention this to your mortgage lender. It demonstrates to everyone that you are on the ball and proactive!

As an estate agent, it is a good professional practice to inform the buyer if a flying freehold does exist. Yes, while you may argue that the estate agents have an obligation to the seller more than the buyer, it is professional to mention this to the buyer if they are not aware of it, as they will certainly want to investigate it. It would save you time and money down the line and avoid the situation where a potential buyer withdraws or their mortgage lending falls though. And if you do sell a property with a flying freehold, the buyers may come back to you in future if they decide to sell, simply because they know you are thorough in your approach, and, well, you have sold the property before and know it well!

Solicitors, or more accurately in this case, conveyancers, need to be mindful of the possible scenarios that flying freeholds may entail. If you are purchasing a property with a flying freehold, a conveyancer should advise you both on the difficulties which may arise. For example, some mortgage lenders may not lend on a flying freehold. And you must certainly always find out who should bear the responsibilities of repair or how they are divided, as this is almost always an issue that will arise in time. And even if getting a mortgage is not a problem, for example, if you are a cash buyer, a conveyancer should inform you about the existence of flying freeholds simply because while you may think you are relatively unaffected by it, it may affect a future buyer who may have difficulties getting a mortgage for your property, or have reservations about buying it. Your purchase of a flying freehold property may make it harder for you to sell in the future. Enough said, don’t hide your head in the sand, or leave it to the conveyancer or mortgage lender. Knowledge is power!

For a flying freehold to exist, part of the freehold property that is being bought must overhang part of another person’s freehold property, and the overlapping area must be of a significant size, allowing for habitation. In some properties, such as semi-detached ones, this scenario may be fairly common. For example, part of the bedroom of one house may be sited above the lounge of a neighbouring house. A more common example is seen in properties where a room is built on an arch that allows a road through for parking at the rear of the property. If the area that overhangs is a space merely limited to chattels such as drain pipes or guttering, then the property is not said to have a flying freehold; conveyancers speak of these as having a right of ‘eavesdrop’.

But what if you live in a block of converted flats, where one property entirely sits directly on top of another?

If all the owners in the block collectively own the freehold, then the property is said to be a leasehold property with a share of freehold. The flying freehold principle does not apply, but nevertheless, the mutual obligations of property owners mentioned below may still do.

Flying freehold properties have mutual obligations to each other. The upper property should have a right of support from the lower one, while the lower property should enjoy a right of shelter from the upper one. If you live in a semi-detached house where one bedroom is directly over your neighbour’s lounge, then you have responsibilities to maintain your property so that it does not have any impact on your neighbour’s. Your floor is your neighbour’s ceiling, in the overlapping area, and if you do not maintain your own roof, causing your floor to flood, then your neighbour’s ceiling will be adversely affected too. Any major works that you carry out within your own property, for example, for example, in replacing floorboards must also not adversely affect your neighbour or the value of his property.
If you purchase a property with a flying freehold then you also have responsibility to the area under it, particularly with regards to maintenance.

If you have a property that has an area overhung by your neighbour’s property, then while your neighbour has the flying freehold, you have what is known as the creeping freehold. Your obligations to your neighbour above are the same as your upstairs neighbour’s obligations to you. You should not do anything within the confines of your property that will jeopardise your neighbour’s.

Estate agents and conveyancers should always advise buyers on these obligations at the outset to avoid any misgivings or disputes in the future between affected parties.

Most parties with flying or creeping freeholds usually work things out amicably but sometimes relations may sour and lead to dispute.

If the property you have is overhung by your neighbour, are you entitled to go into your neighbours’ property to carry out works? And if such works are enforced, are you entitled to recover the cost from them?

A landmark case regarding flying freeholders was the case of Abbahall v Smee (2002). The property owner with the flying freehold allowed it to fall into a state of disrepair, thereby affecting the property below. Loose masonry was falling onto the public thoroughfare below, affecting visitors to the ground floor property.

The court ruled that the owner of the property with the flying freehold had responsibilities to the party below, although the costs of the roof repair to the flying freehold property were borne in a 75/25 split by both parties as they would equally benefit from the repair.

If your property overhangs another, the Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992 allows you legal provisions to go to your neighbour’s land to carry out repairs to your property. Of course, a simple word with your neighbour and mutual understanding is usually enough without having to apply for a court access order. But if you have to go the legal route to carry out repair, you will probably have to indemnify the other owner against any loss, damage or injury.
Perhaps a lesson to learn is that if you are buying a property with a flying freehold, or any property for that matter, make sure you can get along with the neighbours!

And what do mortgage lenders make of flying freeholds? Their view of it varies. Some lenders will avoid lending on such properties, while others will consider it only if the overlapping area falls under a certain percentage of the whole property. Some lenders will lend only if there is flying freehold indemnity insurance. Either you or your conveyancer should inform the mortgage lender of the existence of a flying freehold as soon as possible.

A flying freehold property is perhaps best thought of either as one whose structural integrity is dependent on another property, or where that overhangs another property in a way that has bearing on it. Either way, there are implications that property buyers, conveyancers and mortgage lenders should be aware of!