The problem with attic conversions when buying a second-hand house

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Attic conversions in Irish houses, especially in dormer bungalows, are commonplace up and down the country.

Let’s face it: a dormer roof can be quite a large space and comes, I believe, from the French word for ‘to sleep’ (dormir). It may be a sensible use of resources and space to convert the attic to put more bedrooms or living space in the house if you have a growing family with a voracious appetite for more space.

An attic conversion which has been well done, which is in accordance with building regulations and has planning permission, can be a tremendous addition to any residential home, and add significant value.

But many are not done right, quite frankly.

They do not have planning permission and are not constructed in accordance with building regulations, especially regulations concerning fire and exit points, dormer window height, opening space, and so on.

And most importantly, they are being used as living space, not storage space. Many planning permissions will have a condition that the attic can only be used for storage space and will required a separate planning application if it is to be used for living or bedrooms.

An unauthorised attic conversion will almost certainly cause a significant problem when you try to sell the house for the planning and building regulation issues should be of concern to the purchaser and his solicitor.

The solicitor will have the problem of having to certify title for the lender and this will be a significant difficulty if the planning and building regulations are not in order.

A problem will also arise with the valuation of the house: if the valuation includes two or three unauthorised bedrooms in the attic conversion and the bank is lending on the basis of a 5- or 6-bedroom house it is arguable that the valuation is inaccurate and the basis on which the loan offer is made is unsafe.

What to do if there is an attic conversion

If there is an attic conversion check if there is planning permission and a certificate of compliance with both planning and building regulations.

Both your solicitor and your surveyor should be able to assist with this-the solicitor can make the appropriate enquiries about the planning documentation and your surveyor should be easily able to identify if the conversion conforms with building regulations or not.

Before your surveyor goes out to inspect you should ask him/her to check the attic conversion and let your solicitor know, too. Remember, your solicitor will not know the attic has been converted unless there is a planning document to that effect.

If there is no planning document concerning an attic conversion, and one has been carried out, it will almost certainly be unauthorised if it is being used for anything other than storage space.