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BISF Houses – The Complete Guide

23rd February, 2022

BISF houses are a type of non standard construction that are unlike traditional properties due to their method of construction. These houses were built across the UK during the post-war period to address housing shortages and address capacity issues in factories. 

BISF houses aren’t the most popular form of housing due to some of the known issues caused by their construction. In this guide we give you the full download on BISF housing. We explain what they are and how they’re built, how you can get a mortgage on a BISF house, some of their pros and cons, and whether you can renovate a BISF house. 

If you’re after something specific like whether you can extend a BISF house or wondering when BISF houses were built – use the menu below to navigate quickly. Otherwise read on and enjoy our complete guide!

What are BISF houses?

BISF houses were designed and created by an organisation called the British Iron and Steel Federation. These houses were commissioned in 1944 by the Governmental Interdepartmental Committee on the construction of housing (or BURT Committee). The committee was created to investigate new methods of non-standard construction that were quicker and cheaper to build than traditional houses. The reason was simple – demand outstripped supply and there was a shortage of housing. 

The BURT committee selected BISF houses as one of a few different models to be constructed in England, Wales and Scotland. These houses are built around a steel BISF construction and are often referred to as prefab or prefabricated housing. BISF houses are also known as ‘Airey’ houses after the designer Edward Airey. Airey was a Leeds based builder who designed the building in the aftermath of the second world war. The house is very simple to construct. Its walls are composed of panels that are factory built and then assembled quickly on-site. This means that construction and erection of BISF houses is very quick and easy, making them a perfect candidate for a fast solution to a housing shortage. 

BISF houses

How can you identify a BISF house?

They’re quite unique in appearance and there are a few key features that you can identify them by. BISF construction is identifiable by its render which surrounds an expanded mesh metal system on the ground floor. The first floor of BISF housing is typically surrounded by metal sheet cladding. 

You may be thinking, what about BISF housing and asbestos? It’s a common problem that crops up in BISF houses so it’s not a surprise that you’ve heard of it. Asbestos was originally used in the roofing of BISF houses. This took the form of either bold-roll white cement asbestos sheeting. Some areas constructed BISF houses with aluminium sheet roofs. So the material used for the roofing tended to vary based on the area in which they were constructed. 

BISF houses are also identifiable by their windows. These are typically small and functional and differ from the large windows that typify Victorian and Georgian houses. BISF houses tend not to have a porch unless they’ve been modified since their original construction. 

Non standard construction houses have been touted as hard to finance or get a mortgage on. If you’re thinking about buying one and require finance, don’t worry! It is possible to get a mortgage on a BISF house. We’ll talk more about this in the next section. 

Can I get a mortgage on a BISF house? 

There’s no denying that getting a mortgage on a BISF property can be difficult. Many mortgages were provided back in the late 1970s and ‘80s under the Right to Buy scheme which allowed five million council house tenants the right to buy their homes. The government offered tenants 100% mortgage from the local authorities and by 2003 1.5 million homes were bought this way. Plenty of them were BISF houses. Outside of council mortgages it has been more difficult to get a mortgage on BISF houses but it’s still possible. Some of the things you can do to get a mortgage on a BISF property are: 

  • Get the advice of a local surveyor. Speak to surveyors in the local area to find out if they have experience of working with lenders on BISF properties. Whilst you don’t always need a survey, BISF properties are one that you’ll almost always want to get a survey on. This may likely be the case if the area has lots of BISF housing. You can use the RICS directory to find a qualified surveyor in your area. 
  • Be upfront with your Lender. Lenders may choose not to lend on BISF houses because they are susceptible to corrosion or deterioration of the steel frame. If the survey highlights that this isn’t an issue, then be sure to make that clear to the lender. On the flipside, if there are issues that are uncovered by a survey then be upfront about them with the lender so that they can make an informed decision.
  • Lower your LTV. One of the main reasons that mortgage providers may choose not to lend on a BISF house is because they deem the risk too great. A great way to reduce the risk for the lender is by increasing the deposit you put down on the property. A lender is far more likely to give a mortgage on a BISF house when it has a 60% deposit than a 10% deposit. 
  • Get a guarantor. If you’re unable to increase your deposit then consider using a guarantor for your mortgage. If they have a good credit rating and even a second home, then there’s a greater chance that your mortgage application will be successful.

In general your likelihood of obtaining a mortgage on a BISF house depends on reliability. Because BISF housing appears on the Housing Defects Act (1985) the reliability and therefore risk to lenders is higher. Anything you can do to reduce that risk will help your case. 

What are the pros and cons of BISF properties? 

Pros and cons of BISF houses

BISF houses are quickly constructed and cheaply produced, but the same advantages in production could create vulnerabilities further down the line. Here we’ve laid out the major pros and cons of BISF houses. 

Pros

  • Price. BISF houses are much cheaper than their traditional counterparts. This is great news for sellers if you’re looking to sell your house fast and undercut other similar houses in the area to get more buyer demand. 
  • Rental yields. BISF houses are attractive for investors because their yields tend to be much higher than on traditional housing. This is because the amount you can rent a BISF house for tends to be comparable to traditional houses, but the sale value is much lower. That’s great news if you’re selling a tenanted property and your target market is investors looking for an attractive yield. 
  • Location. Because BISF houses were constructed some time ago, and close to city centres and industrial areas, their location is usually good in comparison to new builds and newer developments. This makes them attractive for developers looking to rebuild properties on the land. 

Cons

  • Financing. We’ve mentioned before but whilst it’s not impossible to get a mortgage on a BISF property, it is more difficult. If you’re selling a BISF property on the open market you may have to wait longer than with a traditionally built property. You’re also at a greater risk of having sales fall through due to buyers’ mortgage providers refusing to lend. 
  • Running costs. Because of the typical BISF house construction (poorly insulated walls and lightweight roofs) they can be more expensive to keep. Heating costs will usually be greater than with a traditional property and they’re less likely to have the same level of technology to help with energy efficiency. This is particularly taxing for those who work from home and are looking for ways to save on energy in their home office
  • Construction materials. The steel frame that is hidden by the cladding and/or render can be susceptible to corrosion. This creates big problems when it comes to maintaining a BISF property and can become costly if issues aren’t addressed quickly and by professionals. 
  • Asbestos. As we mentioned earlier, asbestos is used in the roofing of many BISF houses. It’s usually not an issue if it’s left undisturbed, but it can create issues when selling. If you’re selling you need to factor in that you will likely have to remove the asbestos and this will involve a cost. 

When were most BISF houses built? 

Most BISF houses were built in the late 1940s in the aftermath of the Second World War. The reason was twofold. First, the introduction of non-standard construction methods meant that the housing shortage problem could be addressed by the state more quickly and cheaply than building traditional houses. Second, it allowed many of the factories that were at full capacity during the war to be repurposed and put to work producing the steel and other materials needed to build a BISF house. 

Can I extend or renovate a BISF house? 

The short answer is yes, you can. Extending or renovating BISF housing is quite common to improve the look and feel of the properties and make them appear more standard in their construction. You will find that there are a number of companies in the UK that specialise in BISF renovation. Some of the most common modes of renovation are listed below. 

  • Cladding. The original steel clad first floor of BISF houses is widely deemed quite unattractive. First impressions count, and this cladding can put buyers off making an offer . Modern rendering and cladding is highly customisable and can really improve the exterior appearance of a BISF property. It’s for this reason that cladding is one of the most popular modes of refurbishing a BISF property. 
  • Roofing. BISF houses were originally constructed using lightweight roofs made of asbestos sheeting or aluminium. These can be quite flimsy and become damaged during stormy weather. Fortunately, advances in building technology have delivered replacement roofs which are lightweight and sturdy. It’s important to use a lightweight material for the roofing since the frames of BISF houses can’t support more traditional roof construction. 
  • Windows. When refurbishing BISF properties many people start with the windows. One of the main ways to identify a BISF house is by the fact that their windows are very functional and typically small. Unfortunately this means that they let in little natural light. Many people opt to replace the original windows with larger PVC double glazed windows. This increases the amount of natural light, improves the appearance of the property, and improves the energy efficiency of the house. Unsurprising that it’s one of the most popular ways of refurbishing a BISF house. 
  • Porch/canopy. Adding a porch or canopy can help to cover up the metal posts that are sometimes visible on a BISF house. This can really spruce up the appearance of the property and can draw in a larger pool of prospective buyers. 

These are just some of the most common methods of refurbishing a BISF house, there are many more things you can do to improve the look and feel of the property and add value to the house. Check out our top tips for adding value to your property for more information on what you can do. 

Can I sell a BISF house? 

Selling your BISF house on the open market might be more difficult than a traditionally constructed property. For this reason many people choose to sell via a less mainstream method, such as auction or to a we buy any home service such as SmoothSale. When you’re selling a BISF house it’s a good idea to start with a free online valuation. Then you know what sort of ballpark you’re looking at in terms of marketing price. You can then choose which route you want to go down and choose which option is right for you. 

If you aren’t interested in the stress and hassle of renovating your BISF house and putting it on the open market. SmoothSale will buy it for cash! We offer a fee free service and even cover your legal fees. Because we operate as a cash house buyer, we buy houses using our own funds. Meaning we can complete in a timeline that suits your onward plans. If you’re interested then give us a call on 0800 368 8952 or get a cash offer today!

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