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Moving to the UK: A guide to Britain’s diverse housing market

Homes in the UK are available in many different sizes, prices and styles. We can help you find a property to meet your needs – and budget.

The UK housing market includes a huge choice of property types, sizes, ages and designs, reflecting the county’s rich history and dynamic, vibrant economy1.

Over the past two centuries Britain has experienced seismic changes in society, politics, technology and culture. And from the Victorian times to the digital age, housing has played a pivotal role,
says Nick Raynsford, MP and chairman of the UK’s National Home Building Council Foundation.

Research shows that the UK has the oldest houses in the EU, with over half built before 1960 and just over 10% built since 19912. But there is also a steady supply of new homes entering the market, from stylish family houses in the country to eye-catching apartment blocks lining the River Thames in London. Around 124,000 properties were completed in England in 2014/15, the highest level for six years3.

With such a wide range of homes available to buy, those arriving in the UK to find their perfect property might easily feel overwhelmed. So here’s our guide to choosing the right home to match your lifestyle and budget. 

Apartments

Houses dominate Britain. Only 12% of its homes are apartments, known as “flats” in Britain, compared to 33% in France, 48% in Switzerland and 67% in Spain4.

But the make-up of Britain’s homes is changing, with a sharp rise in apartment construction. During 2014/15, apartments made up 35% of all completed new-build properties, up from 17% in 2000/015.

Apartments are being built almost everywhere but in the greatest numbers in London, the South West, South East and West Midlands. In London, 83% of new homes built over the past 12 months were flats5.

There are generally three types of flat in the UK – standard, maisonette and penthouse. Standard ones are mostly single-storey one or two-bedroom units but some are built over two storeys (called maisonettes) while the largest take up all or most of a block’s top floor (penthouses). In central London, luxury penthouse apartments regularly come on to the market for £10m or more6.

Apartment ownership in the UK differs from that of houses. While house ownership is often permanent, including both the property and the land it stands on (known as ‘freehold’), owners of apartments are commonly ‘leaseholders’, owning just the interior of their home and for a set period.

However, it is worth bearing in mind that sometimes house ownership is ‘leasehold’, while apartment owners can have a ‘share of freehold’.

More information on leasehold property.

The overall structure of an apartment block, including the common areas such as landings and entrance, are owned either collectively (by all the apartment owners in the building) or by the block’s owner.

Flats are deemed to be ‘leasehold’ because each flat owner buys a set-term lease for their property (usually over 100 years) that must be renewed when it runs out – although it can also usually be extended at any time.

There are costs associated with owning a leasehold apartment. The main one is the annual service charge, which is the shared bill for maintaining and repairing the whole building.

For larger, recently built blocks this varies from property to property but the average in the UK, the most recent research shows, is between £1,800 and £2,000 a year7. Other costs include the yearly ground rent as well as buildings insurance and administration charges.

More information on leasehold ownership

Family houses

Many of Britain’s towns and cities contain tree-lined streets with family houses built in the 19th and early 20th century. These properties broadly fall into three types.

1. Terraced

After apartments, terraced homes are the most numerous type of house for sale in England8. These are houses that are connected with other properties on both sides.

Many terraced properties were built during the mid to late 19th century, usually as affordable but small homes for industrial workers and their families. Many were knocked down during the 1960s to make way for high-rise apartment blocks but the ones that remain are usually the most affordable houses in many cities and towns. For example, in Manchester a terraced house costs £119,367, while a semi-detached house (see below) is £168,8159.

2. Detached houses

Approximately 26% of all new homes built in the UK10 are detached properties. However, they are found most often outside metropolitan centres, on the outskirts of – or countryside near – cities and towns. In city and town centres they are often Georgian (dating from 1700 to 1800) town houses. These are tall but with small gardens and tend to command high prices, particularly in London.

Most detached houses are more modern in construction, hailing from the 1970s onwards. It is common for these homes to copy older styles including Tudor, Elizabethan and Georgian architecture.

“Older detached houses have often been extended or remodelled since they were built so it’s essential to find out if the vendor has the correct planning permissions – otherwise the sale could easily fall through,” says Jonathan Hopper of property finders Garrington.

3. Semi-detached houses

A semi-detached house is one of a pair of homes built as one property and connected by a single partition wall. More than a third of the UK population live in one11 and those with three bedrooms are the most popular type of semi12, research shows, offering both affordability and much more room than an apartment.

These homes commonly date from three eras of housing building:

1. Victorian

Semi-detached were first built in significant numbers during the second half of Queen Victoria’s reign (1837 to 1901). Those built during this period are often prized for their high ceilings, long hallways, decorative internal plasterwork and fireplaces. They are also much sought after by those who need to commute into the UK’s main cities; millions of them were built at a time when Britain’s railways were expanding and are often not far from a railway station.

2. Edwardian

This type of property was popular during the Edwardian period. It stretched from 1901 to 1910 but influenced building styles up until the 1920s.

3. Inter-war years

Semis were also built in increasing numbers in the outer suburbs of many cities and towns during the interwar (1918 to 1939) and post-WWII periods when the UK underwent a building boom. 

Historic homes and converted buildings

One unusual aspect of the UK property market is its historic homes. These are divided into three listed grades each with different planning rules applicable to them. The rules dictate how they can be refurbished or extended. In England there are 376,099 listed properties of which 2.5% are Grade I (meaning of exceptional architectural or historic interest); 5.5% are Grade II* (important interest) and the rest Grade II (special interest)13.

If your home is listed then it is a legal requirement to seek official consent for any changes. These include13:

  • New or replacement windows and doors
  • New roofing materials or guttering
  • Rendering or re-rendering
  • Removal of chimneys, fireplaces, floors or plaster
  • Work to garden walls and to outbuildings

More information from Historic England.

Country homes

If you are seeking a large house with plenty of land or you just want to escape the bustle of city life then a rural home may be what you need.

Many of the smaller and medium-size homes for sale in the country are conversions from former uses. These include homes previously built for agriculture workers (farmhouses and cottages), livestock (barns and stables), clerical staff (rectories and vicarages) and brewing (oast houses).

For many people the ultimate rural home is a country mansion. These are large houses with 10 or more bedrooms, several large reception rooms and substantial grounds including gardens and even woodland. Often there are guest lodges in the grounds as well as staff accommodation while some feature lakes, shooting estates, formal gardens and driveways.

The country house market has experienced difficulties recently after tax changes by the government have made it more expensive to buy larger houses for sale at over £925,00015.

The country house market continues to feel the impact of the increased cost of stamp duty. This continues to weigh on both price growth and activity at the top end of the market,
Oliver Knight of Knight Frank.

Consider maintenance costs

The typical cost of running a home in the UK is around £7,690 a year, according to government figures. This includes general maintenance (£384 or 5%), property improvements (£922 or 12%) and running costs such as power and local services (£1,461 or 19%)16.

Older properties are widely recognised as being more expensive to maintain7 and aside from historic or listed buildings, remember that Victorian and Edwardian properties can be the oldest homes in many towns and cities, particularly in suburban areas.

Consequently, refurbished and well-maintained Victorian properties are more attractive to buyers because they’ll cost les to maintain. Otherwise new owners can face the extra cost of refurbishing or replacing a period home’s wooden windows, re-pointing brickwork, removing ageing plumbing and electrics or replacing the roof.

Buildings of Victorian and Edwardian age account for a disproportionately high number of the 'essential repairs' listed in mortgage valuations and survey reports
Graham Ellis, Associate director of residential at the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)

“Buildings of Victorian and Edwardian age account for a disproportionately high number of the 'essential repairs' listed in mortgage valuations and survey reports,” says Graham Ellis, associate director of residential at the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

Another RICS commentator, surveyor and author of the Haynes Victorian House Manual, Ian Rock, says: “Large numbers of homes of this era have suffered from a long-term lack of maintenance.”

But don’t let this put your off. As well as the range of housing types we’ve outlined here, the UK is also a highly active market. Approximately 3,300 homes a day or 1.2 million a year are likely to bought during 2015 in the UK17

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Discover mortgages

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Barclays Local Insights

Discover invaluable insights about people and small businesses in different areas of the UK by clicking the drop down below.

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Find the right mortgage for a property in the UK

Buying property in the UK may seem complicated, but our advisers are here to help you find the right mortgage for your needs. Your home may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments on your mortgage.

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Barclays seeks to ensure that the information published on this website is as accurate as possible. Please note the information on this website does not constitute legal or professional advice. Barclays accepts no responsibility for the contents of any pages referenced by an external link. Any references or links on the website to external organisations or websites are provided for the purposes of ease of access. Such links should not be taken as an endorsement of the contents of those external websites or of those organisations.

Building historian Jean Marco, ‘Researching Historic Buildings in the British Isles’ website.
http://www.buildinghistory.org/buildings/houses.shtml

EuropeanClimate.org, ‘Europe’s Homes under the Microscope’,
http://www.europeanclimate.org/documents/LR_%20CbC_study.pdf

Office for National Statistics
https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/live-tables-on-house-building

EuropeanClimate.org, ‘Europe’s Homes under the Microscope’, Page 31.
‘Figure 1A6 – Single family and apartment buildings in Europe’.
http://www.europeanclimate.org/documents/LR_%20CbC_study.pdf

Communities and Local Government website, Live tables on house building, October 2015.
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/454679/LiveTable254.xlsx

Knight Frank website, property search in Greater London for penthouses.
http://search.knightfrank.co.uk/property-for-sale/uk/greater-london/london?buyrent=buy&type=406

Home Owners Alliance website, ‘Service charges and maintenance companies: problems with your leasehold property’.
http://hoa.org.uk/advice/guides-for-homeowners/i-am-managing-2/should-i-extend-my-lease/service-charges-and-maintenance-companies-problems-with-your-leasehold-property/

Land Registry website, ‘House Price Index, August 2015’. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/463599/HPIReport20150924.pdf

Zoopla website, ‘Areas Guide for Manchester’, October 2015.
http://www.zoopla.co.uk/market/manchester/?search_source=top_nav

10 NHBC website, ‘NHBC reports highest number of detached homes in a decade, as housing registrations rise again in 2014’, January 2015.
http://www.nhbc.co.uk/NewsandComment/Name,58950,en.html

11 The English Semi Detached House, Finn Jensen, ISBN: 9780954867430.
http://www.ribabookshops.com/item/the-english-semi-detached-house-how-and-why-the-semi-became-britains-most-popular-house-type./60923/

12 MoveWithUs.com, ‘Three bed semi-detached homes are this year’s best sellers’, 2015.
http://www.movewithus.co.uk/about-us/news-room/news/three-bed-semi-detached-homes-are-this-years-best-sellers

13 NFU Website, ‘A Guide for the Owners of Listed Building’, September 2015.
http://www.nfumutual.co.uk/Global/PDFs%20-%20document%20library/Insurance/Information%20on%20Listed%20Buildings.pdf

14 English Heritage website, ‘Churches and Closure in the Church of England, A Summary Report’, 2010.
http://www.theheritagealliance.org.uk/hrba/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/churches-and-closure-in-cofe-mar-2010.pdf

15 HM Treasury website, ‘Stamp Duty Reforms on Residential Property’, December 2014.
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/382324/Stamp_Duty_15.pdf

16 Office for National Statistics, ‘Housing Expenditure’, 2013.
http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171766_386375.pdf

17 Land Registry Website, House Price Index, August 2015.
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/463599/HPIReport20150924.pdf

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