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Your Loft Conversion Documents – Not Just for Planning Purposes

Getting a loft conversion is tremendously exciting – so much so that priority thinking is likely to be given to fun factors: construction, design and finish. Of course, planning and building regulations are going to be mixed up in there too and the paperwork? That’s not a priority, right?

Sorry, wrong! The good news is that a professional loft conversion company such as Abbey Partnership will, of course, prioritise paperwork relating to planning and building regulations at the time, but when it comes to several years later it’s down to you to have kept the full documentation in hand.

Development documents

Where your property’s concerned, ‘development’ relates to construction, alteration and change of use. Any development work undertaken in the home will need signing off by local building control, with full documentation to prove this has been carried out in compliance, even for “permitted development.” As a loft conversion generally involves a combination of construction, alteration and change of use, then it’s easy to see how it’s no exception to the demands of the local planning office.

Checking planning permission is the obvious starting point: if your loft conversion is going to require permission, then getting the relevant documentation in place is essential. But even when planning permission isn’t needed it doesn’t mean there’s no paperwork involved, as building regulations will still apply even if planning consent isn’t.

Examples of paperwork required include:

  • Certificates of compliance/completion of works – evidence of building regulations being signed off by the local authority.
  • Insurance and guarantee documents – from your loft conversion company, architect, builder and other professionals involved.
  • Any separate warranties, ie: for specific materials such as insulation, fire-safe and waterproof materials.

For clarity, the Planning Portal offers useful further information on planning permission and permitted development.

The missing paperwork problem

Once your loft conversion has taken place and been signed off by the relevant professionals it’s important to keep all documentation safely for various reasons, including insurance whilst you’re still living in the house.

When you decide to move, perhaps when selling the house in the future, the chances are your loft conversion will be a real selling point for your home. However, missing paperwork – especially the absence of documents which prove the loft conversion was carried out in compliance with relevant regulations – can cause problems for the whole house sale and conveyancing process:

  • Selling: not having the right paperwork can make a difference to your actual valuation. Those sales listings you see which include mentions of “three bedrooms plus fully boarded and insulated loft room, currently used as a guest room” usually imply that the proper paperwork isn’t in place and, as such, the property cannot be valued or marketed as a four bedroomed property.
  • Negotiating: without the right paperwork, it’s common for buyers to expect the upper hand in negotiating on price because, without proper documentation, the property can be more difficult to sell. Even if you ‘think’ you’ve got the paperwork in place and manage to settle the right price, there’s every chance the buyers will come back to renegotiate for a price reduction or that you’ll need to pay for costly indemnity policies* to reassure buyers if it turns out the documents are missing.
    * Indemnity policies are insurance policies which relate to the property and can cover the legal ‘risk’ of problems arising, including the risk of enforcement action by local councils. GoCompare offers a useful explanation about indemnity insurance, which includes the context of planning permission and building regulations.
  • Borrowing: what you’re selling can be directly affected by issues arising when your buyers want to borrow money to purchase it. Many mortgage lenders won’t lend on a property which doesn’t have the required documentation for development works, leading to sales falling through and chains breaking down.
  • Conveyancing headaches: even if negotiations are successful and agreements reached, the issues of investigating and accommodating missing paperwork can add to the time and money taken during the UK’s already exhaustive conveyancing process. This may have a negative impact on the chances of successful completion, particularly if it’s a time-dependent sale.
  • Complications: lack of paperwork can also lead to wider complications if it turns out that permission was needed for the works and wasn’t sought. Conveyancing searches involve the local planning office and could identify the fact that a loft conversion would have been subject to planning permission (e.g: in a conservation area). This may then flag up the issue of ‘unauthorised development,’ which could put you at risk of:
    • Enforcement – having to remove or redo the loft conversion in compliance with the local planning office.
    • Not being able to gain indemnity insurance – if the local council gain information which alerts them to the problem, even though an enquiry by solicitors, buyers or sellers, then insurers won’t be willing to provide indemnity insurance.

Avoiding document disasters

There are few assurances that can be given about anything in life, but you can be assured that being vigilant about all aspects of your loft conversion paperwork can significantly reduce future problems relating to planning permission, or conveyancing.

Ways to avoid document disasters include:

  • Always take professional advice if you’re considering a loft conversion.
  • Double-check if planning permission is needed. If it isn’t, obtain the fact that it’s exempt in writing (from a professional such as the planning office, architect, building surveyor or engineer).
  • If you’re not using a reputable loft specialist, don’t assume that your builders will automatically manage issues relating to building regulations and compliance. It will be your responsibility to check that work is being carried out in compliance with any regulations which apply and to book visits from the building control officer.
  • Don’t believe anything you’re ‘told’ or you read online – get everything in writing from the professionals involved, including the planning office and then …
  • Keep paperwork safe and check it to ensure nothing’s missing before putting your house on the market.
  • If the property’s old and a pre-existing loft conversion doesn’t have any paperwork, ie: the conversion was carried out before certification was required (around 1965) or before conveyancing and mortgage lenders began stipulating required documentation, then consider getting your own survey from building control:
    • Sometimes, depending on the local authority, a retrospective certificate can be issued. However, this is not guaranteed as it may depend on the reason it was not issued in the first place: whether a simple oversight meant a final inspection was never carried out, or there was a major problem of non-compliance or fault at the time.
    • At the very least, this kind of inspection will provide a list of work which may need to be completed to make the loft conversion compliant, so that the appropriate completion certificate can be issued.

In such cases, take advice from your solicitor in the first instance – even if your house isn’t on the market yet.

If you’re considering getting your loft converted and are concerned about getting the paperwork right, don’t forget that the best way to minimise problems is to use a reputable loft conversion company. Abbey Partnership can explain the process to you and we’re happy to offer advice, so please contact us.