Shopping for property today can be stressful, especially when terms like maisonette leave you scratching your head. A property is one of the most expensive assets we’ll ever buy, so understanding exactly what it is that we’re buying is essential. Otherwise, it could turn out to be one of the most costly mistakes we ever make – EEEK! So, to avoid this happening to you, we’ve unravelled the ins and outs of living in a maisonette, so you don’t have to.
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- What is a maisonette?
- How does living in a maisonette compare to houses, flats & apartments?
- Where can I find a maisonette?
- Are maisonettes Leasehold or Freehold?
- Is it good to buy a maisonette?
- Possible issues with living in a maisonette.
- Should I buy a maisonette?
It’s tricky to define maisonette, as it can mean various things depending on where you are in the world.
In the UK, a maisonette is a self-contained flat within a larger building, with its own staircase and entrance. Maisonettes cover more than one floor and are often referred to as duplex – an Americanism meaning a split level flat. You can often find maisonettes in large period houses that have been converted (typically a first floor maisonette), or in a city centre above the shops.
Live in Scotland however, and a maisonette is one of a group of duplex flats, positioned on top of each other as part of a housing block, accessed via a communal entrance. Whereas in the United States, living in a maisonette means you occupy the top floor of a high rise building, also known as a penthouse.
And if that’s not confusing enough, the word ‘maisonette’ originates from French, and translates as ‘little house’. So in Europe, even holiday cottages can be classed as a maisonette. Mind boggling stuff!
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Maisonette VS flat
Even though maisonettes and flats are often confused, they have some key differences. Your typical flat consists of several rooms that span a single floor, whereas maisonettes span more than one level. Also, maisonettes are often more bespoke than flats, and aren’t typically sold as part of developed block. They vary largely in square footage, layout and spec.
Unlike flats, maisonettes in the UK have their own entrance and don’t share a communal hallway - if you're in Scotland this may differ. Living in a maisonette also gives you more outside space opposed to a flat. Yet despite all these perks, maisonettes can be classed as affordable living like flats and come with tenure complications that wouldn't incur in flats.
Maisonette VS house
Is a maisonette a house? Not necessarily, although in many cases they can come with similar square footage to a house and many of the same perks. First floor maisonettes for instance, offer similar privacy to that of a house. You can also argue they’re safer, because with windows all on an upper level and the front door as the only access point, you’re far less appealing to burglars.
Maisonettes also mimic house from the outside. In most cases they have a garden and sometimes even a garage too, which makes them ideal for families! However, the garden can either be shared with others in the building or soley belong to the maisonette, so it's worth checking a property's tenure and plans. The major difference with being a masionette is that, unlike a house, you can't just step into the garden through a set of patio doors. To do that you'll have to access it separatley outside, typically through a side gate or a track to the rear of the property.
Maisonette VS apartment
Shop around and some maisonettes could be on par with an apartment. Apartments are flats built with luxury in mind, that just like maisonettes, can span two floors. Where the majority of apartments stand out is design. They combine a bespoke layout and a convenient location with the compact lifestyle of a flat, to create a space that satisfies even the wealthiest buyers.
Apartments are typically located close to a city where the price of land is high. So for those seeking a maisonette that's been refitted to apartment spec (otherwise know as an executive maisonette), this is where we’d suggest starting your search. After a quick search on Rightmove, we’d found a couple of plush examples in the inner suburbs of London. However, it is worth remembering that there are some places where apartments fall short.
As you’d expect, a second hand maisonette would be a far cheaper option to buy, but it'd also be cheaper to run and maintain. Decorative ceilings, ornate fireplaces and fancy furnishings don’t come cheap, as is the case with service chrages, especially for large apartment blocks. Another charge you typically don’t get with a conventional maisonette in the UK.
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As mentioned previously, you can find conventional maisonettes as part of subdivided propeties or above shops in a town centre. But what about geographically?
In the UK, maisonettes are not uncommon, but if you're a very particular buyer, it may take you a while to find one that suits you and is located in the right area. So to help you out, here's a few tips for scouting them out:
1. Due to maisonettes being in effect a slightly smaller and more affordable house, you’ll often find them in, or close to cities, particularly those where the cost of living and house prices are quite high. London, for instance.
2. In areas with a heavy student population, maisonettes are also common. Why? Because they allow student landlords to convert one house into two separate dwellings and as a result take on more tenants. Do this right and they could up their rental yield dramatically.
If you’re looking to buy a maisonette, this should be the number one question you ask your agent. The answer should be one of two things. One being yes, it has a lease, in which case it's leasehold. The other being that it comes with a freehold, in which case we urge you to be more curious.
You need to ascertain the specifics of the freehold. See, this could either be the freehold of all the propeties in the building or the maisonette's individual freehold. A factor that as you'll discover later on, can affect your ability to get a mortgage.
With a leasehold maisonette, you will be responsible for paying ground rent to the freeholder, which is usually somewhere in the region of £10 -£100 per year. There should be no service charge as maisonettes have no communal areas, with the only exception being for the upkeep of shared outdoor space, for instance the garden or driveway. Whereas, if through buying a maisonette you acquire the freehold of the entire building, you’ll have other residents paying you the ground rent. For the majority of maisonettes in the UK this would be the occupants of the flat below. If it's just the maisonette's individual freehold then this won't be the case.
It’s also worth understanding the responsibilities that come with a maisonette, as they differ from the conventional flat or house. For those living in a masionette, the costs would usually be divided as follows:
• A first floor maisonette is responsible for the roof and guttering.
• The ground floor flat is responsible for the foundations.
• Both properties are responsible for the upkeep of communal areas and general upkeep. For instance, resurfacing a shared driveway or exterior painting.
TOP TIP: If a first floor maisonette is going cheap, it could be a sign something is drastically wrong with the roof. When buying a masionette we'd always advise you pay for a survey before making any final decisions.
There are plenty plus points to living in a maisonette. Here's 4...
It's warm and cosy – Being upstairs is a major advantage of living in a maisonette, especially in the winter. Not only is it cosy thanks to the heat from the flat downstairs, but also because of the amount of insulation you can fit in your loft. Install double glazing and living in a maisonette can be a very savvy option.
Bonus storage space – While your loft space may be bulked out with insulation, it’s also a useful storage space that you don’t get with the majority of apartments and flats. Combine this with exterior storage such as a garage and you can store most things just as you would in a typical house. Yet another advantage of living in a maisionette.
Surprising square footage – Another perk to living in a maisonette is square footage. In some instances, maisonettes (most likely an executive maisonette) can have as much, and if not more square footage than a two bed bungalow! Not bad considering they’re far cheaper to buy.
Very good value – Because not everyone’s a fan of living in a maisonette, prices are typically cheaper. In comparison to an luxury apartment of the same size, you can usually find a maisonette for 20 - 25% less.
However, there are some hurdles to living in a maisonette. Here's 4 possible problems to consider...
Problematic parking - Maisonettes with either no off-road parking or a shared driveway can be difficult to live with. Parking your car on a street in a heavily residential area can be a nightmare, nor ideal for the safety of your car or the price of your insurance.
NOTE: Areas with high amounts of maisonettes are often the hardest places to park because maisonettes increases the amount of residents per street. Those with a large or beloved high-end cars may wish to look elsewhere.
Stairs - Living in a maisonette can troublesome if you find it hard negotiating stairs. If this is the case, a ground floor flat may be a better option.
Maisonette Mortgages - When looking to buy maisonettes getting a mortgage can be quite tricky, especially if a maisonette has its own individual freehold. Whether it’s it just shares a building with ground floor flat or a block with other maisonettes, in the eyes of lenders this generally makes it unmortgageable. This is why unless you’re a cash buyer, we would suggest you hunt for a leasehold maisonette.
Neighbours - Living in a maisonette means you have to be extra neighbourly. When living above someone, it’s important to be respectful and keep an eye on the amount of noise you make. For instance, we wouldn’t advise living in a maisonette with a young child or if you're one to party til 3am in the morning. Just saying.
TOP TIP: When you go to view a maisonette try and speak with the neighbours. Maybe get the agent to walk around upstairs so you can gauage how well insulated the floors and walls are.
There's no hiding that selling a maisonette can have its complications.As a large portion of buyers dismiss them all together and a select few can be unmortgageable, stimulating interest can be challenge. But that's not to say maisonettes are a bad investment, far from it.
If you're after somewhere safe and secure, which is cheap to run and comes with the space and amenities of a house, then living in a maisonette could be a good option for you as long as you do your homework.
Considering making the move to a maisonette? Or selling an existing maisonette to release the equity? We may be able to help.
As one of the most established UK housebuyers, we'll buy your house be it terraced, detached or a maisonette, and ensure you have the cash in the bank within as little as 7 days!
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Now that you know all about living in a maisonette, why not brush up on some more property lingo below...