London lettings and estate agent, Benham and Reeves, has called for EWS1 forms, which concern the fire safety of external wall cladding used on high rise buildings across the nation, to be incorporated into the standard Fire Risk Assessment process, rather than remain a standalone examination. In doing so, they believe it could help ease the clogged bottleneck that is causing fall-through rates to rise and leaving owners trapped in homes they are unable to sell.
The fire safety of external cladding on highrise buildings came into sharp focus following the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017. To minimise risk, it was decided that all buildings above a certain height should have their external wall cladding checked and approved with an EWS1 (External Wall System Fire Review) certificate.
While the EWS1 is not a legal requirement, mortgage providers are unwilling to lend on certain properties that do not have certification because the fire risk is deemed too high. This has long caused problems for the new-build sector with developments unable to come to market before gaining the certification, a process which is taking up to 12 months to complete because there simply aren’t enough qualified examiners to fill demand.
Now, however, the EWS1 bottleneck familiar to the new-build market is starting to have a negative impact on the existing homes market. With mortgage providers refusing to lend without an EWS1, the market is experiencing massive delays and soaring fall-through rates. Buyers can’t buy which many owners are trapped in properties they cannot sell no matter how desperately they need to.
Rising fall-through rates
In the past year alone, fall-throughs have increased by 3.6%, from 87,063 in Q3 2021 to 90,188 in Q3 2022. An increase that Benham and Reeves believes has been contributed to by EWS1 delays.
It’s thought that the issues posed by EWS1 forms affect roughly 9% of flats on the market. This might sound small, but it impacts the sale of some 5,000 flats on a quarterly basis alone, 60,000 a year, all of which are getting tied up in EWS1 complications rather than being successfully bought and sold.
What can be done to avoid the bottleneck?
Until there are enough professionals trained to issue EWS1 certification, a significant bottleneck is going to remain. To avoid getting trapped, buyers and sellers might have to resort to dealing only in cash.
Cash buyers don’t need mortgages which means the mortgage providers can’t insist on the EWS1 and the transaction can be completed unfettered.
Another option, however, and one that is less reliant on buyers being cash-rich, is to rethink the certification process.
Rather than a standalone inspection, the process should be incorporated into the Fire Risk Assessment that, by law, must be completed for every high rise residential building containing two or more sets of domestic premises
London estate agent, Benham & Reeves, who are leading this call for a change in the process, believes that this will be far more efficient, helping to eradicate the delays that homebuyers and sellers are struggling with.
Director of Benham and Reeves, Marc von Grundherr, says:
“I don’t think anyone is arguing the necessity of EWS1 certification however, its implementation has proved extremely problematic from an operational point of view and we certainly need to consider how this can be improved moving forwards and how the industry can adapt to better facilitate the process.
One solution is to incorporate it into the existing Fire Risk Assessment process and in doing so, we believe the substantial waiting times that buyers and sellers are enduring at the moment can be reduced by quite some margin.”
|Table shows quarterly mortgage valuations and EWS1 form (or equivalent) requirement for flats in the UK|
|Mortgage valuations by EWS1 requirements||2022 Q2 (latest Q Apr-Jun 2022)|
|Total number of mortgage valuations for flats for which data was received||54,000|
|Mortgage valuations for flats where an EWS1 form or equivalent was required n||5,000|
|Mortgage valuations for flats where an EWS1 form or equivalent was required %||9.3%|
|Table shows the number of fall-throughs in Q3 of each year between 2019 – 2022|
|Q3 2019||Q3 2020||Q3 2021||Q3 2022||Annual change|
Number of mortgage valuations for flats data sourced from Gov.UK
Number of fall-throughs data sourced from Twentyci
Additional EWS1 info and data sourced from Commons Library, SmoothSale, and RICS
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