What are PRC homes?
Pre-cast reinforced concrete (PRC) homes occasionally crop up for sale in the UK and can often seem like a good deal, but buyers should proceed with caution.
PRC homes – also known as prefabricated or prefab homes – are classed as non-traditional construction, which makes the process of buying one fraught with difficulty.
They were first seen in the UK in the period between the First and Second World Wars when builders started using in-situ concrete and pre-cast concrete or steel frames to rebuild the UK’s depleted housing stock as an alternative to traditional bricks and mortar. The fact that the units could be produced in factories and required less skilled work on-site meant that replacement housing could be constructed quicker, and some materials were still in short supply.
Whilst some prefabricated systems were intended for only short-term use, many were created to provide long-term, permanent housing solutions that were often more affordable than traditionally constructed housing. However, during the 1980s, widespread issues affecting some PRC homes’ durability and structural stability came to light. Chemical changes in the concrete as a result of moisture meant that the steel reinforcement was no longer protected and started to rust. Rust expands by to up to seven times the size of the original steel and this caused significant damage to the concrete framework.
This led to many concrete housing systems being designated as defective under the 1985 Housing Act. It meant lenders would not approve mortgages for PRC homes unless remediation works were carried out under an approved repair scheme and a PRC certificate was obtained. A company called PRC Homes Ltd was set up by the National House Builders Council, in conjunction with the Council of Mortgage Lenders, to undertake PRC repair work. This involved removing or rendering redundant any concrete structural components and replacing them with traditional brick walls. This scheme was wound up in the 1990s and no longer exists.
Many local authorities upgraded their concrete housing stock which had poor insulation.
These works were intended to extend the life of the housing, but they could accept, say, a 25-year life and plan to redevelop after that time. These works may not have been a full repair scheme to PRC Homes standards and are consequently not suitable for lending. If the property has only a limited life, its value will decline as it nears the end of its life, which is why lenders do not consider them suitable security. This means that if you are interested in buying a PRC house, even if it has been repaired to the required standard, without a PRC certificate, getting a mortgage will prove tricky.
It is possible to apply for a retrospective PRC certificate provided the repair work has been done. Most mortgage lenders will accept these. Our advice would be to tread very carefully when it comes to buying a PRC home. Appointing an experienced RICS regulated chartered surveyor to carry out a RICS Home Survey Level Three will give you an in-depth understanding of the construction and structural integrity of the property you are interested in for confidence and peace of mind. Some types of concrete house can be acceptable to lenders, mainly the in-situ concrete types and the later large panel systems and a survey can help to identify the type. Some of the concrete framed house types have a brick outer face and may not be immediately apparent without a specialist inspection.
PRC homes and their potential problems
When it comes to buying a PRC home, there are several issues you may face. One of the biggest problems, as we’ve highlighted above, is getting a mortgage.
Most high street lenders won’t approve a mortgage on a PRC home unless the required structural repairs have been carried out under the supervision of an approved PRC inspector and a PRC certificate has been obtained. If you’re looking to buy a PRC home where little or no work has been undertaken to repair it since its construction, then getting a PRC certificate could be more challenging.
The level of repairs you need to get a PRC certificate can prove costly and disruptive. Repair systems are available for all the main PRC house types, but the work involves removing the existing walls and rebuilding them in traditional construction. For semi-detached or terraced houses, the party walls will also require rebuilding and most lenders will not accept a repaired house if the attached properties have not also been repaired. For some, it might be possible to reside in the property while the work is undertaken, whereas for others, it might not. A RICS Home Survey Level Three will help identify any potential issues with PRC homes before you buy and give advice on recommended repairs and likely costs so that you can make a fully informed decision. If you are interested in buying a repaired PRC home where no PRC certificate has been issued, this can be complicated.
Normally, if the repairs have been carried out according to standards set out in the 1984 Housing Defects Act, you should be able to obtain a PRC certificate.
However, providing documentation or evidence to show this is the case is where the issue lies. In many cases, local authorities carried out repair programmes to their housing stock but never issued PRC certificates. As this work was likely carried out more than 20 years ago, tracking down the relevant documentation is almost impossible. Similarly, some structural engineers, local authorities and construction companies may have carried out repair work that does not meet the required standard to get PRC certification.
If this is the case, you may be required to pay for additional repairs to bring the work up to standard so you can get a retrospective PRC certificate to secure a mortgage. If you are interested in a repaired PRC home but are unsure about any work carried out and its compliance, then a qualified surveyor can offer you the right advice and guidance about what your next steps should be.
Help with PRC homes
If you’re interested in purchasing a PRC home but are worried about the potential implications, GB Home Surveys can help. We’re independent, RICS regulated chartered surveyors that have been providing trusted services for almost 30 years. Our surveyors are all RICS members and RICS registered valuers with vast experience in identifying potential issues with PRC homes and repairs, recognising the problems they can cause and how they can be rectified. We follow the new RICS Home Survey Standard and can give you an expert, objective view on the condition and construction of the property you are interested in to help you make an informed and balanced decision.
Our service is convenient and hassle-free. It will provide you with all the information you need to make the right choice. For a free initial consultation and a no-obligation quote, give our friendly team a call today to discuss your requirements.