Early 20th Century Housing – A Sound Property Development Business Plan?

Over the years ex-council properties and 1930’s style housing have remained a steady bet for the modern buy-to-let investor and property developer.

When compared to some more modern housing there is no competition in terms of value for money. These were properties built to last, on good size plots with generous room sizes.

ex_council_style_housingThey make great long term family homes for this reason and it’s ultimately what they were designed for.

Location dependant they can make great investments and ideal properties to renovate with usually very little other than a cosmetic uplift required.

So if you’re looking for houses to refurbish or trying to decide on which houses to add to your property development business plan (that will also work for long-term tenants) then they can make a safe bet.

small - 1930s Art Deco style semiBut many of these estates were developed in the 1930’s along with another class of housing developed by private builders and due to their age there are some key factors to look out for.

So grab a cup of coffee, pull up a seat and get ready to learn a little bit of history on how these properties came about and the key elements you should look out for if you’re looking to develop or invest in these 1930’ style ex-council and art deco houses.

What makes Inter War housing such a good investment?

There are few positives which can be written about the First World War, however the loss of life in the conflict across all classes caused great social change in the following decades and had a marked effect on housing in Britain.

When the whistle to attack sounded it was young officers often from the upper classes who led the way out of the trenches and were the first to be cut down by machine gun fire. The loss of the family heir coupled with crippling taxes and the effects of agricultural depression resulted in large numbers of country estates being sold off in the inter war years and providing cheap land for housing.

At the same time the atrocious conditions the working classes had to live in were highlighted by the poor health of recruits during the later stages of the war, and with the Russian Revolution fresh in the mind the Government realised that more spacious and healthy housing would have to be provided.

Financial schemes which encouraged local authorities to build the first large scale council estates and the middle classes to buy a new house began the slow raising of standards of accommodation and the obsession with property ownership.

With the low cost of suburban land compared with that in city centers builders could afford to provide less densely packed housing hence the large semi set in spacious front and rear gardens became the standard design during these Inter War years.

small - 1920s housing set around a greenThere was a wide variety of styles available which could be implied by simply adding a few appropriate details or cladding to this basic form of semi detached house.

In the 1920s Mock Tudor timber framing, Arts and Crafts pebbledash or Neo Georgian windows were added and then in the 1930s Modern streamlined features, white rendered walls and Art Deco glazing was added to the mix.

Developers also set their houses along curving crescents or short cul-de-sacs rather than the straight roads which dominated pre war housing, they also added green spaces and trees to bring the country into the town.

Features which distinguish houses from the 1920s and 30s include:

small - 1930s Art Deco house with labels.Hipped roofs which slope down on all sides of a houses became standard on all but the cheapest housing. They were also relatively steep sided so make a large space suitable for conversion into further accommodation although the sloping end may be best replaced by building the side wall up to form a gable to maximise headroom.

• The semi detached house was the most common form but the front doors were usually set at the far end of each pair and not in the centre as had been the norm in pre war types.

Large bowed bay windows with gables above decorated with mock timber framing were a popular addition at the front. For the latest in fashion suntrap bays with a curved side and horizontal glazing bars usually in metal were an option in the 1930s.

Casement windows with the upper section filled with patterned coloured glass were popular. In traditional styled houses these tend to be colourful floral designs, in Mock Tudor houses heraldic symbols were popular. In the 1930s geometric patterns like the sunray were popular either in bold colours or in different textures of clear glass.

The wall surface could be rendered all over and painted to imitate modern concrete houses, have just the upper storey covered in pebbledash reflecting the Arts and Crafts style or could be clad with imitation timber framing to create a Mock Tudor look. By the 1930s it was fashionable for any exposed bricks to have a wavy or ripple effect pattern stamped in their surface.

Front doors were either set beneath a simple flat storm porch or set back behind an arched with a small window on one or both sides of it. The door usually had a glazed upper third in a variety of shapes with the glass reflecting that installed in the tops of the main windows. Tudor style houses had solid wood doors with vertical battens and sometimes a tiny window at the top. Art Deco style houses could have a more daring design with a series of glazed horizontal panels stack above each other although often they just had a conventional door but with geometric patterned glass.

• Inside the extra width of these Inter war suburban plots was most notable in the entrance hall which was now much wider than in most Edwardian houses of a similar class. This meant that the stairs could be brought up to the front with wooden balusters a decorative feature to boast about. The windows in the hall replaced the fanlight in pre war houses as ceiling heights were now generally lower. Kitchens were now built into the main body of the house rather than being in an extension at the rear.

small - Art Deco HallThese practical Inter War houses set on a spacious plot have both a style which is gaining popularity and a practical form which needs little adaptation for modern living.

They were usually built with a quality of materials which was superior to those used since the Second World War but with features like cavity walls and damp proof courses which make them a safer investment than much of the pre First World War housing.

There are however some areas to look out for when considering these properties for investment:

Check that the roof looks sound and there are no signs of sagging. Problems can occur with these large hipped structures when the original ceramic roof tiles have been replaced with modern concrete types which can add extra weight or if timber supports which ran from side to side in the loft have been removed to make more space. Also make sure that vents or a gap have been left around the eaves so condensation does not build up and effect the timber work.

small - 1930s Tudor style.• An additional tall, thin chimney was often built above the kitchen in the corner of the house. These can be precarious and are worth removing if having roofing work done.

Walls in the 1920s and 30s usually had a cavity but after eighty years the ties which held the inner and outer face together can snap resulting in a bulge in the brickwork which will require attention (it is the inner wall which carries the load from the floors and roof, the outer is principally a facing).

Look for any signs of cracks in the brickwork as foundations were still shallow on many Inter War houses making them vulnerable to ground movement from leaky drains, heavy traffic, certain types of clay soil and trees and shrubs being too close to the building.

With DPC’s and cavity walls damp  a should be less of a problem than with earlier housing. However the removal of fireplaces, fitting of double glazing and the blocking of air vents in the walls can cause condensation to build up and areas of mould to appear on the inner face of exterior walls.

Metal framed windows were very popular in the 1930s and are very strong and durable and are worth considering saving as their Art Deco form and patterned glass is now becoming fashionable. Seals around openings can be replaced, frames repainted and secondary glazing fitted, the latter which can be more effective than double glazing at reducing noise levels.

Doors were often a key decorative feature well worth renovating. Make sure it has three secure hinges, suitable locks and if necessary discrete bars behind the glazing for extra security. To improve energy efficiency seal gaps around the frame and fit a curtain on a swing rod on its inner face to help keep out drafts or fit glazed doors across the front of the porch.

small - Art Deco Dining roomOne aspect of Art Deco design which is not so popular at the moment are the original brown and beige tiled fireplaces which can sometimes be found in properties. These are hard work to remove and may be a valuable asset sometime in the future so consider either boarding them over (leave a grill or gap so air can still vent the flue) or use strong colours on an opposing wall to draw attention away from them.

For more information on Trevor’s books about Art Deco and 1930s houses go to www.trevoryorke.co.uk or follow him on facebook.

What’s Your Buy To Let Property Of Choice?

I’m sure you’ll agree it’s great to learn more and understand these property styles in detail. Whether your personal choice is Edwardian, Victorian or Georgian properties, they all offer fantastic opportunities and property to renovate.

Not only is the development and their history fascinating, but understanding what to look out for and the ‘typical’ defects many houses start to show with age is invaluable, especially when you’re looking to build a long term portfolio, develop a refurbishment business plan or guide, or even if your simply on the lookout for houses for renovation.

Let us know if you have this type of housing stock in your portfolio and how you find them in the comments below….

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