The shadow of the June 2017 Grenfell Tower fire is currently affecting every City Centre sale & causing delays in the sales process.
The insistence by almost all bank surveyors of seeing the signed off External Wall Review EWS1 form, which became mandatory earlier this year, is now causing issues for almost every city residence. The form was intended for recording in a consistent manner what assessment has been carried out for the external wall construction of residential apartment buildings where the highest floor is 18m or more above ground level or where specific concerns exist. Whilst originally designed for 18meters, being essentially five storeys and above the scope was widened to every apartment building with cladding. We understand the government has held talks with the RICS to attempt to resolve confusion caused by the form, which has been blamed for the current hiatus. It seems nervous fire safety experts are being unwilling to sign off buildings as safe. The reasons have been reluctancy to sign the forms in case they are held professionally & personally responsible in the event of a fire. We understand Insurers have not helped by advising the fire engineers that they will not insure them for signing off the forms, saying that they should not sign off buildings that they haven’t been involved in the design of. The form has caused sale confusion as many banks being are unwilling to sign off the mortgages until the form has been signed.
Essentially the EWS process allows a “competent chartered professional with fire expertise” to check materials and give assurances to lenders that it is safe or in need of remediation. The expert has to first assess whether materials of limited combustibility are present. If there are none or if limited combustible materials are present the property is given a clean bill of health for mortgage companies. If the materials are found to be combustible, but a fire risk assessment deems the risk to be low, it is also given the green light for lenders. The guarantee lasts for five years. However an external wall is found to have combustible materials, then a chartered fire engineer must be appointed to carry out a more in-depth assessment. If the engineer deems the fire risk to be low then lenders are again given assurances. If deemed however high risk then remediation work is then needed and actioned
For residents securing an inspection is the first hurdle and it is not simple or quick for leaseholders. The records of what materials used in every construction are sadly severely lacking, or non-existent for many buildings. As a result intrusive checks are needed in the majority of cases to establish what is actually on the walls and what fittings are holding them onto the walls. The pool of experts available to carry out these checks is sadly small. This pool gets even smaller because the liability concerns have now scared many away!
The issues are urgently being resolved. We are currently pushing the leading Birmingham City Centre block managing agents to obtain a guide to the likely timelines for the leading blocks have their completed forms. This timeline is essential for vendors & buyers because it can be used to guide transaction times.
Watch this space for more updates