Michael Clark of Jackson-Stops & Staff estate agents in Exeter has no doubt: “Thatched cottages are like Marmite, you either love or hate them. Many people who move here from other parts of the country love the idea of an archetypal thatched cottage or farmhouse. But the other half is extremely wary.”
Buyers are often put off by thatch because they worry about increased fire risks and maintenance and upkeep costs, according to Sarah Broughton of property buying agency Prime Purchase. Some, adds Diana Rowell of Churchill Country & Equestrian, are also concerned that they may attract birds and insects. “It is rare to find someone who asks for thatched property particularly but it is not rare for prospective buyers to refuse a viewing because of the thatch,” she says.
Thatched homes are definitely not for everyone. “Speaking from first-hand experience, many thatched houses tend to be cottage-y inside and anyone remotely squeamish needs to be prepared for the wildlife living in your roof,” says Edward Heaton of Heaton and Partners.
That said, he adds, “in my view there is little difference in value between a thatch and non-thatch property, they just appeal to slightly different buyers. Buyers of high-value properties, who are less financially sensitive, tend to be more relaxed about buying a thatched house, as are many second home owners who like the appeal of the picture-postcard weekend cottage.”
And you can take a few steps to minimise the issues linked to this kind of property. For starters, you can install wire-netting to stop birds, rodents and other animals getting into your roof. A specialist pest-control office can also provide further advice.
The risk of fire is another commonly voiced concern but “statistically, a thatched roof is no more likely to catch fire than a conventional roof,” according to Nicki Whittaker of rural insurance provider NFU Mutual. It’s true, she continues, that if thatch roofs do ignite “the fire is very difficult to control and the results can be devastating, with some buildings being partially or totally destroyed.” But taking appropriate precautions can make a huge difference: “As 90% of thatch fires relate to chimneys and the use of wood-burning stoves, making sure that your chimney is swept and inspected on a regular basis and that it is appropriately lined can all help to reduce the fire risk.”
This should also help reduce your insurance bill, according to Mark Lawson of property search agents The Buying Solution: “It is possible to reduce premiums by agreeing to various conditions within the policy, including higher excesses, regular chimney sweeping, the agreement not to have solid fuel burners and using treated or fire-retardant materials.”
Similarly, shopping around for specialist insurance providers will ensure you get the best deal. Nick Rickett of Norton and Rickett estate agents in Stamford believes that “insurance for thatched properties is no different to listed buildings — you would need to go to a more specialist provider rather than a mass-market insurer.”
Many of Rickett’s buyers, however, are also worried about the costs and hassle of rethatching a property after a period of time. This, say specialists, can be easily addressed with some investment and wise property management. According to Jonathan Penn of Jackson-Stops & Staff in Ipswich you should always choose a cottage with good thatch and get accurate quotes for re-thatching from the vendors, so you can factor in the spending for any future work into to your purchase.
Remember that the best quality materials, while initially more expensive, will last you longer. For example, says Broughton, “Norfolk Reed should last 70 years and Long Straw thatch, which is not as strong, should last 40 years. Norfolk Reed is fixed directly to the rafters whereas Long Straw is fixed into an underlying base coat, so the roof is rounder and thicker.”
Regular maintenance — namely “‘re-ridging as soon as required and combing the rotten thatch on a regular basis” — will also help extend the roof’s life, according to Lawson. Again, it paus off to invest in the best ridge you can afford: “a high quality ridge will only need replacing every 12-15 years, a poor quality ridge may only last 5-7 years,” cautions Whittaker.
Some of these maintenance costs may also be offset by lower utility costs because, says Jackson-Stops & Staff’s Clark, “thatched properties are extremely efficient, keeping the heat in during winter and the heat out over the summer.” Plus, notes his colleague James Wilson of Jackson-Stops & Staff in Shaftesbury , “thatch being a natural material it blends well with the surrounding environment.”
Perhaps more importantly, though, thatched cottages are an integral part of the British landscape. “In my patch in East Anglia there are numerous thatched houses and barns as it was the traditional roofing material of choice for many years,” says Broughton. “they make up the unique architecture of some villages.” Buying one is as much a property purchase as a good deed in conservation.
For more information on thatched roofs, see the NFU Mutual’s Protecting your thatched home guide.