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How much is your staircase worth?

Lorna Harrington looks at the importance of expert insurance valuations for old buildings

I walked into the flat I now own and exclaimed: “Wow, now that’s a staircase! Sell everything we have, we have to get this flat.” The building I now live in was once a single family home, later a school and is now divided into duplex flats. I fell in love with the magnificent staircase I feel so lucky to now own. To me it is the most beautiful thing in my home. But what if my ‘block’ of four flats was to catch fire? A standard staircase costs in the region of £10,000, but that wouldn’t even get me to the first floor as I have 14ft high ceilings. Nor would I get a solid oak staircase, or one that is carved and has hanging pendants. The insurance value on my staircase would be in the region of £50,000. Being an insurance bore, I studied the value of what my new home was insured for. You may be shocked to read that it was insured for only half of what it should have been. If our policy had an average clause in it, then following a major loss my neighbours

and I would have found ourselves in a very sticky position. What many people don’t realise is that an average clause pays out to you the ratio of what you have been insuring for. So, say our property was insured for £1,000,000, but should have been insured for £2,000,000, then on a large claim of say £800,000, we would only have been paid half. Ouch - that would hurt in a big way. (Turn to page 35 of this issue for more on average clauses) My home isn’t listed but it is Victorian and dates from 1852. It is just the sort of flat that needs a proper insurance valuation from experts in period buildings. There are hundreds of developments like this across the country and the last 20 years has seen a significant rise in the number of flats located within period conversions. Do you live in a converted school, hospital, warehouse or in a period mansion block? Do you have interesting internal period details, or just higher ceilings and thicker brick walls than are built today? When assessing buildings for insurance we repeatedly see under-

insurance in period buildings. If your home falls into any of the categories listed below, you are more than likely to be under-insured.


Buildings are listed because they’re of special architectural or historic interest. This means, if there’s a fire or other loss, special permission from the relevant planning authorities and agencies will be needed before rebuilding or repairs can take place. In other words, there’ll be a big fuss. Fuss tends to cost more.


What’s so special about stone? Well, it costs more to build with stone. It costs more to repair and maintain stonework. And the stone may well be unique, having originally been sourced from a local quarry perhaps. Again, more hassle means more cost.


Things aren’t built like they used to be. It’s true. Buildings from the past were built to last. Better quality means higher costs, so older buildings are more likely to be under-insured.


If the sums insured are based on guess work, or they’ve been passed on by previous owners and you don’t know the source of the original valuation, then the chances are they’re wrong. Get them checked.

Lorna Harrington is a Director of Barrett Corp & Harrington. Tel: 0844 412 4495 33

An old building, that appears simply built, would still cost more to rebuild than its modern neighbour. Why? Perhaps the ceiling heights are greater than the modern 2.4m. More height means more bricks and basically more of everything.

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