I’m looking for a house to buy.  Rarely does such a simple statement carry so many hopes raised and dashed, so much work and stress, so many secret traps for the unwary. 

As you look round the potential purchase, questions crowd your mind. What are the neighbours like? Is that yapping dog an occasional annoyance or will it drive you barking mad? It’s quiet while the kids are at school but will their loud music be blaring through open windows come the evening?

One house we looked at was lovely- an idyllic country cottage looking out on wheat fields. Then we noticed a military airfield down the road. Further enquiries led us to discover that intensive low flying helicopter training at night was one of the quaint features not mentioned by the estate agent.

The biggest challenge is trying to second guess problems that might arise. Surveys can report the likelihood of flooding or subsidence but the implications of planning permissions or common areas are more difficult to assess.

One house we got close to buying was a new build. It was the road running through the small estate that caught our attention. It seems to be fairly common now for local authorities to refuse to adopt roads on new private estates. Their reluctance is understandable, given the cost of maintenance, even if they still want to collect the full council tax.

The question is, what’s the alternative? The answer is often a company of some kind set up specifically to own and manage the private roads and any other common areas such as footpaths and verges. This might be owned by the developer or by the homeowners or a third party. The latter is an interesting proposition. It seems that would-be property tycoons, perhaps finding houses too expensive, are quite keen to buy unadopted roads or even the access to garages. They then have a nice little earner from the maintenance or service fees each householder is obliged to pay. Such fees are meant to be reasonable but I think this could be a time bomb for homeowners when these mini landlords try to maximise their income.

The solution our developer came up with was, in my opinion, ridiculous. Every bit of orphaned road, verge and footpath was divided up and allocated to one or other of the houses. The reassurance from the developer was that the deeds would say that all the other houses using these common areas should pay a ‘fair’ portion of a ‘reasonable’ cost to maintain and repair each privately owned section.

When I was younger, I imagined everyone was fair and reasonable.  Experience has taught me otherwise. Nowadays, I know only too well what might happen if our bit of road- at the far end of the state- developed a pothole and we went to each of our dozen neighbours asking for an equal contribution to its repair. Would every one agree that the bill was reasonable? What are the odds someone would be sure they could have got it done cheaper? Would the ones at the entrance to the estate agree that it was fair to ask them to pay for a bit of road they never used?

And what about a pothole elsewhere that the owner of that bit of road didn’t feel like repairing? An action in a civil court to enforce their obligation? Maybe… but only if all the other neighbours agreed. Worse still, how far would you get with the neighbour who argued that their bit of verge was better left to grow wild? After all, lots of councils take that view.

So our solicitor said ‘Don’t touch it with a bargepole’ or polite legalese to that effect. The search for a house continues.

This blog was written by Paul Lewis, owner of the Winchester based marketing consultancy Seven Experience. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn

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