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What is a Maisonette?

A standard front room of a maisonette with a sofa, plant pots and shelf

When you’re searching for your next home, you may come across the term maisonette. This guide is to help you to understand exactly what a maisonette is and if it’s something you’d want to live in when searching for a home.


What does the term ‘maisonette’ actually mean?

It’s tricky to define a maisonette, as it can mean various things depending on where you are in the world. The word ‘maisonette’ originates from French and translates to ‘little house’. Across much of Europe, even holiday cottages can be classed as a maisonette.

However, here in the UK, a maisonette is a self-contained two-floor flat, within a larger building, with its own staircase and entrance. You often find maisonettes in large period houses that have been converted, or in a town or city centre above shops.

In Scotland, a maisonette is one of a group of duplex flats, positioned on top of each other as part of a housing block, accessed via a communal entrance.

In America, maisonettes are often referred to as duplex because of the split-level aspect and they are usually the top floor of a high-rise building, known as a penthouse.


What’s the difference between maisonettes and flats?

Flats are typically built in blocks, one on top of the other, with a shared entrance to access the main building, and communal space between each flat’s front door. With a maisonette, your front door exits your home directly to the outside.

A maisonette also has the living space split over two floors, like a house, whereas flats are just on one floor, with each room level with the other. Flats also don’t usually come with any outdoor space, and if they do it’s usually communal. A maisonette may come with a small garden, and it may even be private access to only the people living there.


What’s the difference between maisonettes and houses?

Although maisonettes are not quite the size of the average house, they have some similarities. Maisonettes may have a private garden and garage, much like a house, and they also have a front door that leads to the outside of the property, not a shared corridor or space.

Maisonettes and houses differ mostly in size. Even though the living space is split over two levels, you are unlikely to get more than two bedrooms in a maisonette, where a house can be far larger, up to four or five bedrooms. Houses also have attic space whereas a maisonette may be on the ground floor of a building, with no accessible loft space directly above.

Possibly the most positive difference is that a maisonette, being that much smaller than a house, will usually be far cheaper to purchase.


Are maisonettes leasehold or freehold?

If a maisonette comes up during your search and you are interested, be sure to ask your agent this question. The answer will either be yes, it has a lease, in which case it's a leasehold property or that it comes with a freehold, which is a little more complex.

With a leasehold maisonette, you will be responsible for paying ground rent to the freeholder, which varies in price per year, so know how much you are willing to pay. There should be no service charge as maisonettes have no communal areas, with the only exception being for the upkeep of any shared outdoor space e.g. a garden or driveway.

If through buying a maisonette you acquire the freehold of the entire building, you’ll have other residents paying you the ground rent. This is typically when a period building has been converted into two maisonettes, so for a majority of maisonettes in the UK the occupants of the maisonette on the ground floor below will pay you the ground rent.

You’ll also need to know the responsibilities that come with owning a maisonette, as they are different from the conventional flat or house. For example, a first-floor maisonette is responsible for the roof and guttering and the ground floor is responsible for the foundations, but both properties are responsible for the upkeep of communal areas and general upkeep like driveways and exterior walls.


The pros and cons of buying a maisonette

The pros:

  • Maisonettes are great first-time properties because they are typically cheaper than a house and give you more space for your money than a flat.
  • Bespoke living. A typical flat consists of several rooms that span a single floor, whereas maisonettes span two levels and are often more bespoke than flats as they don’t come as part of developed block. They vary largely in square footage, layout, and spec. too, so are likely to be unique, especially if they are a converted period building.
  • Bonus storage space. A maisonette may come with useful storage space that you don’t get with most apartments and flats such as exterior storage like a garage, meaning you can store most things just as you would in a typical house.

 

The cons:

  • Not the best idea if you want to expand your home. Unlike a house, a maisonette won’t benefit from Permitted Development Rights. What this means is you will need to get planning permission for any large-scale home projects and you are more at risk of rejection.
  • Limited space. If you’re a growing family, maisonettes may not be suitable as a forever home. Ultimately, you won’t get the space of a typical house in a maisonette, but whether this is an issue for you will depend on personal preference and budget.
  • Sharing responsibility. If any exterior work needs to be done to a maisonette you have to communicate with anyone that occupies the other half of the property, convincing them to pitch in to help. Although the financial burdens of exterior work are allocated to each household from the start, you need them to agree to the physical side of hiring someone to help and making sure the work is completed properly and to standard.
  • Maisonettes above shops etc. You might have to prepare for the everyday noise and smells from whatever is below you, especially if it’s a business in the catering industry. Visit the property at different times of the day if you can, to see what it might be like to live above.

Is living in a maisonette right for you?

A maisonette may or may not suit you, it’s going to depend on the size of property you need and how you feel about leasehold and freehold issues. For many first-time buyers, a maisonette might be the perfect fit, with a smaller space to manage and more affordable pricing. But for a growing family or a person who wants to be able to expand on a large-scale? A more traditional house or bungalow might be a better fit.


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We have many other useful guides from advice for buyers and dos and don’t’s when viewing a property to tips for upsizing and a guide to shared ownership, take a look.

 

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