Q&A - Are there pitfalls to buying a house where solar panels have been installed?

Q: We want to move but in the area we like most of the properties have solar panels on the roof, which look dreadful. The estate agents say ‘just remove them if you don’t like them’, but I am wondering whether you would need permission from anyone to do that. Could we run into any potential problems?

A: It depends how the solar panels were purchased. Some solar panels are purchased outright, which means unless they are somewhere with listed building or conservation issues no planning permission would have been required to install them, so no permissions would be needed to remove them. If you did decide to keep them you would need to ensure the seller had them installed pursuant to the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) and that relevant supplier guarantees and building regulation certificates are passed on.  You should remember that maintenance of your roof will be more tricky with solar panels in place. 

If there are a lot of solar panels in the area they may be the result of a localised consumer marketing campaign to supply solar panels that feed into the National Grid. Such arrangements usually involve solar panels being supplied for free under the ‘Feed in Tariff Scheme’, a government initiative introduced in April 2010. With such schemes home owners get free electricity in return for a lease over their roof and air space.

Leased solar panels are owned by the supplier for the duration of the lease, usually 25 years. Terminating the lease early can incur a hefty ‘buy-out’ penalty which, depending on the roof size and remaining years on the lease, could cost between £15,000 and £25,000. Mortgage lenders are reluctant to lend on properties with leased solar panels unless there is a break clause in the lease and the relevant installation certificates are available.  Solar panels could potentially make the property unmortgageable.