The word Maisonette derives from the French word for house, “maison”, coupled with the diminutive “ette” to imply that it is a little house. However, in England, a maisonette is not exactly a little French house. In English, the exact definition of a maisonette is rather elusive, with a variety of answers offered by different sources. The Concise Oxford Dictionary provides that it is part of a house or block of flats which forms separate living accommodation which is usually spread over two floors and has its own entrance.
Due to property being built and modified in ever-evolving ways living spaces are created which do not necessarily fall into a specific mould and yet still need to be described. Hence, something described as a maisonette may not always comply with the dictionary criteria previously outlined. Maisonettes usually have their own access and often an internal staircase, but can also include properties which have just one floor, albeit with a private staircase that leads up to it. Some maisonettes come with a garden; this is usually a small plot of land that is often shared with the adjoining property.
Why use the term?
The concept of a living space which is small but private, with two floors and an individual entrance is deemed rather upmarket and exclusive. Hence, higher prices can be fetched for maisonettes than a mere flat of a similar size, in a similar location. Therefore, estate agents and private sellers are inclined, where possible, to market their property as a maisonette.
Should you listen?
It is often preferable to have independent access to a building, not to share hallways and staircases, and to have living space split over two floors but as previously discussed this is not guaranteed by the use of the word in a property advert. It can, of course, be a good guide to what the property is like and a useful search term when scanning through adverts. Ultimately the best idea is to visit a property and see exactly what is has to offer first hand, only this way will you judge whether it is worth the money asked for and if you could enjoy living there.
What problems might you encounter in a maisonette?
Maisonettes most commonly share walls with other properties and therefore neighbours can often be heard. This can spark animosity between neighbours either by them being unreasonably loud or not tolerant enough about your indulgence in music and television. Maisonettes can often be quite small, with the staircase taking up a disproportionate amount of space. This means the layout can be less ideal with bathrooms on different levels to bedrooms and kitchens on different levels to dining rooms. The presence of stairs as opposed to a flat built on one level can put some people off who prefer not to have to go up and down stairs several times a day.
When going abroad on holiday or to buy or rent property be aware that the word maisonette may mean something different again. In France, for example, the word really does mean little house and often refers to what would be described in England as holiday cottages. In Greece the word maisonette can often refer to a complex of flats which have a common entrance which leads to independent entrances.
In general the word maisonette is used, and often misused, to describe a multitude of properties. When looking for holiday accommodation try to look at any photographs provided to judge the type of property you are booking. When looking to rent or buy property, by all means use it as a search term but do not rely on the word too much, look at photos and go to see the property for yourself.