Buying a flat or maisonette is slightly more complicated than buying a house, for several reasons! There are several things you need to consider, so it's important to make sure you ask the right questions when going to view your potential new pad. Here are some of our most commonly asked questions, to help you in the meantime!
A freehold property is one where you own the home (bricks and mortar) and the land on which it is built, as opposed to a leasehold property, where you buy the right to occupy the property, which sits upon land – or within a building – that belongs to someone else (the leaseholder). Apartments are leasehold because you share a building with other people, as are all shared ownership properties, which you share with a housing association. The lease is the agreement between parties, which needs to be checked by a solicitor, making leaseholds more legally complicated (and costly) than freehold.
With a leasehold property, you’re effectively buying the right to live in that property for a set amount of time, which can be any amount up to 999 years. As time moves on and the lease changes hands, this value reduces, so it’s vital you know how long is left on the lease and a solicitor will check this for you. Mortgage lenders tend to insist that properties have at least 70 years left on their lease, so, if you buy one with less than 80 years of lease remaining, you may struggle to sell it in 5 to 10 years’ time. An extension can cost several thousand pounds and take many weeks to deal with, so, if the lease is running out, you should try to push to have it extended before you buy.
You need to know how much ground rent and service charge you’ll pay to live in the property and who is responsible for general repairs of any communal areas, so you can budget accordingly. What exactly do the service charges cover and how often are these costs reviewed? This is a regular cost you’ll have to pay when you move in, so you don’t want it to catch you out later.
Are you free to make any alterations you like to your property, or are there restrictions? If so, what are they? These can range from the obvious (you can’t remove internal walls) to more subtle ones, such as making sure you keep the same windows or front door. If you have any big plans for altering the flat, check with your solicitor whether the lease allows for those changes. You might need to get written consent from the landlord before carrying out any works.
Your service charges should include costs for general maintenance but might not include costs for potentially major repairs, such as if the roof of your block of flats needs extensive work. If a large repair is needed, you should be aware of who will be responsible and how the costs will be shared. This is important as it may be something you need to budget for in the future.
You’re finally going to have the freedom of your own home, but are you allowed to have pets? In some flats, you’re not allowed to own a dog and in others, you’re not allowed to play music after a certain time. Estate agents are unlikely to know all the restrictions that affect a property, so you should ask your solicitor to check whether there are any restrictions that will stop you doing anything that is important to you.
You’ve most likely looked into the local area and whether it’s got what you want and need nearby, but are there any hidden issues from its past and what’s planned there for the future? Property searches can be ordered by your solicitor and highlight things like whether there’s planning permission for a supermarket over the road, or whether your new home is built on the site of former mines or quarries, which could increase the chance of a sinkhole opening up outside.
In a similar way to when you rent, the landlord owns the property and a separate company often manages it for them. You’ll be dealing with these people regularly, paying service charges to them and asking them to fix any issues that arise, so it’s important you know who you’ll be dealing with. Whether it’s a professional management company or an individual you’ll be dealing with, you need to know.
Other costs can arise that can’t be predicted at the start of a transaction. For example, management companies can make extra charges for changing their records when a new person joins or leaves a property, and for administration fees to provide information you’ll need in order to get a mortgage. This can add a couple of hundred pounds on to the cost of moving, so it’s worth budgeting for.
While you’re buying, your solicitor will answer your questions, but once you’re in your new home, it’s important to know where you can go for advice. The Government’s Lease Advisory Service has a range of information for tenants and landlords and you can use it before or after you move, to check you know what you need to.
If you’re considering moving in 2020, contact your local Leaders branch to discuss your property requirements.
Looking for advice?
If you're looking to let or sell your property, we can help. Get in touch with your local branch or book in for a property valuation.