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Downsizing after the Children leave home

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Article  by James Butler 
 The move from Freehold to Leasehold Property. When the children leave home, or as we near retirement, frequently the decision is made to downsize. Often the move is made from freehold house to leaseshold apartment. We asked a leading leasehold consultancy to talk us through the leasehold maze.


1. What is a Leasehold Property?
Typically a Leasehold property is a Flat or part of a larger property or estate. When purchasing a Leasehold property you must be very aware that you are essentially purchasing a right of occupation and the associated protections only. In most cases you do not actually own the structural elements of the property, only those elements “demised” (allocated) to you and only for the residual period of time left on the lease.

2. Lease Length
Check how long is left on the lease, the “Residual Term”. Typically anything less than 80 years Residual Term may be difficult to obtain a mortgage against and may subsequently affect the value of the property. Lease extensions whilst a statutory right in most instances are often time consuming and expensive processes.

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When you purchase a Leasehold property you will pay a large capital sum of money however this is not the only cost you will have to pay. Most Leasehold property will incur an annual ground rent which can be set in numerous ways. Look for the actual terms of these payments and check that they are correctly quoted by the vendor. Be aware that such figures are often demanded incorrectly.

3. Ground Rent

Make sure you know your liabilities when it comes to paying service charges

4. Service Charge
Commonly a far more expensive charge is that of the annual Service Charge. The problem with service charges is that most Leaseholders either buying for the First time or perhaps moving into developments having sold their Freehold properties are not aware of their liabilities to pay these charges. Commonly such things are brushed over by solicitors keen to complete the conveyancing process in a timely and profitable manner. You must be fully aware of your “covenants” under any lease, especially those relating to monetary payment. Furthermore these charges are often open to questionable practice and over inflation, both of which provide the Freeholder or his agents with healthy profit streams.

5. Alterations
Unlike a Freehold property there are often strict limits as to how far you may alter or enhance your property without the need to apply to the Freeholder for the granting of relevant licences (or approvals). Check the terms of the lease and any other associated deeds in full. If in doubt seek legal advice from your solicitors or legal representatives. If you get it wrong you may be deemed to be in breach of your lease and remedies of such situations can be very costly.

6. Assignment Fees
Having purchased your property at the prescribed price you may think that this and the charges referred to above are all you will pay to the Freeholder or his representatives. Unfortunately in many cases you would be wrong. You must be fully aware and cautious of clauses which require you to pay Assignment or Contingency fees when selling your property. Typically these will be quoted in percentages of the sale value.

7. Surrender Fees
As with Assignment fees one must be fully aware and cautious of clauses which require you to pay Surrender fees when selling your property back to your Freeholder. Typical examples would be in situatuations such as Bankruptcy or in many instances on death. These fees, especially surrounding retirement properties can be very high indeed.

Questions you should ask when buying a Leasehold property

8. Major Works / Expenditure
Ask the following questions:

  •  When is the last time major refurbishment or repair works were undertaken across the whole of the Freehold property. If the answer is not in the last 5 years then you should be wary of any planned expenditure, it may be the reason someone is selling their property.
  •  Are there any major items of expenditure planned in the next 3 years? Are there any shortfalls in funding which Leaseholders would be expected to cover?
  •  Is there a contingency / reserve fund and if so what is the total balance of that fund?

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9. Other Fees

Look closely for additional fees such as annual or on activation fees for items such as cohabiting, subletting etc. These will often take the guise of administrative fees and are charged at wildly different levels from company to company.

10. Rights
The Leaseholder has extensive rights of protection afforded to them by English Law. If you are going to purchase a leasehold property or already own one then you should be ready and willing to investigate those rights fully. Only by understanding what you are entitled to can you protect against exploitative processes

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James Butler is a director of Landmark Leasehold Advisory Services


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