Purchasing a house is one of the most complicated and stressful events most people will go through in their lives. Often, the really important details get overlooked, as you focus on the big things like securing a mortgage. But at Mistoria, we pride ourselves on being proactive and making sure even the smallest details are taken care of.
In recent years, you may have heard of the ‘Leasehold Scandal’. People buying properties did not realise at the time of purchase what they were letting themselves in for and did not fully understand the contracts they had signed. But what is a leasehold and how does it differ from a freehold? Read this blog post to find out.
Leasehold vs Freehold
In British law, there are two different forms of home ownership; freehold and leasehold. A freehold is what you’d probably expect when you purchase a house – once you’ve signed on the dotted line, all of the property is yours. This should always be the preferred option and if you purchase such a property, unsurprisingly you will not be affected by the leasehold scandal.
If you’re in the process of purchasing a leasehold property then you are essentially buying permission to occupy that property for a set number of years, usually a very extended period far beyond the life of the building itself. However, wew build properties on new estates seem to be increasingly providing only very short leasehold periods, causing problems for potential homeowners.
Leaseholds may sound like a form of rent (and some do argue it is); traditionally leasehold rents are for a very long time, usually between 100 to 999 years, but the freeholder still has some responsibility for maintaining public areas around the property. So, for example, if you buy a leasehold flat the freeholder may be responsible for maintaining the staircases and lifts; typically the maintenance comes with a small additional fee.
On top of maintenance fees, the leaseholder also usually pays a ‘ground rent’ – literally a rent on the land the property is built on. It’s these payable rents where the scandal has broken out. For a long time, the rents were usually very small; some people would pay an annual ground rent of £1 a year and this is still very common.
But recently, some property builders have been discovering the law around leasehold is very complicated and massively in the favour of the freeholder, giving them leeway to increase ground rents without any say by the leaseholder.
In return, this has meant people are now paying attention to the fact their property is leasehold and discovering how this may impact them.
Check with Mistoria and we can advise
So, if you’re buying a house what should you do? Firstly there is no need to panic. It is worth noting that the vast majority of people who live in leasehold properties have not been affected by the scandal.
Nevertheless, make absolutely sure you know what you’re buying, check with us and we can advise you of the leasehold status of the property you are considering. Secondly, if it is a leasehold, ask for a copy of the lease and get it checked over by a lawyer that knows the area well. As a rule of thumb, any lease that is less than 80 years can start to significantly affect the value of the house, but it all depends on what is in the contract.
If you do buy a leasehold, it is often possible to buy out the leasehold at an additional charge and become the freeholder. Do this as soon as possible; the owners may be willing to sell it for just a few thousand pounds.
Property law in Britain is very old, some of the stories coming out of the leasehold scandal date the ownership of the land back to the 1600s which all means it is intensely complicated and hard to understand. However, the scandal hasn’t gone unnoticed by the government, and there have been promises of an inquiry. Whatever the results of this inquest are, there is enough political will in parliament for some significant change, although what and when that change will come into force is anyone’s guess.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the team at Salford, Bolton and Liverpool estate agents, Mistoria, on 0800 500 3015.
We are members of ARLA and NAEA Propertymark which means we meet higher industry standards than the law demands. Our experts undertake regular training to ensure they are up to date with best practice and complex legislative changes so they can offer you the best advice. We are also backed by a Client Money Protection scheme which guarantees your money is protected.