If you’re thinking of taking advantage of the UK property market by buying a flat, with prices more affordable since Brexit, you’ll find it’s a little different to overseas. For starters, what’s the difference between leasehold and freehold? Here are our top tips on what to consider when viewing a flat in the UK.
Is the property leasehold or freehold?
This is a bit of a quirk of the system in England and Wales. It’s essentially two types of ownership, with freehold, meaning that you own both the property and the land it stands on yourself, in perpetuity.
Leasehold, however, is much more common among flats. It means that you own the property for a fixed period of time, usually 90 to 120, and the freeholder continues to have the title to the land. You can usually extend a lease, but it can be costly, and selling a property with a short lease can knock a lot off its value.
Sometimes you might also come across a share of freehold situation, whereby the owners of the flats in the block or building purchase the freehold off the freeholder and each own a portion of that freehold, through an association (which will technically own their flat leasehold).
It’s a volatile time for the currency markets, but you can easily protect your money against this risk. Find out how in the free Property Buyer’s Guide to Currency.
This does mean that you will be partially responsible for maintenance of communal areas and the like, but you can negotiate for better deals that the previous freeholder might have – and you’ll be a bit more protected against any unexpected costs.
What financial charges can you expect?
Make sure you’re fully aware of any charges or monthly fees you’ll need to pay. For a leasehold flat, you’ll usually need to pay a service charge, which will cover the cost of communal area maintenance, lighting, and so on (so it’ll normally be higher in a building with a lift or porter, for instance). You’ll also need to factor in ground rent, and, in some cases, a reserve or sinking fund.
Contributions to a reserve fund may be included in your service charge, or may be more irregular. The idea is that it’s a fall-back to help cover the costs of any major, unforeseen works (eg if something needs doing to the roof after bad weather).
Find out its price history and rentability
The internet’s a goldmine of information for property hunters. On many sites, such as Rightmove, you can see how long the property’s been listed, whether the price has been reduced and how much, plus any recent sale history for both the flat itself and nearby properties.
Use the tips and tick in our free guide How to Negotiate Abroad to get yourself the best price you can.
This can all be hugely helpful when you put in an offer, especially if you know it’s been on the market for a long time and other similar flats in the same building have sold for less than the asking price.
Equally, for anyone looking at for a flat to rent out as an investment, sites like OpenRent provide relatively accurate overviews of the rental potential for properties in most parts of the UK (an easy way to test the accuracy of a database like that is to ask it to estimate for properties for which you know how much they’re renting). Equally, you can get a bit of a snapshot of both asking prices and recently agreed prices by searching for rentals yourself on portals like Rightmove, and ticking to include ‘lease agreed’.
Make the most of referrals and recommendations
The property sector is quite interconnected and most estate agents will offer to introduce you to other specialists – our free Resource Centre at Property Guides can also provide you with recommendations of specialists from mortgage brokers to currency experts. Some people can find this off-putting, and would rather find their own lawyer, or mortgage broker, or removals company, but this can be missing a trick. If you’re offered a free, no-obligation chat with someone whose services you might find useful, it can be well worth it.
If you already know the introducer is trustworthy, you already have that confidence that there would be no reason for them to risk their reputation introducing you to someone who doesn’t do a good job. Plus, by being referred by one company to another, if anything does go more slowly than you’d expect, for instance, your original introducing company will often help to push your case, as their own business is also depending on it. In that way, you get the double-reassurance of an introduction to someone you know has a history of doing their job well, and of having your original introducer on your case if ever needed.