Owning your own flat can be the first step towards independence but, mortgage aside, is it really all yours?
Property ownership comes with its own responsibility, not least when you are the leaseholder, not the person who owns the freehold of the building.
A property lease is assigned for a set number of years, typically for 999 years, 125 years or 99 years but it could be any number.
Technically – but usually only theoretically – property ownership returns to the freeholder once the lease has expired.
When you buy a leasehold flat with an existing lease in place, you buy ownership for however many years are left on the lease, which will then reduce throughout your ownership years.
Do you know how many years are left on the lease of your flat? If you’re worried that the number is slowly going down, you’ll be pleased to hear that you have the legal right to have the lease on your flat extended.
This can be done in two ways, by exercising your legal rights or by coming to an agreement with your freeholder.
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So, is this a problem? Should you act without delay and extend your lease now? Or is there actually no need to extend your lease at all? Well, it depends on how many years are left to run.
As a rule of thumb, it is advisable to extend leases that have less than 90 years on it, for three obvious reasons:
- Short lease flats are worth less than comparable properties with longer leases. The shorter the lease, the more the value drops.
- Mortgage companies are reluctant to lend on short lease flats; getting a mortgage will be tricky.
- Short lease flats are difficult to sell, for all the above reasons.
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If you’re considering a lease extension, it’s essential that you do your research first to make sure it’s the right decision for you at this point in time. There are substantial costs involved with extending a lease, and these need to be taken into account too.
If you would like to extend the lease on your flat but you simply can’t afford it right now, investigate loan and savings options to help you renew your lease sooner rather than later.
However, if you are planning to sell your property, it may be better to leave any lease extension negotiations to the new owner who will be motivated to act and, hopefully, have funds.
If you have owned your flat for more than 2 years, you have the legal right to extend its lease. Ownership rather than residence is key – you don’t need to have personally lived in the flat at all; it could be rented out.
However, even if you’ve been there for less than 2 years, there’s no harm in approaching the freeholder to try and agree a lease extension now; he might be agreeable.
If you decide that it’s a good idea to go ahead with a lease extension, then don’t delay. The longer you leave it, the more your remaining lease period will have shortened and the higher the cost of extending it will be.
It obviously depends on the overall value of your flat and the number of years you wish to extend your lease by; there’s a useful calculator to provide guidance here.
Suffice to say that anything less than 80 years left on the lease, and a lease extension is likely to cost you in excess of £10,000, rising sharply to upward of £25,000 for leases that have less than 60 years to run.
It’s a harsh reality check for any leaseholder, but one that should you ignore it will be at your peril!
Article provided by Mike James, an independent content writer working together with Tim Greenwood Chartered Surveyors, who were consulted over the information in this post.
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