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Leasehold conveyancing

If you are buying a flat or, in some cases a house, it could be leasehold. This means extra legal work for your conveyancing solicitor. Here’s what to expect in terms of the leasehold conveyancing process, how long it takes to buy a leasehold property and leasehold conveyancing fees.

Leasehold Conveyancing

Leasehold conveyancing is the legal process for buying or selling a leasehold property. All homes are owned on either a freehold or leasehold basis. Freehold means you own the building and the land it stands on outright. Leasehold means you have a lease from the freeholder to use the home for a set number of years. Effectively what you are buying is the benefit of the lease contract rather than outright ownership of the property. Leases are long-term usually from 90 to 999 years.

Here we look at the legal or conveyancing process for buying a leasehold property. You can find out more about buying a freehold property with our guide to the legal side of buying a home.

What is leasehold conveyancing?

If you are buying a leasehold property then your conveyancing solicitor will need to look through the lease and its terms on top of all the normal legal work involved in buying a property. They will also have to deal with the landlord and/or management company as well as the vendor’s solicitor. This can make the process longer and more expensive.

Not sure if your new home is leasehold? If it is a flat, it is highly likely that it is leasehold. It’s unusual for a house to be leasehold but some old terraced houses are leasehold as well as some new build houses. The estate agent’s marketing materials should confirm the ‘tenure’ of the property (that’s whether it is leasehold or freehold). Always make sure your solicitor or conveyancer confirms the position at an early stage.

The government has announced plans to make the leasehold system fairer for leaseholders and this includes a ban the sale of leasehold houses.  Although the law has not yet been passed, many developers have stopped selling leasehold houses.  Before you commit to buy, be very clear about the tenure of a property and the ground rent charge as this could impact on your ability to sell in the future.

Compare conveyancing quotes from regulated and reviewed conveyancing solicitors that cover your area.

What is a lease?

Once your property solicitor or conveyancer has received the memorandum of sale from the estate agent, the first thing they will ask the seller’s solicitor for is a copy of the lease. This is the contract that exists between the leaseholder (that will be you once you own the property) and the freeholder, also known as the landlord.

The lease gives the leaseholder the right to occupy the property for a set period subject to specific conditions that will be written into the lease. It is important that your solicitor gets a copy of the lease and looks through it to make sure they, and ultimately you, understand your rights and obligations under the lease.

Your solicitor should be able to provide you with a ‘report on title’ which includes a summary of the main provisions of the lease so you can understand what is required of you. Some of these obligations can include:

  • Paying ground rent. Your lease may initially require you to pay a fixed amount of ground rent. But, there may be a clause that allows the landlord to increase this rent in years to come. As of June 2022 ground rent charges have been banned for for all newly built homes.
  • Service charges. This covers the costs the landlord incurs maintaining the building each year. For example, cleaning communal areas or fixing the roof. It also covers the cost of the management company.
  • Future work. The service charge may also allow for a sinking fund to cover your contribution to future planned improvements to the building and communal areas.
  • Administration charges. The freeholder and/or the management company may levy extra charges if you ask them to do something connected to you buying/selling or using your property. For example, if you ask them to provide replies to leasehold property enquiries or if you need them to consent to alterations to the property.

Your lease will also explain what responsibilities the freeholder has. This can include:

  • Maintaining the structure of the building
  • Making sure the exterior and common areas are in good working order
  • Arranging buildings insurance

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Who owns the freehold?

Your solicitor or conveyancer needs to find out who owns the freehold for the property. Is it an individual or a company?

In an apartment block it is normal for each flat to have a lease. Then the communal areas – stairs, entrance hallway and garden for example – are retained by the owner of the freehold. So, you need to know who the freeholder is in case there are problems with these areas.

Is there a management company?

In some instances, the owners of leasehold properties come together and buy the freehold. They then form a management company to handle the upkeep and insurance of the property. Each leaseholder may have shares in this management company. If that’s the case your solicitor needs to check the company documents and the accounts. The shares should then be transferred to you as the new owner on completion.

How long is the lease?

One of the most important things your solicitor needs to do is find out how long is left on your lease. The remaining term of your lease could affect your ability to get a mortgage. Most lenders won’t offer mortgages on properties with less than 70 years left on the lease and some will want over 80 years. You can find out more with our guide to getting a mortgage on a leasehold property.

The shorter your lease the less it is worth and the more it will cost to extend it. This will also affect the value of your property as a place with a short lease is harder to sell. Once there is less than 80 years left on the lease, lease extensions become more expensive. As many buyers want to maintain their investment – and won’t want to run into problems themselves when they want to sell – you can often find that well advised buyers are reluctant to proceed if a lease is much shorter than 90 years.

If you are buying a property subject to a lease of under 90 years make sure that you factor in the cost of having to obtain a lease extension in the near future. Or try to use this future cost as a negotiating tool when agreeing the price.

It’s also important to be aware that leaseholders are only entitled to a statutory lease extension if they have owned the leasehold property for at least two years. You could try asking the vendor to start the lease extension process for you but you may wish to wait for the next stage of government reform. See our guide to lease extensions for more details on statutory lease extensions and informal lease extensions.

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What does my solicitor need to check on the lease?

As well as checking the length of the remaining lease your solicitor or conveyancer should also make a number of enquiries about your lease to the landlord. These include:

  • Charges. What charges will you be liable for as the leaseholder? This will include the service charge and ground rent. Your solicitor should also check when these payments are due and how much they will be.
  • Planned major works. Are any renovations or repairs planned for the property that could affect the value of your home, or your enjoyment of it, or the service charge.
  • Balance of the service charge account. Service charges are usually based on an estimate of what the landlord thinks will be spent over the year. They should produce an end of year statement to show how much has been spent and how much is left in the account.
  • Sinking fund. This is a fund to deal with any building work on the property. Your solicitor should check if your lease includes a sink fund. If it does then what the balance is and if that is sufficient to cover any planned works.
  • What you can use. Your solicitor needs to check exactly what the boundaries of your leasehold property are. For example, if you are buying a top floor flat does this include rights over the loft space.
  • What you can do. Your solicitor should also check the lease for any restrictions on what you can do to your property. Are you allowed to renovate the space without permission?

Find out more about the fees and charges involved in owning a leasehold property.

How much does leasehold conveyancing cost?

Conveyancing fees vary but are typically between £850-£1500, plus the cost of disbursements.  Legal fees for leasehold properties are more. Conveyancing on a leasehold property is usually more expensive because your solicitor has to complete extra work checking the length of the lease, as well as liaising with the landlord to serve notices on them or the managing agent, or getting further information about the service charge or management details. Altogether, the additional costs can be anything from £100 to £1,000.

You can expect to pay extra fees, through your solicitor, to the landlord for providing the information you need and replying to enquiries:

  • Sellers will have to pay for the Leasehold Management Pack with information about services charges etc. The cost for this can vary significantly from £300 to as much as £800.
  • You will also have to pay for a Notice of Assignment also known as a Notice of Transfer. Your conveyancer sends this to the landlord informing them you are the new owner. Some management firms don’t charge for this, others charge up to £300.
  • If you are buying your property with a mortgage, then a Notice of Charge is also sent to the landlord telling them the lender has an interest in the property. This costs another £50 to £200.
  • You may also need to pay for a Deed of Covenant, for example, which is a legally binding agreement between the buyer and landlord or management company about factors such as carrying out repair work.

Get instant conveyancing quotes from regulated and reviewed conveyancing solicitors that cover your area.

How long does leasehold conveyancing take?

Leasehold conveyancing tends to take longer than conveyancing on a freehold property. This is simply because there is more work for your solicitor to do and they have to wait for another party – the landlord or lease administrator – to respond to their enquiries.

All the extra fees your solicitor has to ask you for can delay the leasehold conveyancing process. It isn’t uncommon for delays simply because the solicitor has to ask you for money, wait to receive the money, send it on to the management firm that has requested it, then wait for it to clear. It’s more likely, however, that the delay could be due to the landlord responding to the enquiries.

A leasehold purchase can take at least eight to 10 weeks, but a number of things could delay that. A chain-free sale shouldn’t take longer than three months but if you are in a chain and if there are any complications with the lease and it is possible to take as long as six months.

Here is a timeline of the typical steps involved in the conveyancing process.

Pre contract work: appoint conveyancer, instruct local searches, get survey, get draft contract 2 weeks
Time to arrange mortgage 4 weeks
Draft contract: reviewing survey report, local searches, answering outstanding questions 2-10 weeks
Time between exchange and completion 1 week
Total time from an offer being accepted to completion 12-16 weeks

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Do I need leasehold indemnity insurance?

Your lease has to conform to the guidelines set by UK Finance’s mortgage handbook.  Leases created after 1990 are likely to conform but older ones may not meet the guidelines and is then classed as defective. In this situation your solicitor may recommend you take out an indemnity insurance policy to protect against any losses arising from a defect in the lease.

You can find out more with our guide to indemnity insurance.

Leasehold reforms in 2022 and beyond 

After years of campaigning, the government has announced plans for a major two-part leasehold reform. The planned reforms are intended to improve the experience of homeownership for leaseholders.

The first stage of reforms is the Ground Rent Act coming into force on 30th June, 2022. This law will mean that most people buying a leasehold property will be freed from the costs of ground rent, as well as, all those who are extending their lease (statutory or informal route). Retirement developers have been given until April 2023 to comply.

The second phase of leasehold reform, at least another year away, but expected within this Parliament should:

  • Simplify the current way we value the cost of extending a lease or buying a freehold
  • Abolish marriage value, which is defined as the increase in property value once the lease has been extended
  • Introduce a separate valuation method for low-value properties
  • Give leaseholders the option to buy out the ground rent without having to extend the lease term
  • Give leaseholders of houses as well as flats the right to extend their leases at zero ground rent for a term of 990 years

There are also plans to deliver a reformed commonhold system, providing an alternative to leasehold ownership for flats, and ban new leasehold houses so that all new houses are freehold from the outset. Read more about the leasehold government reforms and  sign up to our newsletter to be alerted when leasehold announcements are made.

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