May 13, 2024 2:48 pm

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Nikka Sulton

Properties for sale with short-term lease arrangements are becoming increasingly rare, causing many buyers to overlook the implications until well into the purchasing process. This lack of awareness can lead to unexpected complications and challenges down the line. Among the most affected property types are flats, where short leases are particularly common. If you’re considering buying a flat with a short-term lease, it’s crucial to fully understand the implications before proceeding.

Short-term lease properties present unique challenges and considerations that buyers should be aware of. One of the primary concerns is the limited duration of the lease, which can affect the property’s long-term value and resale potential. Additionally, short leases may restrict the buyer’s ability to secure financing or obtain a mortgage, as lenders often prefer properties with longer lease terms. Understanding these limitations is essential for buyers to make informed decisions and avoid potential financial risks.

Furthermore, buyers of properties with short-term leases should carefully review the terms and conditions of the lease agreement. Important factors to consider include lease renewal options, associated costs, and any restrictions on alterations or subletting. It’s advisable to seek professional advice from legal experts or property consultants who can provide guidance on navigating the complexities of short-term lease arrangements. By being fully informed about the implications of purchasing a property with a short lease, buyers can make confident and well-informed decisions that align with their long-term goals and financial interests.


What is a short-term lease?

In a freehold property transaction, the buyer acquires full ownership and control of the property, enjoying unrestricted rights over its use and disposition. This form of ownership provides the purchaser with autonomy and independence, allowing them to make decisions regarding the property’s maintenance, alterations, and future sales without external interference.

Conversely, a leasehold property entails a different ownership structure, where the buyer only holds the property for the duration specified in the lease agreement. The ownership rights are limited by the lease terms, and once the lease expires, the property reverts to the landlord, also known as the freeholder. This arrangement necessitates adherence to lease conditions and potential restrictions on activities such as subletting or property alterations.

Leasehold properties typically come with lease terms of 99 years or more, although recent developments may offer leases extending up to 999 years. However, a lease is considered short if it has 80 years or less remaining. This classification is significant as properties with shorter leases may encounter difficulties during resale and may require lease extension negotiations to maintain their value and marketability.


A leasehold property’s value

As the lease term diminishes, the value of a leasehold flat declines accordingly. Typically, a leasehold flat boasting 99 years or more of remaining lease would fetch a value similar to that of its freehold counterpart.

However, as the lease term dwindles, the proportional value of the property also diminishes. A flat with 70 or more years left on the lease should retain approximately 85%-90% of its full value, while one with just 50 years remaining might see its value drop to around 70%.

When contemplating the purchase of any leasehold property, it is crucial to ensure that the property’s value aligns accurately with the remaining term of the lease.


A right to extend

The laws surrounding leaseholds underwent reform in the early nineties due to the problematic nature of short lease properties reverting to the freeholder, leaving leaseholders with nothing.

The Leasehold Reform Housing & Urban Development Act 1993 was enacted, granting leasehold property owners the legal right to request a lease extension. Freeholders are now legally obligated to grant a lease extension request under this Act, subject to certain conditions.

Once you have resided in the property for a minimum of two years, you possess a statutory right as a leaseholder to extend your lease by an additional 90 years.

However, waiting for two years before applying for an extension may not be ideal, particularly for properties with short leases. In some cases, buyers may request the current owners to serve a statutory notice expressing their intention to extend the lease as a condition of purchase. This option is available only if the current owners have lived in the property for two years or more.


Does it cost money to extend the lease?

Several factors influence the cost of extending a property’s lease.

The process, outlined in the Act, dictates how the leaseholder calculates the payment to the freeholder, known as the ‘premium.’ Negotiation determines the final cost, considering:

  1. Reduction in the freeholder’s market value interest due to the lease extension.
  2. Other potential losses incurred by the freeholder from the extension.
  3. The ‘marriage value,’ reflecting the property value increase resulting from the extension. The Act mandates that when extending a property with 80 years or less remaining on the lease, the freeholder is entitled to 50% of the value increase. Thus, leaseholders are advised to initiate the extension process with 85 or more years remaining.


What are the benefits of buying a short-lease flat?

Short-lease properties can appeal to retirees and those without dependents. Buying such a property offers an affordable housing option without concerns about maintaining its value for future beneficiaries.

Investors also see potential in short-lease properties. Renting out these properties for the remaining lease duration can yield significant returns, with investors often maximizing their investment before returning the property to the freeholder.


What are the risks associated with buying a flat with a short lease?

 The main drawback of purchasing a short-lease property is its diminished resale value over time. As the lease shortens, the property’s worth decreases, making it less appealing to potential buyers and lenders.

Short leases often stem from owners unable to afford lease extensions, commonly seen in less affluent areas. Additionally, properties in need of substantial repairs may have shorter leases available.

Maintenance and ground rent expenses outlined in the lease terms should also be considered. Even if the plan is to let the property decline until the lease expires, there may still be ongoing costs to bear.


What is ground rent?

Ground rent constitutes an annual payment made by the leaseholder to the landlord, typically ranging from as little as £10 to more substantial amounts averaging between £100 to £200. It’s crucial for potential buyers to thoroughly examine the terms regarding ground rent before committing to a property purchase. 

Before finalizing the transaction, it’s imperative to ascertain the precise amount of ground rent and whether any alterations or adjustments are anticipated in the future. Such changes should be explicitly delineated within the lease agreement, whether they involve percentage increases or adjustments linked to economic indicators like the Consumer Price Index (CPI). 

Additionally, some lease agreements may stipulate ground rent escalations over time, irrespective of inflationary trends. This underscores the necessity for meticulous scrutiny of the lease terms to avoid unforeseen financial burdens down the line. By conducting due diligence regarding ground rent provisions, buyers can make informed decisions and mitigate potential financial risks associated with property ownership.


What does ‘demised premises’ mean?

The term ‘demised premises’ refers to the specific set of belongings and areas that a leaseholder gains ownership of throughout the lease term. Typically, this encompasses the interior of the flat, extending from the floor joists to the ceiling, including internal wall surfaces.

However, ownership rights usually exclude external or structural elements like walls and the roof. Consequently, leaseholders may encounter restrictions when contemplating renovations or modifications, necessitating approval from the freeholder for substantial alterations.

While this limitation might not pose significant challenges for flat dwellers, it could hinder certain renovation plans, such as merging rooms or creating open-plan spaces by removing supporting walls. Such alterations require careful consideration and approval from the property’s freeholder.


What is a ‘sinking fund?’

A ‘sinking fund’ or ‘reserve fund’ is a component of the service charges you may need to pay. It serves as a reserve to cover significant or sporadic maintenance expenses, like structural repairs or exterior redecoration.

The contribution to a sinking fund may be specified in the lease agreement, or you may need to discuss it with the landlord to ascertain the amount.


What about a mortgage on a flat with a short lease?

Buying a flat with a short lease is ideally done with cash. Although mortgages for such properties exist, they’re challenging to obtain and often come with higher interest rates. 

Most UK lenders consider leases under 75-85 years as short. However, the minimum acceptable lease term varies among lenders. Hence, it’s essential to shop around or consult a mortgage broker.

One solution to a short lease is to request the current owners to extend it if they’re eligible. By covering the extension cost upfront in your purchase offer, you can avoid the mortgage approval challenges associated with short-lease properties.


Other considerations

Ensure you inquire about any future scheduled major works before purchasing a leasehold flat. Understand the scope of work, funding, and whether the necessary funds are available.

Examine the lease agreement carefully for any property-use restrictions or covenants. These could include limitations on business use or pet ownership, among others.





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