We run through the differences between buying a leasehold property and a freehold property, as well as your rights and responsibilities in each case.
It makes quite a difference to a property if it is available as ‘freehold’ or ‘leasehold’, but if you’re new to buying property you might not be aware of the issue.
When you buy a freehold property, you become the legal owner of the building and the land it sits on. This means that all maintenance on your home, including the roof and wall structures, is your sole responsibility. You are free to make any changes you want to the house, since you also own the land. For instance, if you want to extend your home, you can do so as long as the council approves your plans.
Can I buy the freehold?
It may very well be an option for you if you currently own a leasehold property and desire to have freehold ownership over it. In the case of a flat, the owner may share the freehold with the other flat owners. Be ready if you want to start this process because it can be drawn out and costly.
How much does it cost to buy the freehold?
The price of freehold properties is typically higher than a leasehold. Remember that in addition to the purchase price, you will have to pay for Stamp Duty, Valuation fees for your mortgage lender, Land Registry fees and Legal fees – whether or not your property is owned on a freehold or leasehold basis.
The purchasing process can become complicated if several tenants are involved. To avoid any unpleasant surprises, it is crucial to seek legal assistance before making a purchase.
Are the conveyancing fees the same for freehold and leasehold?
Conveyancing a leasehold property will typically cost more than a freehold property, as there is more work to do. A conveyancing solicitor will have to liaise with a freeholder, and to collect information about service charges and maintenance. Conveyancing for a freehold property tends to be more straightforward.
What are the responsibilities of a freeholder regarding building insurance?
The freeholder is usually responsible for insuring the building against accidental damage, fire, and water damage. They are generally required to ensure that the fabric of the building is adequately covered by insurance.
What is the role of the freeholder when it comes to maintaining the building as a whole?
The freeholder is usually responsible for maintaining the building as a whole. This includes ensuring the upkeep of the structure, repairs, and general maintenance of the building. The cost is passed on to the leaseholders, who each pay a proportion.
A leasehold is very different. You “lease” a property rather than officially own it for a set amount of time, which is often between 90 and 120 years. This is effectively like renting, but with a payment to live in the house for the rest of your life rather than a rolling contract with monthly rent.
As a leaseholder, you have a contract with the freeholder of a property that outlines your obligations as a leaseholder. You will usually need to contribute financially by paying annual expenses as well as maintenance and service fees, and ‘ground rent’.
You must get the freeholder’s permission before making any significant improvements to the property. Once the lease expires, full ownership is given back to the freeholder.
Leaseholds are generally reserved for flats, but this hasn’t always been the case. In the UK, several older homes are still under leaseholds, and many new build houses were marketed this way until fairly recently. All new build houses are now freehold since the Leasehold Reform Act 2022 – read more about it here https://cunningtons.co.uk/leasehold-reform/.
Can leaseholders make changes to the building or communal features?
Leaseholders typically do not have the authority to make changes to the building or its communal features without the permission of the freeholder or their management agency. Any modifications or alterations would need to be approved by one of them, and potentially the local council depending on the extent of the work.
Can a lease be extended?
As a leaseholder, you can ask your freeholder to extend your lease at any time. If you meet the requirements, you can add 50 years to a leasehold property or up to 90 years to a flat lease.
Two key factors determine how much it will cost to lengthen the term of a lease:
• The premium: This is the pre-determined cost of extending the lease.
• Fees & Taxes: This covers the cost of contracting specialists, as well as any applicable taxes.
What responsibilities does a leaseholder have when it comes to building insurance?
Leaseholders are obliged to contribute a percentage of cost of the building insurance. They are usually responsible for paying a portion of the insurance premium as part of their lease agreement.
Who is responsible for running and maintaining communal features in a leasehold property?
The freeholder or an appointed management agency is usually responsible for running and maintaining any communal features in a leasehold property.
Should I purchase a leasehold property?
Acquiring a leasehold or freehold home depends mostly on what is available and how much you can afford.
If you’re planning on purchasing a leasehold property, it’s crucial to be aware of any extra costs, like paying the ground rent and service charges. They will be written into the contract.
There could also be a clause in your lease which allows the freeholder to increase these fees annually, which could make it exceptionally expensive to live in that property later down the line. And if you can’t pay the ground rent, there is a possibility that your house will be repossessed, much like it would with mortgage payment problems.
You should check the lease’s remaining term; if it is shorter than 70 years, it may have a substantial impact on the property’s value. It might be challenging to obtain a mortgage for a property with a lease term of fewer than 80 years, and just because you can get a mortgage now, there may be problems when you need to sell or remortgage.
And, of course, it is vital that you identify the freeholder of any leasehold property you are considering buying.
Pros and Cons of Freehold and Leasehold properties
Pros of a freehold property are that you have full ownership over the home and the land it sits on, as long as you continue with/pay off your mortgage payments. There are no extra or hidden charges with this type of property either. However do be aware that many developers of new freehold properties now put in place a scheme of maintenance of common areas of the new estate for which, as a homeowner, you are asked to contribute towards even though the property is freehold.
You have much more freedom with any changes you may want to make to the property, since you don’t need permission from a landlord. You just need to seek planning permission from the council if you want to make major changes.
Some disadvantages of freehold properties are that they tend to be more expensive in the first place, as you are buying the land as well as the home. The types of properties that you can purchase as freehold are limited mainly to houses, so if you are looking for a freehold flat, they are hard to come by. If you need to repair or otherwise maintain anything in your home, it is your responsibility.
The advantages of owning a leasehold property include that they are more affordable than freehold to buy in the first place, you have less responsibility when it comes to building maintenance, and also since a lot of leasehold properties are flats, they often come with communal areas that you can use, and whose upkeep will be part of your maintenance fees.
The caveat with the cheaper price is that there are many more restrictions with this type of property. Limited ownership means that you don’t have exclusive rights over where you live, and will need to jump through quite a few hoops to get anything about your home changed.
More often than not, the freeholder will have stipulations put into the contract before you sign it, such as no music after a certain time, no pets, no business operations out of the property etc.
This can be a major off-putting factor to prospective buyers, and you can often feel as if you are renting your own home.