What if you’ve found the flat of your dreams but the lease term is short?
If you’ve found a property that you like but the lease has anything fewer than 85 years left to run, alarm bells should be ringing. This is because once a lease gets to less than 80 years, something called ‘marriage value’ comes into play, which makes extending it much more expensive. It gets even more difficult if the lease has fewer than 70 years to run, as lenders will generally not grant a mortgage.
Care needs to be taken if this applies to the property you wish to purchase.
There are various options to consider before making an offer on a flat with a short lease:
Ask the seller to make an application for a lease extension by serving the required Notice on the freeholder. The seller then assigns the benefit of the lease extension to you and you conclude the extension directly with the freeholder following completion. This speeds up the process, but you would need to obtain legal advice on the value of the extension and the other associated costs so that you could ensure this was taken into account in negotiations over the purchase price.
Ask the seller to extend the lease before they sell to you This keeps all of the risk and the cost with them (although they will probably increase the price of the property to recover this). Whilst this could be regarded as the safe option, a lease extension can be a time-consuming process, which can delay the purchase.
Purchase the property with the lease as it is, then negotiate a reduction in the asking price to reflect the short lease. You would then need to wait two years to make the application to extend the lease under the Leasehold Reform Housing and Urban Development Act 1993. It is possible, however, to make an informal approach to the freeholder for an extension, which means you don’t have to adhere to the two-year period of ownership required by the statutory route. There is, of course, no guarantee that this would be agreed but, with good advice in your corner, it is often worth a try.
A short lease need not necessarily put you off buying a property but it is essential to take good advice, to know your options and to negotiate the terms of the transaction very carefully. As the seller of a property with a diminishing lease, you should get your lease reviewed by a professional before putting it on the market, and ensure you are prepared for any negotiations.
Lesley Brentnall is director and head of lease enfranchisement at Brady Solicitors