Buying a former council flat or house
Whenever a home changes hands, the services of a residential conveyancing lawyer are needed to ensure the legal formalities are completed so that there can be no later dispute about ownership.
This applies whether the property is freehold or leasehold, a bijou apartment in Brighton or an exclusive London mansion in Belgravia or Hampstead.
It is also immaterial if the seller is a corporate body but, more commonly, where homes are concerned, the situation is usually one individual or couple selling to another in similar circumstances.
In the 1980s, one of the innovatory policies promoted by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government of that era was to allow sitting tenants of council houses and flats to buy their homes at discount prices and now many of those first-time owners have died or wish to move and their properties are coming on to the market.
Where this involves a freehold ownership of a house which was properly conveyed to the residents by the local authority on payment of the agreed valuation, there are unlikely to be any problems or, if there are, they will be the same as for any other potential purchase.
Standard searches may discover nearby development plans or a road-widening scheme perhaps but an experienced property solicitor will soon advise buyers if such disadvantages arise.
However, buying an ex-local authority flat on a leasehold basis may be more problematic.
Buying a leasehold property
Finding, choosing, financing and buying a leasehold property is identical to the procedure for buying a freehold property apart from the additional aspect of signing a lease detailing the responsibilities of freeholder and lessee.
In the past, it was often difficult to borrow money to buy a leasehold home but nowadays mortgages are granted, usually on the same basis as when buying a freehold property, i.e. dependent on the property’s valuation, the amount of deposit available and the mortgagee’s ability to repay within a specified period.
Many councils have retained the freeholds on blocks of flats, either because there is a mix of owner-occupiers and tenants or because of maintenance issues.
Maintenance costs or service charges can be a major additional financial liability for an owner of a flat, especially if the block is relatively old and large, and an incoming buyer should be made fully aware of the likely annual or occasional costs involved in contributing to the exterior, common areas such as stairs and halls or communal gardens.
By making inquiries not just of the flat seller but also neighbours and the local authority, the buyer’s solicitor should be able to offer a realistic appraisal of potential liabilities before the contract is signed.
The purchase contract will be similar to that of buying a freehold, while a new lease will need to be drawn up to detail the duties and rights of lessee and landlord.
If sufficient precautions are taken, buying an ex-council flat or house can help first-time buyers, in particular, to get a foot on the housing ladder because prices of these homes can be up to a quarter cheaper than comparable private properties.
Aside from the nature of the ownership, buyers should look at other factors which could influence future re-sale value, including the area’s general prosperity, how people look after their properties, community facilities and crime rates. Once satisfied about those, the conveyancing should be able to proceed in the same way as usual.
Residential conveyancing advice from Healys solicitors of London and Brighton
With their wide range of experience helping people buy and sell freehold and leasehold flats and houses, particularly in London and Brighton, the helpful residential conveyancing solicitors at Healys are well placed to offer legal advice and representation on all aspects of buying and selling homes.
For more information and advice on costs of Healys’ residential conveyancing services, you can request a call-back via the website, email partner Kiri Kkoshi telephone 020 7822 4148 or, in Brighton, Darina Gowen telephone 01273 669115.