How to Buy a Flat

publication date: Feb 18, 2011
author/source: Kate Faulkner, Property Expert and Author of Which? Property Books

How to Buy a Flat

Buying a flat as opposed to a house is different. There are various reasons why buying a flat is different to buying a house. These are typically because you buy a flat under a ‘leasehold’ agreement. A leasehold agreement essentially means that you buy the flat, but have to abide by the freeholder's rules and regulations, which include clauses on how costs for maintenance and repairs as well as insurance are applicable if you become the owner.

So before you make an offer on a flat, it is important to read the leasehold agreement – or make sure a legal company reads it for you and explains the key clauses. For example, some leasehold agreements don’t let you keep pets, even a hamster! Some don’t allow you to put down laminate or wooden flooring. Others don’t allow you to let a room or even you’re flat out to someone else.

One of the key differences between buying a house and flat is that when you buy a flat, you buy it to live in for a length of time  - this is the length of the leasehold agreement. When leasehold agreements were first ‘sold’ a lot of them were for 99 years. If the leasehold length time left is less than 80 years now or when you come to sell it, you (or your future buyer) may not be able to get a mortgage to buy it. This means that at 99 years, the flat might be worth £150,000, but at 80 years, it might only be worth £100,000 as only a cash buyer can buy it.

The other thing that you need to find out when buying a flat is how much the service charge and ground rent are now – and in the future. The service charge is normally a charge that covers on-going shared costs such as lighting and decoration on shared or communal areas. Another element of the service charge is to create a ‘fund’ that will pay for things such as new windows, a new roof or new water tanks every 10-20 years.

It is vital when you buy a flat to understand how much the service charge is now, how much it will be over the next 3-5 years and what ‘big jobs’ are needed to update the flat. For example, you don’t want to buy a flat and then find out you have to fork out £20,000 on major works that are required on the building. The service charge can be very expensive, for example from £50 per month to £200 or more, depending on how ‘exclusive’ your apartment or flat is!

You also need to find out what the ground rent is. This is typically to cover any costs to maintain or upgrade the car park, communal grounds. It isn’t usually very expensive, perhaps £100 to £500 a year, but can still add to the running costs of your flat.

Buying a flat can be fraught with difficulties and is a complicated process, much more so than buying a house, so if you really want to know how to buy a flat, then buy our First Time Buyers' Pack and we’ll send you specific information and help you for the first three months to answer any questions you have.


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  • An A4 ‘how to’ guide (approx 80 pages), containing Dos and Don’ts, Factsheets, Checklists, Handy Tips and Forms
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