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HouseWorth
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  1. Blog
  2. What happens when a leasehold expires?
Conveyancing help and guides
17 July 2023

What happens when a leasehold expires?

Kimberley Taylor
Writer & Researcher

Table of contents

  1. 1. What is a leasehold property?
  2. 2. What is a freehold property?
  3. 3. Buying a leasehold property
  4. 4. Flats
  5. 5. Making structural changes to leasehold properties
  6. 6. What happens when a leasehold property expires
  7. 7. Protecting yourself as a leaseholder
  8. 8. Extending a leasehold property
  9. 9. How much does it cost to extend a leasehold property?
  10. 10. Properties with a short lease
  11. 11. Summary: know your leasehold agreement!

When you're buying a house in the UK, there are two different types of property available: leasehold or freehold.

If you own a leasehold property, it's really important to know when your lease expires. This is because having a shorter lease can seriously lower the value of your property, making it harder to sell.

So what happens when a leasehold expires, and what can you do to protect yourself and your property?

What is a leasehold property?

A leasehold property is a common property type in the UK. When you buy a leasehold property, you only own the property, not the land on which it's built. Despite buying the property, you still have to pay ground rent to a 'landlord' who owns the land. You may also have to pay annual service charges to help maintain the quality of the building.

Buyers are sometimes confused by what it means to be a leaseholder. They've bought a property and have mortgage payments for that property, but are paying monthly rent to a landlord on top of other charges. They also lose legal rights to the property if the lease expires, which is why it’s so important to know your lease expiration date.

What is a freehold property?

As a freehold property owner, you have outright ownership of the property, meaning you own both the property and the land it stands on. There's no set period to your ownership; it could last anywhere from a few years to a few centuries!

Freehold properties are generally speaking the more desirable choice because you aren't restricted to a fixed period of ownership, and have free reign to do what you want with the property.

Buying a leasehold property

Buying a leasehold property, as with any property purchase, comes with pros and cons.

Pros:

  • A leasehold property is often cheaper than a freehold property.
  • Some properties have a very long lease so you don’t always have to worry about when your leasehold expires.
  • As a leaseholder, you'll probably have less responsibility for maintenance and repairs.

Cons:

  • You have to pay ground rent on top of house repayments.
  • You might not have full control of what you can do with the leased property such as renovations and redevelopment.
  • The property's value decreases as the lease gets closer to expiring.

Finding out when your lease ends

Though leaseholds rarely expire, finding out when your lease ends is an important part of buying a leasehold property. The property's advertisement will often display the remaining lease period. If it doesn't, you can ask the advertising estate agent through a direct enquiry.

Another way to find out when your lease expires is through looking at the Land Registry. For a small fee of £7 you can buy a copy of the Leasehold Title which will tell you what you need to know.

Flats

In the UK most flats are leasehold properties, while most houses are freehold. Flats are usually leaseholds because it makes it much easier to divide responsibility for good upkeep and repairs between many residents on a shared piece of land.

In cases like this, the freeholder is usually a management company who charges the leaseholders a maintenance charge for repairs and upkeep.

Making structural changes to leasehold properties

If you want to make structural changes to your leasehold property such as a formal extension, you'll need permission from the landlord. Most freeholders will charge a fee for the time and they can also control the cost of service charges and building insurance.

What happens when a leasehold property expires

If your leasehold expires, the property reverts back to being freehold. This means the ownership of both the land and the building will go back to the freeholder.

Even if you've paid all your mortgage repayments outright by the time your lease expires, the ownership still reverts and the landlord will gain possession of the property.

You won't have any legal rights to the property, so it's really important to be aware of the contingencies of a leasehold property so you know exactly what you're investing in.

Important questions to consider:

  • How much is the ground rent?
  • How much are the service charges?
  • Are there any other expenses or hidden costs?
  • What insurances need to be paid when you move in?
  • When does the lease expire?

It's always best to seek legal advice when you're thinking about making an investment. They'll be able to tell you what to look out for and if it's the best legal and financial decision for you.

If a leasehold property is expiring soon, the freeholder might wish to serve you a prescribed notice to vacate the property. It's your legal obligation to follow the terms of this notice. However, if they don't serve you notice to vacate then you have the option to extend your leasehold and continue living there.

Protecting yourself as a leaseholder

The first way to protect yourself as a leaseholder is checking how many years are left on the lease. Generally speaking, a good lease length will be between 90 and 125 years.

Bear in mind that leasehold properties lose value over time, so may be more difficult to sell if the lease becomes a short leasehold. This is when the remaining lease on a property falls below 80 years, and could cause the property to lose between 10 and 20% of its value. Insurance premiums will also start to increase quite dramatically once it hits this lease length.

However, it's possible to negotiate a lease extension with the landlord if you want to increase the value of the property before selling.

Extending a leasehold property

There are two different ways you can extend the lease of your property.

Formal route

Leaseholders who legally own flats can extend the lease under certain criteria. Because this route is a predefined procedure that's clearly outlined legally, it's a much more secure route to extend a leasehold. Via this route, a leasehold property owner has a dispute mechanism if each party fails to approve the lease agreement.

Informal route

This is when a leaseholder will informally ask the freeholder if they’re willing to negotiate a lease extension. The landlord isn't legally obliged to agree to the extension, but if the leaseholder and the freeholder can come up with a leasehold agreement they're both happy with, it can save a lot of time and money for both sides.

How much does it cost to extend a leasehold property?

The cost of extending a leasehold property can vary and will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • How long until the lease runs out.
  • How much the ground rent costs.
  • The value of improvements made to the property already.
  • The market value of the property.

You can find out the value of your property using our Online Valuation Tool.

Properties with a short lease

If you have a short lease, you may have concerns about what happens when your leasehold property expires, especially as mortgage providers often don't want to lend on properties with a short lease. Though extending a current lease can be expensive, a short lease will drastically reduce the value of the property.

Selling properties with a short lease

You can sell properties with short leases through auction. This is a popular route for people who need to sell their house quickly but for a desirable amount. They're often attended by investors who are looking for opportunities to extend the lease and add value to the property.

You can also sell properties with short leases using a cash house buyer because they usually don't have to rely on mortgage lenders.

Summary: know your leasehold agreement!

The most important thing to take away from this blog post? Know the terms of your leasehold inside out, especially when your leasehold expires.

A leasehold property requires added costs to the freehold owner including ground rent, an annual service charge, and possible insurance premiums.

And remember: even if you're all settled up on your house repayments, if you're a leasehold owner with an expired lease, you have no legal rights to the property. The only way to gain outright ownership is buying a freehold property, which comes with a range of pros and cons itself.

You can find out more about buying a property here.

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