What to ask when buying a flat | WIS Mortgages
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What to ask when buying a flat

Buying your own flat sounds like a dream come true to a lot of people. If you've dreamt for years of owning property outright and saying goodbye to the endless money pit that is renting, it's easy to forget that buying any property is a major decision and something that you need to consider carefully before you make a final decision. You should always view a property in person before agreeing to purchase, and preferably have an estate agent with you who can answer any questions you have. You might find it helpful to come armed with a list of prepared questions. Below are some examples of what to ask when buying a flat.

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What to ask when buying a flat

Who owns the freehold?

Buying a flat is a bit different from buying a house. When you buy a house, you usually become the owner of the building itself and the property it's built on. This is because houses are usually sold as freeholds. The owner of a freehold owns both the property it relates to and the land it sits on.

However, flats are often sold as leaseholds. This means you are buying a lease from the owner of the freehold. The lease entitles you to use the home for a certain number of years. That doesn't mean you shouldn't go ahead with the sale, but you should find out more about whoever does own the freehold. It's important to remember that this varies around the country; for instance in Scotland leaseholds aren't as common an occurrence.

Which company handles the maintenance?

If the property is a leasehold, there will usually be a maintenance company that pay service charges to for the property's upkeep and ground rent. Sometimes, this will be the original developer of the property, but it might also be another company that has been hired to take over maintenance duties.

How long is the lease?

If you buy a property as a leasehold, the lease will usually be for a period of at least 90 years and can be as many as 999 years. It's important to know how long the lease is for, and how much time is left on it. If the lease is coming to an end soon, it can be more difficult to mortgage and resell the flat in the future, so this is something to keep in mind if reselling is your intention at some point. If there's not much time left on the lease, ask about the costs of extending it versus buying out the lease outright.

How much is the ground rent/service charge?

As a leaseholder, you will have to pay an annual fee to the freeholder, which they can set as high as they want. This fee is called the ground rent, and it is fixed as per the terms of the lease. On the other hand, the service charge is a payment you have to make towards the upkeep of communal services that you use, but are not personally responsible for.

Is there a reserve fund?

A reserve fund is a pot of funds that residents contribute to so there is money on hand should any unexpected costs arise. A reserve fund should be large enough to cover substantial repairs in the event that something goes seriously wrong with the building's upkeep.

Does the building have a lift?

If the building a flat is in contains lifts, the cost of maintenance fees will increase substantially. You will have to pay for their maintenance even if you never use them, so make sure it's worth it for you if there are lifts in the building. If the flat you're looking at is on the ground floor, you could end up paying an added premium for something you won't ever use.

Does the building allow pets

Leaseholders will need to get the freeholder's permission to keep pets in their flat. If you want to keep a pet in your flat, you'll need to obtain the freeholder's written permission, so it's good to know ahead of time whether you're likely to get it.

What soundproofing does the flat have, if any?

The latest building regulations require that modern blocks of flats are soundproofed to specific standards. Any flat in a new build should be soundproofed to a very high standard. However, older blocks haven't been required to upgrade their soundproofing to match the changing regulations, so older flats might still lack effective soundproofing. This is something to consider if you are sensitive to noisy neighbours.

Who else lives in the building?

If you are unsure what to ask when buying a flat, it's always worth knowing whether the other flats in the building are occupied by their owners or whether they're rental units. If their owners rent them out, you could end up with a string of different neighbours over time, and they won't have as much invested in the building as you. Some people feel that renters are less likely to care for communal areas in the same way as those who own their flats outright. However, if you are buying the flat as an investment property, this might not be as much of an issue for you.

Why is the flat being sold?

It's always helpful to have some idea of why a flat is on the market before deciding what it's worth. If the owner is looking to sell the flat quickly or they have a deadline for doing so, you will often be able to buy it for less. Understanding why the flat is being sold might also reveal something about the local area or the building that you weren't previously aware of.

As a mortgage is secured against your home/property it may be repossessed if you do not keep up with the mortgage repayments.

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