A Guide to Buying a Flat or an Apartment

At Stacks, we work with our clients to help them purchase their ideal property, whatever it may be. In this guide to buying a flat or apartment, we will discuss things you should consider before purchasing. 

Flats and Apartments in the UK

Most UK towns and cities, not just London, have blocks of flats, apartments and buildings split into multiple properties. They are becoming more common when authorities strive to increase urban housing density.

Buying this type of property can be more complicated than buying a house for a whole host of reasons. It’s important that you are aware of all of the elements, which is why we have created our guide to buying a flat or apartment. 

10 Things to look out for when buying a flat or apartment:

The age and communal nature of this type of property lead to some specific factors to understand in your search, and Stacks Property Search experts list here just a few points to look out for…

1. Freehold or leasehold properties 

 It’s essential for you to know if the property you are looking at is freehold or leasehold. And if it is leasehold, you should be questioning how long is left on the lease. 

Freehold: With freehold properties, you purchase the dwelling (structure) and the land on which it stands. Meanwhile, with leasehold properties, you buy the right to use and occupy a residence on land owned by someone else (the leaseholder). 

Leasehold: Leasehold arrangements commonly apply to apartments or shared ownership properties where multiple residents share a building. The lease serves as the formal agreement between the parties involved and is drawn up by a solicitor. This is one of the main reasons that buying an apartment or flat is more complicated than purchasing freehold properties such as houses. 

2. Buying process for leasehold/freehold 

You will need to add time to your expectations on how your conveyancing will proceed.

Many chains have fallen through when the Freeholder of the flat at the bottom of the chain has been uncontactable, tardy or even obstructive, as they have a legal role in the sale of the leaseholds within their freehold. 

Leasehold properties may seem hugely complicated, and often, buyers try to avoid anything other than freehold or share of freehold. However, leases are the norm in some areas, so ask your solicitor to look at a copy of the lease. Knowing the unexpired lease length and what the implications are is something that we and your solicitor will assist with.

3. Are there any hidden service charges?

There are many apartment blocks, old and new, which have full concierge Services and some which are manned daily by a porter. Service charges vary widely from approximately £3,000 per annum to £20,0000 and more. It is essential to check whether any significant works are due to be carried out on the block itself and if reserve funds have been collected in anticipation (known as a sinking fund).

You could be paying for the luxurious extras such as gymnasiums, swimming pools, and porterage, so find out which blocks offer which services. You don’t want to be wanting to pay for what you don’t want/need.

When you work with Stacks, we uncover any hidden service charges or fees during our investigations of each property so that surprises will be minimised.

4. The floor level of the flat or apartment 

If you are starting your flat or apartment search online and see a property on the third floor or above, don’t forget to check whether there is a lift if it is something you need. Many beautiful top-floor flats were once part of a house and, therefore, do not have lifts. 

These can be as high as the 5th and 6th floors, so if you don’t fancy the climb, read the information in the agents’ description – what they don’t say is often as important as what they do!

If there is a lift, it’s also important to check the size and capacity. If you are a young family using pushchairs or travelling frequently and carrying large amounts of luggage, this is something to bear in mind.

5. Rental restrictions on investment purchases  

A few buildings, particularly across Central London**, have added a clause into the lease that stops properties from being rented out.  

The lease may state that the property cannot be let out for less than three years, if at all.

Whilst this may prove difficult to enforce, it is a risk not worth taking if you buy the property to rent out and will clearly impact those using a buy-to-let mortgage. These clauses may also affect the property’s resale value because it is not, therefore, offered on a normal ‘open market’ sale because it is not available to every buyer.

6. Refurbishment options and restrictions 

Ex-council flats and those that have been in the same family for a long time are often an attractive ‘un-modernised’ project. However, with so much building work having been carried out over the years, the managing agents and freeholders in many blocks have adopted rules to prevent noise problems and other issues such as leaks.  

Therefore, don’t assume that you can have wooden flooring or move a kitchen or bathroom to wherever you like, as there are often rules regarding ‘wet over dry’, for example.

7. Roof Terraces and who they belong to

Roof terraces are highly sought-after spaces, especially in London, as they offer the residents fresh air. But sometimes they are not demised (owned) by the flat. It’s crucial to ask for a copy of the actual demise of the property. 

Even if, when viewing the property, it is clear the current owners use the space as a roof terrace, they may not officially have permission to do so. This can cause issues should there be leaks to the flats below and, whose responsibility this is etc.

8. Communal Gardens and spaces 

Properties with outdoor space, such as the beautiful garden squares in major cities, are highly sought after. However, make sure that the property you like is on the garden square that you are allowed access to, and find out what the rules are.  

You may find that using it for garden parties or playing ball games with your children may breach the rules. As a rule of thumb, if the property overlooks the garden square, you can use it, but this is not always the case, so check the lease.

9. Local area 

As with all our property purchases, we like to ensure our clients have researched the local area. This could involve day visits, checking out local social media groups or attending events. It’s also a good idea to visit the property at different times of day to get a feel for the different atmospheres. 

10. Find out where you stand when it comes to repairs and alterations

Entering into a lease involves committing to a contractual agreement that outlines aspects such as maintenance responsibilities, fees owed to the freeholder, and the authorisation process for property modifications. It’s essential to ascertain whether major repair expenses, like roof repairs, are covered within your service charge. Before purchasing, clarify who bears responsibility for such costs and understand the sharing arrangements. Additionally, be aware of any constraints on property alterations by consulting with your solicitor to determine what modifications your lease permits.

Buying a Flat or Apartment Through Stacks

There are many other aspects to look out for when buying a property, and this is where using an experienced buying agent, like Stacks, can save you time, disappointment and money.

Find your local experienced Property Finder to help you get to the bottom of all these points – and more.

**For more on buying in London, contact our London Teamthe London property experts, who can help you identify and avoid other London-specific issues such as ‘Tube Rumble’!


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