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Extending A Lease: A Beginner's Guide
August 8th, 2013
1. What Is A Lease?

A lease simply means the right to occupy a property (usually a flat) for a period, which is generally set at 99 or 125 years. At the end of this time, although you can stay on as a tenant, the freeholder will own your property.

2. Can I Extend It?

The good news is that, as long as you have owned (but not necessarily lived in) your property for at least two years, you have a right to extend your lease for an additional 90 years at a peppercorn (zero) ground rent.

But there are exceptions. You can't force the freeholder to extend a lease if:

- The majority of the leaseholders have applied to obtain the freehold

- Your lease has already ended

- You have sublet your home on a lease of at least 21 years

- The lease was originally granted for less than 21 years

- The freeholder is a charitable housing trust, the National Trust, the Crown (although they may agree), or the property is in a cathedral precinct

- If your freeholder wants to demolish or redevelop the property (in which case you would be entitled to compensation).

If your freeholder refuses to extend your lease for any other reason, get advice - they may be wrong (more on advice below).

3. Why Extend? Value

The most immediate reason for extending is that a short lease can seriously affect the value of your property.

Tom Dogger, the Manager of Winkworth's Knightsbridge and Chelsea office, sees many properties on short leases and calculates that a flat with a lease of 100 years is worth roughly the same as a property on a freehold.

But, explains Dogger, an apartment on a lease of 60 years, could be valued at approximately 60 per cent of the freehold price.

In practice, however, values are more likely to be worked out at the freehold price, minus the estimated cost of extending the lease. But bear in mind that if you wait until you have less than 80 years to go, buying an extension becomes more expensive (under 80 years and you have to pay so-called Marriage Value - more on this below).


4. Why Extend? Saleability

The second reason for extending a lease is saleability. Wealthy home hunters looking for a London pied--terre are more likely to accept a shorter lease, and can usually access specialist lenders who are happy to lend on short leases. But they are in the minority.

If you're selling a flat in Fife or an apartment in Acton, most buyers will be scared off by a short lease, and they may also find that they can't get a mortgage from the high street lenders.

A quick phone around reveals that the Woolwich doesn't lend on property with a lease less than 30 years longer than the term of the mortgage, (making it 55 years on an average 25-year mortgage).

The Halifax asks for 35 years longer (so, 60 years), and the Bristol and West draws the line at 70-year leases.

So, particularly if your lease is less than 70 years, it may make sense to apply for an extension before marketing your property.

5. Saleability And Assignment

Buying an extension is a costly business, and it can also take anything between two and six months - not good news if you're low on funds and in a hurry to sell your flat.

There is another way, known as assignment. The seller begins the legal process to extend the lease, but assigns the right to the incoming leaseholder, who can complete it when they take ownership.

So, instead of having to wait two years to extend a lease, the purchaser can buy an extension straight away, which should leave both buyer and mortgage company happy.


6. How To Extend

There are at least two professionals whose services you're likely to need when extending a lease.

Firstly, a valuer, usually a surveyor.

A surveyor will be able to provide you with best and worst case estimates on the value of an extension, advise you on the amount of money you should offer the freeholder, and help you to negotiate an agreement.

If you can't agree a figure, the valuer will represent you at a Leasehold Valuation Tribunal (LVT).

Secondly, you will need a legal representative - either a solicitor or a licensed conveyancer.

The solicitor or conveyancer will prepare the information you need for the application, serve the notice on the landlord, answer requests for information, and conveyance the new lease.

There are also various specialist companies who will do the whole lot for you.


7. How Much Will It Cost?

How much the extension is worth is difficult to estimate accurately.

The value consists of three main amounts. The first two are to compensate the landlord, for loss of ground rent during the rest of the existing term of the lease, and for not receiving possession of the property at the end of the term.

Thirdly, where the lease has less than 80 years to go, there is what's known as a 'marriage value', which is arrived at by deducting the value of the property before the extension from the value afterwards, plus the value of the landlord's interest.

Leasehold Advisory Service , the information service for leaseholders, gives an example of a flat with a 68 year unexpired lease, on a ground rent of 50 pa, with a current value of 150k, and an improved value 165k. An extension of 90 years is likely to cost 8,250.

But the same property, on a lease with only 35 years to run, could set you back a whopping 55,368.

However, if the current lease is 95 years (and, therefore, attracts no 'marriage value') the cost of an extension would be only around 734.

In addition, the leaseholder is liable for both parties' legal and valuation costs, unless the matter ends up at the LVT, who may apportion the costs differently.

Although it may be an expensive business, remember that you are adding value to your property, and, in addition, you will no longer have to pay ground rent.

8. Valuation Problems

Stories abound of leaseholders who have successfully negotiated the cost of a lease extension down, in some cases to half of the original figure.

But if you can't agree on a price, you can turn to the LVT - The Leasehold Valuation Tribunal. They will come up with a figure based on what they consider reasonable, including making a costs order if either party is acting unreasonably.

9. Bought A Flat With A Short Lease?

As a new leaseholder you don't have an automatic right to an extension, but, if your freeholder is amenable, you can try and negotiate one before the end of the initial two-year period.

If you face problems agreeing a figure, however, you won't be able to turn to the LVT for help.

10. Use It, Don't Lose It!

Remember - if you wait until your lease ends your freeholder will be under no obligation to negotiate an extension, and you could become an assured tenant, rather than the owner of your home.

Nikki Sheehan

Find A Property 2000-2007


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