Six Mistakes to Avoid When You Extend the Lease on Your Flat

Given that there are approximately 1.5 million long leasehold residential flats in England and Wales, it simply amazing that so many flat owners are simply not aware of their legal right to demand a 90 year lease extension from their freeholder. And bear in mind that every single one of those flats is going to need a lease extension at some stage – unless the owner simply wants to give up all their legal rights and hand the ownership of the flat back to their freeholder. And the vast majority of flat owners won’t find that they are able to leave it until the last minute – because without a lease extension, a short lease flat becomes increasingly difficult to sell.

However, if you are one of those flat owners who are aware of your legal rights and are considering extending your lease at some stage in the future, there are a number of mistakes would you really must make sure you avoid.

Marriage value and the 80 year trap

Firstly, if at all possible, ensure that you make your original application for a lease extension well before the remaining term of your lease drops below 80 years.

Why? It’s really a no-brainer. On the day, yes the day, that your lease drops below 80 years, your freeholder is entitled to charge an additional premium to you – this is known as the marriage value and even on a relatively inexpensive flat, marriage value will mean a few thousand pounds extra to pay. So, ideally, get your lease extension sorted out well before the 80 year period looms – or if not, don’t rely on making an informal agreement with your landlord. Make sure you appoint a specialist solicitor and make a formal statutory application for a lease extension to protect your interests.

The need for a proper lease extension valuation

Secondly, don’t try to cut corners and avoid the costs of a proper valuation carried out by a specialist lease extension surveyor. Relying on your freeholder’s estimate of the value of a lease extension, or on the valuation provided by the landlord’s own surveyor, is likely to cost you.

Equally, although they are cheaper, we don’t recommend what are known in the industry as “desktop valuations” – i.e. valuations based just on the paperwork involved without any actual physical viewing of the flat. These are certainly cheaper, and they take less time to organise, but inevitably they are more generalised and won’t take in to account the specific circumstances of your flat. Cutting corners in this way could again add significantly to the price you have to pay when you come to extend your lease.

The risks of an informal lease extension

Thirdly take particular care. If you’re going down the route of an informal lease extension, i.e. an extension which is negotiated and agreed with your landlord informally without the involvement of the formal statutory process.

One of the biggest risks with the informal route is the unscrupulous landlord. Sneaky landlords have been known to apparently agree a price for an informal lease extension only to delay the procedure and then withdraw their consent. In these circumstances, there’s nothing you can do apart from to start the whole statutory lease extension process from scratch. If there’s no urgent need to extend your lease, then this might not prove to be a disaster – but if your lease is approaching that critical 80 year period, then you need to be particularly beware.

If a landlord can delay you applying for a formal lease extension until the remaining term drops just one day below 80 years, he can then demand the marriage value. This is far from unknown. Equally, if you’re in the process of selling a property, this can give the unscrupulous landlord, a real advantage – there’s nothing to stop them simply upping the price they require as you get near to exchanging contracts for the sale of your flat – and again there’s nothing you can do apart from to start the whole statutory process from scratch.

Your lease extension -best planned in advance

Fourthly – do make sure that you plan in advance. Don’t leave your lease extension until the last minute or until it becomes particularly urgent. Getting your lease extended well in advance is going to be simpler and probably cheaper.

Why an early lease extension will save you money

Fifthly – don’t delay. Every day your lease gets shorter, which means that the price you have to pay for your lease extension increases. Add in the fact that currently the housing market is rising and you are left with a further incentive to extend your lease sooner rather than later – because part of the valuation of the premium you need to pay to extend your lease is based on the value of your property – and if that goes up, you are going to have to pay more for your extension.

DIY lease extension – don’t go there

Finally – don’t try to do it yourself. The procedure involved in lease extension is tricky and timescales are crucial. When you do come to appoint a solicitor, don’t just pick the first property solicitor who comes to mind – make sure you get a specialist in this field, even if it means you can’t pick a local law firm and have to deal with your solicitors, instead, remotely, by email and phone.

Most property and conveyancing solicitors only come across lease extensions once in a blue moon – some have never even dealt with one – so you don’t want to rely on them. Instead, do your research and make sure that appoint a solicitor who spends all their time on lease extension and knows both law and procedure backwards.

Want To Know How to Extend the Lease on Your  Flat?  Contact us today

Our expert Lease Extension Solicitors can advise you wherever your flat is situated in England and Wales and we don’t even need to see you – taking your instructions by e-mail, phone and Skype video:

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