Mortgage Advice Q&A; getting a mortgage on a freehold flat
Author: Andy Bedford » Publish Date: 24 July 2023
In our Q&A, we answer some of the questions mortgage advisors answer regularly.
Question; I hear it is difficult to arrange a mortgage on a freehold flat; why is this, and is it possible to mortgage one?
In a freehold property, you are responsible for the maintenance and insurance of the building and own the land attached.
In the case of a typical house, this is a good thing. However, in the case of a flat, there may be no clear definition of who is responsible for various parts of the building.
Your ceiling may also be a neighbour’s floor, and your floor, another neighbour’s ceiling.
Imagine that your upstairs neighbour leaves his bath running and your roof collapses; whose responsibility is this now?
If your neighbour has no insurance, it could get pretty messy, and that is why it can be a no-go area for many mortgage lenders.
But, the question of mortgaging freehold flats can also turn into something reminiscent of a Monty Python sketch.
Where the plot thickens; is in what context may the property be considered a freehold flat?
Freehold flats in Scotland
If you are buying in Scotland, especially if you live in the rest of the UK, you may be unaware that there has never really been an equivalent to leasehold property in Scotland.
So a property listed as a freehold flat is not a big issue over the border.
Properties that own a share of the freehold
Properties that own a share of the underlying freehold are not themselves freehold.
The property will have a lease and may need to pay service charges and ground rent, just like any other leasehold property, although some have no regular charges payable.
When a lease requires an extension, it is still a costly process.
Their main advantage over a leasehold flat is that you have some say in managing the freehold with the other owners; you would hope this means that charges should be more fairly administered.
These properties are often sold and listed as freehold, with the blissful ignorance of the vendor, estate agent and even the lenders’ surveyors.
Who, for reasons unknown to science, are usually considered bastions of fact in complex legal matters; despite having no relevant qualifications in the field; instead of the lender checking the land registry.
What ensues is mortgage applications being rejected based on properties being freehold on the hearsay evidence of an estate agent.
If you have found yourself in this situation, we should be able to help. These properties are normally acceptable to many mainstream lenders.
Many still have complex rules about the share of the freehold and how it is owned and managed, so it is vital to select the right lender. But if you have found this problem, we should be able to help.
Properties with a long lease or lifetime lease
On occasion, a property with a long lease of 999 years, or thereabouts, will be described by a vendor as freehold, under the impression that it is ‘as good as freehold’.
Often, when there is no service charge, ground rent, or a ‘peppercorn ground rent’ of £1 per annum, sometimes a service charge or ground rent is payable, but the freeholder is absent.
If the freeholder is known and the vendor is just misrepresenting the property as freehold then the situation is readily fixed by asking the vendor and agent to tell it like it is.
An AWOL freeholder can present different problems beyond the scope of this post and is something to discuss with your conveyancer or solicitor, but aren’t the boon they may appear to be.
In most cases, we can help you arrange a loan on these properties; if the freeholder is absent, consider this problem before getting seriously involved in the purchase.
A freehold flat or maisonette where the remainder of the properties in the block are leasehold
A common area of confusion is a property that owns the freehold of a block, and the remaining properties within it are leaseholds.
These are not uncommon; often they are created when someone converts a house into flats and retains ownership of one of those properties. It is not possible to own a lease to a property when you also own the underlying freehold.
Legally speaking, we are repeatedly advised by conveyancers that such properties should be as good as any other leasehold flat from a mortgage perspective, but you will not find this in practice.
The vendor of such a property will usually make it very clear that it is freehold, as there is a public perception of this being preferable due to the often unfavourable costs of service charges, ground rent and for occasional lease extensions imposed by many freeholders.
Mortgage lenders usually make their staff very aware though, that they do not lend on what we might consider a truly freehold flat, where all the properties in the block have a freehold title.
That creates a situation where the lender immediately rejects any application and refuses to value the property, under the misapprehension that it is the more ominous type of freehold flat.
For this reason, you will find it very difficult to arrange a mortgage on such a property without a competent advisor.
Generally, a mortgage on these properties should be possible with mainstream high-street lenders, although many may still be unsuitable. Get in touch with us for help on these.
A freehold flat or maisonette where the remainder of the properties in the block are freehold
This is where things get more complex.
For these properties, complex rules are set out by lenders within their guidance notes to conveyancers on acceptable tenure in the Council of Mortgage Lenders Handbook.
Whilst enquiring directly to a lender will usually result in an endless slew of responses refusing to consider freehold flats, speak to any conveyancer, and you find that there are often acceptable legal instruments other than an actual lease over the property.
You should be led by your conveyancer on the properties suitability for a mortgage from the legal perspective; the property may still be unsound structurally or have other issues that make it complex to mortgage.
Such properties may often be marketed as cash purchase only or even sold at auction. In the case of a cash purchase, the agents may have agreed to sell the property this way based on other factors, such as property condition. Again, this may have caused a decision to sell at auction.
So do not treat an indication from a conveyancer that a property can be mortgaged as final, and you should be prepared to risk losing your deposit if you intend to purchase such a property at auction and require a mortgage.
If you are intrepid enough to try and mortgage such a property we can help, once a conveyancer has been through the legal side and confirmed that it is suitable.
But expect that such a purchase could take some time as it might have to be sanctioned by the lender’s internal legal team, which is a notoriously slow process that often takes several weeks.