Do you live in a leasehold flat? Find out more about how you can buy the freehold, including the fees involved, plus the pros and cons.
If you live in a leasehold property, the idea that someone else owns the land the building occupies can be a real head-scratcher.
But it's possible to buy the freehold and take control of your property and how it's run.
This is sometimes done through a process known as collective enfranchisement, enabling all the leaseholders to come together and purchase the property at a price that's fair and reasonable.
Alternatively, a leaseholder may buy the lease for the entire building - typically when there are only two flats involved - making the owner of the other flat their leasehold tenant.
Apart from making it a lot easier and cheaper to extend the lease, buying the freehold can add value to your property and who doesn't want that?
If you think you may want to sell in the future, owning the freehold can help attract buyers who may have been put off by a short lease, hopefully making it easier to sell when the opportunity arises.
Collective enfranchisement is the process by which you can buy the freehold of a property.
It enables leasehold tenants to group together and purchase the freehold at a fair price according to the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002.†
Former leaseholders who have bought out their freehold this way are then described as owning a share of the freehold.
This ownership usually transfers with ownership of the flat and is why you might sometimes see flats for sale described as having a share of freehold.
To qualify for collective enfranchisement, the building must contain at least two flats, or if it's a block of flats at least two thirds of leaseholders must be eligible for the process.
You won't be deemed a qualifying tenant if you own more than one flat in the building, have a commercial or business lease, or the landlord is a charitable trust.
The building has to qualify for collective enfranchisement too; for example National Trust properties and any buildings within a cathedral precinct will not qualify.
If the landlord wishes to sell the freehold, they're legally required to offer it to the current leaseholders occupying the building first.
They'll need to tell you the price of buying the freehold and then you can decide whether you're willing to purchase it.
Try not to rest on your laurels though because if you miss the deadline, the landlord can put it on the market.
Before you start the formal process you'll have to make sure the other leaseholders in the building are thinking the same thing, because at least 50% of flats will need to give you the go ahead to proceed.
Remember that the more flats you get to agree, the lower the legal costs will be for each of you, so it's in your best interest to get as many people on side as possible.
Once you've established how many other leaseholders are involved, it could be a good idea to hire a solicitor who specialises in leasehold law and get them to draw up a participation agreement.
Effectively this should prevent people from backing out and bringing a halt to proceedings.
You'll also need to find a chartered surveyor who can give you the highest and lowest reasonable valuation for the freehold. Make sure they're a specialist in collective enfranchisement though.
There are two ways to buy the freehold. It can be done informally by approaching the landlord and negotiating a deal, or alternatively a tenant's notice is issued detailing the offer you're proposing to the landlord.
The landlord will then have two months to accept or reject the offer. If they do reject it, they must make a counter offer from which negotiations can begin.
If you're unable to reach a decision, the case will need to be resolved by the first-tier tribunal. This must be done within six months of the counter notice deadline or you'll have to apply again and start the process over.
Once you've successfully bought the freehold, you can then ask the solicitor to extend everyone's leases, usually to 999 years.
Although everyone within the building will now be joint freeholders, you'll still need to have a lease drawn up to establish issues such as maintenance fees and the necessary buildings insurance.
The money to pay for the freehold must come from one account, which is called the nominee purchaser.
This can either be one person or the most common method is to set up a limited company.
Note that you'll need to sort out who will be the director, how the decisions will be made and whether you need to protect yourself with insurance.
Remember that you'll also have to pay the legal fees of the freeholder during the process too.
There are a number of advantages to buying the freehold.
It's preferable to own a freehold over a leasehold, mostly because it means you won't have to go through the hassle of extending the lease at any point, which should save you money in the long run.
You won't have to pay for a lease extension and it can usually be extended quite easily to 999 years by the solicitor. Remember you can't escape paying the legal fees though.
You won't be required to pay any more ground rent, leaving more money in your pocket each month.
If you weren't happy with how the building was being maintained, once you've bought the freehold you, along with the other shared freeholders, will be in control of who you want to hire to carry out maintenance in the building.
Finding cost-effective options could mean significant savings for each shared freeholder.
If you want to take control over the running of the building your leasehold property occupies but not have freeholder status, it can be possible to apply for the 'right to manage'
Technically you'll be responsible for the building once you've bought the freehold, so rules and regulations that were imposed by the previous freeholder will be no more.
This could mean anything from being able to have pets to what colour the building is painted.
If you live in a block of flats that's looking to undergo collective enfranchisement, be aware that it really helps if you get along.
Together you'll be responsible for running the building, so if you've had a major spat with the people next door it can throw a spanner in the works.
Although in the long run, it can add value to your property, it's likely to cost you a fair whack to get your freeholder status.
You'll need to evaluate the pros and cons of making this type of investment carefully before making a decision.
If you think it will be done in a matter of months, think again. It will likely take closer to a year to complete.
And the freeholder can make it rather difficult if they wish to do so, costing you time and money.
If you want to take control over the running of the building your leasehold property occupies but not have freeholder status, it can be possible to apply for the 'right to manage'.
This will enable you to control service charges and get more involved in issues like which maintenance companies to hire, helping you to reduce the fees you have to pay for maintaining the building.
It's also a lot quicker and cheaper than buying the freehold, taking around six months and only costing the legal fees.
The downside of this is having to take a role in managing your building, but not seeing any difference in the price of your property.
You'll still have to pay to extend your lease and you may not enjoy as much freedom as you wish, because you could still have to apply to the freeholder for certain issues.
You also won't be waving farewell to the freeholder, because they can still get involved with the right to manage board.
Any legal fees that the freeholder incurs from handing over the management process will also need to be paid by the right to manage board.