[Image source: Deposit photos]
When investing in a buy-to-let, there are countless considerations to make, but one that often gets overlooked in discussions is whether looking at leasehold properties is a good use of an investor’s time. When you buy a freehold building, you own the building and the land it’s on until the time comes to sell it, but leasehold means you only own the building for a set period. So, what does this mean for landlords, and are leasehold properties a good investment?
What is a leasehold property?
A leasehold property means you own the property in question for a specific length of time, which is the term of the lease. When the lease expires, the ownership transfers to the person or entity that owns the land. For a landlord, the idea of the investment simply being lost can be a frightening prospect and can put people off wanting to invest in a leasehold home.
Leases can range from 99 or 125 years all the way to 999 years, the latter of which is as good as a freehold. Theoretically, the closer the lease expiry date is, the less valuable it becomes and it can be harder to recoup your investment if you’re looking to sell. If the remaining term falls to 80 years or less, it can be hard to obtain a mortgage on the property, which is something potential investors need to bear in mind when looking for buy-to-lets.
The key differences with a leasehold property
Most leasehold properties are flats, though a leasehold can apply to any property. Properties purchased through the shared ownership scheme may also be leasehold. Because a leasehold means you don’t own the land the property sits on, you don’t have any ownership of communal areas in the case of a flat, meaning stairs, hallways and gardens are not your sole responsibility.
However, while leaseholders usually pay a set fee to the freeholder which goes towards the maintenance of these areas, from June 2022, new legislation on ground rent charges means these rents will be banned on new residential leases to avoid future rent increases, which makes leasehold properties more affordable.
What to consider before investing
The first question an interested landlord needs to ask is ‘does the lease permit letting?’. Not all leases will allow you to sublet the property, so if your intention is to purchase the home as a buy-to-let, this is a critical question to ask. If you go ahead with your buy-to-let without checking this first, you could find yourself in breach of your lease and that can come with fines and complications later on, so it’s important to check first.
Landlords also need to ensure they take into account the cost of maintenance and repairs for the property, as with any buy-to-let, which some leases enforce via a sinking fund to cover any unexpected repairs. Investing in a property as a buy-to-let means landlords need to think about the saleability of the property for the future, as it’s not their primary residence. Problems can occur, as previously stated, if the lease is less than 80 years, so extending a lease may be beneficial when purchasing the property but this can be a costly endeavour.
The benefits of leasehold buy-to-lets
It’s not all bad news when it comes to a leasehold property, especially when it comes to finances. Because of the challenges that you need to face when you buy a leasehold property, you can often find great bargains on the property market as they’re less appealing for many investors. If you’re willing to overcome these hurdles, you could find yourself getting a great deal upfront compared to a freehold.
There are some restrictions with this type of property, because you’re effectively renting space from another landlord who is the freeholder, so you’re at their mercy in terms of what you can do to the property. However, from a landlord’s point of view, the likelihood is you only want to make the property presentable and won’t be investing in any large-scale renovations, so this may not be an issue at all.
It may be possible to extend your lease if you’ve owned the property for at least two years, or if it only has 80 years or less left. Extending sooner rather than later is the best option, as the shorter the remaining lease is, the more expensive it will be to extend. Lease extensions are usually for 90 years, and the cost is typically 50% of the ‘marriage value’ of the property, or the extra value the property would gain from the longer lease, as well as legal fees, Land Registry updates and property valuations.
Is investing in a leasehold the right decision?
The process of investing in any property is complex and time-consuming, and it requires in-depth research to ensure you’re making the right choice. A leasehold may seem more complicated than buying a freehold to rent out, but it can still be a highly valuable investment depending on the buyer’s circumstances. Of course, this might not be the case if it is sat on the market with a short lease and you need to sell it fast.
The trick to investing in a leasehold is finding an agreement that suits the needs of the investor. If it’s an affordable property with agreeable lease terms and you aren’t in any rush to sell the property on, it can be a great way to save money upfront and grab a bargain. There’s certainly nothing wrong with investing in a leasehold property, if it meets the criteria you need from it – you simply need to be aware of the differences that a leasehold property has to a freehold.
There are also some unique perks, such as not needing to worry about the upkeep of communal areas, which frees up your time when you’re managing your buy-to-let portfolio. The best advice for landlords looking to buy a leasehold to rent out is to seek professional advice and speak to local buy-to-let agents who can offer advice based on the potential yields for the surrounding area. This will ensure the best returns, whatever the type of property bought.