FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
I’m buying a flat so do I need a special type of survey, if so what type to you recommend?
Asked by: Sheilagh
It’s a very good question because there are a lot of issues you need to get checked when buying flats that don’t apply to houses. Although the survey report format is the same for flats and houses – normally a Homebuyer survey – the surveyor will provide additional information in the report that is relevant to flats.
In the survey report the surveyor will comment in detail on the condition of the flat and the block, whether it is purpose-built or a conversion, and the condition of any common areas like reception lobbies, communal stairs and gardens, with reference to the Freeholder’s duties (such as block management and maintenance, and control of any asbestos-based materials). Aspects such as sound-proofing and escape from fire will be relevant too.
Because flats are normally sold on a Leasehold tenure (houses are normally Freehold) the lease document is very important and will normally be checked by your solicitors/conveyancer. However to assist with this the survey should also flag up potential legal issues such as the remaining lease term, ground rent and service charges. Many mortgage lenders will now not lend on leaseholds where the remaining term is less than 70 years, and some regard 85 years as the acceptable minimum. This means the value of flats with shorter leases can be dramatically reduced as the market is limited to cash buyers. So it’s important to ask what it would cost to extend the lease term.
Another concern is where annual ground rents are not simply linked to inflation but can double every 5 or 10 years.
Flats over shops are another potential concern as most mortgage lenders will not lend where the shop use is food, drink, dry cleaning etc, in fact anything that could be a potential nuisance or fire risk. One recent worry is where planners have permitted shops to change their use to restaurants with serious implications for the mortgageability and value of any flats above.
So, basically, a survey should highlight the condition of the property as well as listing issues to check before you buy. Remember the selling agent isn’t on your side, as they’re acting for the seller, and they have no obligation to flag up potential issues!