Regardless to the fact that you might be a first time buyer or buying a second home for investment, purchasing any property is a serious thing that requires 0 impulsivity, and lots of logic reasoning. As a first time, single buyer I chose to purchase a flat for my first home. A lot of this had to do with what I was able to afford at the time, and what suited my circumstances the best. Living on my own, I wanted a property that was secure, and with as minimal entries and exits as possible!
Like anything you do the first time, I have learnt so much about purchasing, owning and selling a flat. If you’re not sure whether to go for a flat or a house, I’ve listed all the advantages and disadvantages of buying a flat so you can form your own well balanced view on how you want to proceed.
The Advantages of Buying A Flat
Flats in general are much cheaper than houses. This makes them much more affordable and realistic for single first time buyers, those with a smaller income, and for investment opportunities. Depending on your location, speaking from the South West you can get one bedroom flats in some areas for around £80-100k, this makes getting a mortgage and onto the property ladder so much easier than houses which are continuing to rise in value during the COVID pandemic.
One advantage of a leasehold property is that all of the maintenance works are carried out by the managing agents of the flat (in most cases). The service charges you all pay for will collectively fund any of the works that need to be carried out. If any issues arise you can have comfort in the knowledge that you just need to let the landlord or managing agents know, and it’s their responsibility to fix it.
Dependent on location and style, most flats offer far better security than traditional houses. Some flats feature secure intercom systems with video so you can see who is calling into your flat, whilst only those with the specific code or card entry can enter the property. Having an additional door as a layer of security can make those who live alone feel much more secure. Most of this technology already comes with a flat so it means you don’t need to fork out anymore money for fancy CCTV systems and ringo doorbells!
Easier To Manage
Not only does affordability makes flats attractive, but they can be so much easier to manage too. For business professionals, single people and the elderly, a flat is so much more compact and usually without a garden space which makes the place easier to clean, maintain and enjoy. The maintenance is all carried out by the managing agent too so all you need to do is keep paying your service charges each year and sit back and relax.
The Disadvantages of Buying A Flat
The biggest drawback to owning a flat is that they are a leasehold property (houses are generally freehold). A leasehold property means that there is a lease which outlines your responsibilities, what you can do with the property and a managing agent or landlord owns the actual property.
When you buy a flat you will be told what length is left on the lease, flats with shorter leases are much harder to sell, essentially this means that you have the right to live in the property for a certain number of years laid out by the lease, although leases do get renewed, it might not be in your favour. When it gets to 80 or less years left on the lease it becomes an expensive problem to extend as it attracts marriage value, the less time left on the lease, the more expensive it becomes.
Service Charges & Ground Rent
What comes with a leasehold property means that you pay both service charges and ground rent to the landlord annually, or however the payment terms are set out in the lease. Ground rent varies in cost between £50-£250 a year whilst service charges can vary vastly depending on the setup of your flat, how many flats there are and what sort of maintenance costs could be involved. I.e. properties with a lift see a much bigger rise in service charges.
Service charges fund all the maintenance costs that could be involved during the year, cleaning of communal areas, door software servicing/lifts, managing agent fees etc.
Service charges are usually demanded in advance of any work being carried out. If you know where you stand with annual fees and when they are requested this will help to manage your expectations. When unexpected fees arise or changes in management take place, this is when it can become a real problem as a flat owner.
There is a big problem surrounding onerous ground rent levels and levels of ground rent over £250 (outside of London) as this is when it becomes an AST. This basically means that if the owner of the flat was to default on their ground rent payments, the freeholder has the ability to take possession of the property, leaving your mortgage lender with nothing to recoup their investment. Because of this, mortgage lenders are incredibly wary, there are ways around this but it can become a saleability issue for you too, if a formal lease extension is not carried out.
As of June 2022, new leases will have ground rent at a peppercorn (£0) which is a great step forward in the world of leaseholds, however, this does NOT apply to existing leases on flats.
A lot less privacy comes with owning a flat, communal areas are often shared which can result in additional noise, food smells and people accidentally using your door! However, some people prefer this with a flat knowing that other people are always around, and the additional security that living in a flat does offer.
If you live with a flat above you it is likely that you will hear your neighbours on the floor upstairs at times. Some leases state that only carpet should be used in a living space, this adds an additional layer of sound proofing to stop you hearing the residents above. You also need to be mindful that some flats are rented out which means your neighbours could regularly change. Believe me, I am speaking from experience when I say I had the neighbours from utter hell, yet 6 months later they were replaced by a lovely couple that never troubled me for 4 years! Additionally, renters (not all) just don’t respect the property in the same way that home owners do. This is one thing you simply cannot control with owning a flat, and it’s a big thing you need to consider if you’re going to be okay with it.
When it comes to buying a flat it is really down to your personal circumstances and your needs, flats can be a great way to step onto the property ladder, whilst they’re initially much more affordable and easier to maintain.
It’s important to consult a mortgage advisor before putting an offer in on your dream home, good luck with your search!