BUYING UK PROPERTY A brief guide to buying property in the UK

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1 BUYING UK PROPERTY A brief guide to buying property in the UK

2 This publication is not meant as a substitute for advice on particular issues and action should not be taken on the basis of the information in this document alone. This firm is not authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (the FCA). However, we are included on the register maintained by the FCA (www. fca.gov.uk/register) so that we can offer a limited range of investment services (including insurance mediation activities) because we are authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (the SRA). We can provide these services if they are an incidental part of the professional services we have been engaged to provide. Mechanisms for complaints and redress if something goes wrong are provided through the SRA and the Legal Ombudsman. Bircham Dyson Bell LLP processes your personal data in connection with the operation and marketing of a legal practice and will occasionally send you information relating to the firm. If you would prefer not to receive this information or would like us to amend your contact details and/or mailing preferences, please notify us by Bircham Dyson Bell LLP is a member of Lexwork International, an association of independent law firms. Printed on sustainable paper.

3 BUYING RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY IN LONDON AND THE UK When buying a property in the UK, there is a lot to consider. This guide will help you through all of the stages and identifies the different parties you will be in contact with throughout the process. To make the process easier to follow, we have broken it down into five stages: the offer; pre contract; exchange of contracts; completion; and post completion. There is also a glossary of terms to help you should you need explanations for our terminology as well as some links to useful websites. 1

4 THE OFFER 2 Having identified a property you would like to buy, you will make an offer to the seller, usually through an estate agent or developer. The process then begins when your offer has been accepted at which stage you and the seller will instruct your respective solicitors to complete the associated legal obligations. By instructing a solicitor and beginning the legal processes, you will need to be mindful that this does not constitute a binding contract or guarantee the price. The seller can increase the price at any time prior to the exchange of contracts, and either party can decide not to go ahead with the sale. At this stage, you should also apply for a mortgage, if required.

5 PRE- CONTRACT STAGE If the property you want to buy is an apartment, it is usually going to be leasehold property, however, if you are buying a house it is usually referred to as freehold property. The process is much the same for both freehold and leasehold property transactions but each has its own challenges: after your offer is accepted, the seller will send a draft contract to your legal representative or solicitor, together with documents relating to the rights and history of the property known as a title ; and if you are buying a leasehold property your solicitor will receive a copy of the lease, details of the management company (if applicable) dealing with the running of the building and details of all outgoings for the property. 3

6 It is the role of your solicitor to carry out investigations relating to the property, making sure the title to the property is satisfactory before you exchange contracts, and will raise pre-contract enquiries with the seller s solicitor. These enquiries relate to technical matters of title, as well as practical matters including details of water and sewage charges payable on the property, and any service charges payable if the property is an apartment. A search will also be carried out at the relevant Local Authority to find out about planning matters. If you are buying a leasehold apartment, your solicitor will need to carry out further investigations to make sure that the lease document contains essential clauses and will identify any defects that there may be in the title, suggesting ways of correcting them. After all search enquiries are completed, your solicitor will send you a report on the title together with a contract for you to sign. If you are satisfied, you can sign the contract and return it to your solicitor along with funds for the deposit payable at the next stage, exchange of contracts. The deposit is normally 10% of the agreed sale price. It is at this stage when you would agree a date for when completion would ideally take place. This will not happen if the property is still under construction. By now, you should have obtained an offer of mortgage (if applicable). Your solicitor should also have received a copy of the offer of a mortgage, which must be current at the time of completion. If the property is in the process of being constructed/ built, your solicitor will need assurance that you will have no problem in obtaining a mortgage offer nearer to the proposed completion date. 4

7 5

8 EXCHANGE A contract to buy any property has two sections one section for the seller and the other for the buyer. Each signs their own section, and the agreed completion date is inserted into the contract. Formal exchange of contracts takes place by sending each section of the contract to the respective solicitors and the deposit is paid to the seller s solicitor. Exchange is normally agreed between solicitors by way of a telephone conversation. It is at the stage of exchange that both parties are contractually bound to complete the contract. Due to the legal obligations surrounding exchange the financing of the purchase must be in place before the contracts are exchanged. 6

9 If the property is a house and a freehold, a building insurance policy needs to be put in place from the date of exchange. If the property is an apartment, the insurance is usually organised by the landlord, with no further action from you required. However, we recommend this is confirmed. Between exchange and completion, your solicitor will carry out a number of final searches whilst you arrange for the balance of the purchase price to be sent to your solicitor, either personally or via your mortgage company. If the property being purchased is an apartment, the lease may state that the landlord s consent or permission to the purchase is required. In these circumstances it is usual for the landlord to require professional and personal references. Your professional reference should be from your bank which preferably will be a UK bank. If an apartment is being purchased by a non-resident or an off-shore company, the landlord may not consent to the purchase unless either a UK based guarantor or a rent/service charge deposit is lodged with the landlord s managing agents. If this is the case, references for the UK based guarantor will be required. The rent/service charge deposit required by the managing agents can be quite high - often two-times the total ground rent and service charge payable in any one year. The rent/service charge deposit is held by the managing agents, who will draw against it if you fail to make any payments due under the lease. The rent/service charge deposit will usually not be returned to you until you sell the apartment and if at any time the managing agents draw against the rent deposit, you will be required to top up the deposit. These requirements are in place to make sure that there is no difficulty in collecting payments due under the terms of the lease. This is in the interest of all tenants who have 7

10 previously purchased apartments in a particular building, and reduces the risk of expensive litigation and non-payment. By purchasing a leasehold property, you will usually be required to pay regular ground rent and often a service charge which must be taken into account when assessing annual outgoings. A leaseholder must also abide by detailed rules and regulations relating to the use and management of the building. Special care is needed when buying leasehold property. A leasehold property is a wasting asset, but legislation exists to enable an owner to extend their lease. In addition, new legislation allows tenants to manage the building in which their apartment is situated. 8

11 COMPLETION Completion is the day that the property becomes legally yours. All searches have been completed with all defects and issues having been addressed. Your solicitor will pay the balance of the purchase price and any other sums which are due to the seller s solicitor during completion. In return you will receive the title documents and keys to your new property. The completion date for a new property is usually fixed to take place a number of days (usually ten working days) after the property has been exchanged. One advantage of buying a newly built home is that it will usually have the benefit of a warranty scheme, which will protect you for a given length of time (usually ten years) against any major structural defects. Whether or not this is the case, this is something your solicitor will establish. If you delay completion, you will be liable to pay interest on the balance of the purchase price. The seller can also serve a notice to complete which requires completion within ten working days. If you fail to complete within the ten days, the seller can treat the contract as being at an end, and is entitled to keep any deposit you have paid. They are also entitled to claim monetary/damages for any expenses incurred and for any loss on a subsequent sale. 9

12 POST-COMPLETION MATTERS Your solicitors will pay any Stamp Duty Land Tax and apply to register the transaction at the Land Registry. Once registration is complete, the Land Registry will issue a Completion Certificate confirming that you now own the property, and any mortgage is noted in the title. 10

13 LEGAL FEES FOR UK PROPERTY TRANSACTIONS Charges for acting for you would normally be a set fee agreed in advance, and additional legal and valuation fees may be incurred in connection with any mortgage and consents. All charges are subject to Value Added Tax, currently 20%. When buying a property you will have to pay for use of external facilities which assist in progressing your transaction such as search fees, bank charges, Land Registry fees, possibly Companies House fees and the cost of couriers fees where necessary. These are known as disbursements and will appear on your solicitor s invoice because they will have paid these on your behalf. At BDB we are aware that it can be a very complex process purchasing a property in the UK. Our highly trained solicitors are kept up to date with changes in legislation that may affect you. We have advised and acted for offshore and UK purchasers in the legalities of purchasing UK property. If you are considering the purchase of a property in the UK, please get in touch with us for a no-obligation conversation. We have listed some useful websites that you should familiarise yourself with, as well as a glossary of terms. 11

14 GLOSSARY OF TERMS Lease A contract to rent land for a term of years at a ground rent paid to the landlord. Wasting asset - An irreplaceable business asset of limited life. Title - A set of rights in a property in which a party may own a legal interest. Exchange Contracts are exchanged. Managing agents An independent company hired to manage a building. Stamp Duty Land Tax A tax on land transactions. Land registry Government agency that registers the ownership of land and property in England and Wales. Local authority An administrative body in local government. Companies house The UK registrar of companies. VAT A type of consumption tax that is placed on a product whenever value is added at a stage of production and at final sale. 12

15 CONTACTS Elaine Dobson (Partner) T +44 (0) E John Stephenson (Partner) T +44 (0) E USEFUL WEBLINKS Land registry Companies House 13

16 Bircham Dyson Bell LLP Broadway London SW1H 0BL T +44 (0) Follow BDB_Law Follow Bircham Dyson Bell

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