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The property trap

Thursday 09 March 2017

Four out of 10 new properties in England and Wales are now sold as leasehold, ranging from one bedroom flats in city centres, to four bedroom detached homes in rural areas.

In November 2016, we published an article New Build Leasehold Trap highlighting the abuse of the leasehold system in newly built homes. Branded as “the PPI of the house building industry” many homeowners are now coming forward, calling for compensation and asking for government involvement.

Persimmon, Bovis Homes, Bellway and Taylor Wimpey are just a few of the market leaders who have been accused of trapping customers into leasehold contracts that have spiralling ground rents which render them almost impossible for homeowners to sell on.

Homeowners are finding that their leases were created, in some cases, years before their build was even completed and the freehold had been sold within two years of the lease being created. This is all before the buyer has even taken possession of the house.

And the problems only escalate from there, reports are now circulating that some banks and building societies are refusing mortgages on properties with onerous ground rent clauses.

NAEA Propertymark member and long established property manager Paul Reynolds of Renown Estates in Cramlington has been tracking the issue for some time:

“It's a big topic and one that I have been following for the last seven or eight years. Many of the properties here were sold with 99 yearlong leases and as all neighbours were on the same level, it was never thought to be much of a problem. That was until investors cottoned on and started buying the freeholds and hiking the prices.

“Recently I had two houses to list on the same estate, they were of a similar size, condition and value. One freeholder asked for around £10,000 and the other £3,000; there isn't any maths involved in the valuation. I get regular emails from investors with seemingly bottomless pockets looking to buy ground rents and my fear is that homeowners will be stuck.”

According to the numbers published by Bovis Homes last month, their capital turn increased by 7% between 2015 and 2016. Taylor Wimpey boasted a 20.8% profit margin for 2016 and Persimmon’s full year revenue was up 8% to £3.14bn.

In December 2016, Taylor Wimpey announced that it has stopped selling leasehold houses with ground rents that double every decade and that recent sales have now moved to a formula based on the retail prices index. This means that ground rent should increase with inflation at a steady rate.

Taylor Wimpey have also announced they will be conducting a review of leasehold issues that have arisen, however this has been delayed until April.

Both Bellway and Persimmon are yet to address customer and industry concerns, however Bellway have defended their actions to homeowners by stating that “there is no leasehold scandal”.

So what is being done about it?

The issue is gaining publicity and there have been calls for leaseholds on houses to be banned.

The All Party Parliamentary Group has pressed for change and Housing Minister Gavin Barwell has promised the Government will be putting forward plans for leasehold reform this year.

Andrew Selous, MP for South West Bedfordshire, raised the issue during Prime Minister’s Questions, calling for the Prime Minister to end the practice of developers buying freehold land on which they then sell new houses on a leasehold basis, which is resulting in customers feeling “ripped off”.

Teresa May commented: “…we will consult on a range of measures to tackle unfair and unreasonable abuses of leasehold. Other than in certain exceptional circumstances, I do not see why new homes should not be built and sold with the freehold interest at the point of sale.”

What should agents be doing?

NAEA Propertymark are currently working with other groups to raise awareness amongst agents and highlight potential issues to homeowners and homebuyers.

It is important as an agent to adhere to Consumer Protection Regulation and point out material information relating to leaseholds, including the length of the lease, charges payable under a lease and any clause relating to escalating fees.

Ask the question; is it freehold or is it leasehold? 

CEO, Mark Hayward said: “As ever, it is imperative to have a full understanding of the issues surrounding leaseholds and to be able to communicate and alert consumers accordingly”.