Property Journalist Sharon Dale On How She Is Fighting Her Fear Of Flats

It’s not a fully-blown phobia, but an anxiety that stems from a lifetime of living in a conventional house.

I’ve seen some truly fabulous apartments, ranging from the compact and bijou to big, flash penthouses.
My sister has bought and lived in lots of them during her time in London, where this type of property predominates. In fact, she has just bought a two-bedroom home in a warehouse conversion with views to die for.

I visited the other week and I loved the outlook, the décor and the exposed brick and beams but I struggled with the concept. I have a fear of flats. It’s not a fully-blown phobia, where I start hyper-ventilating when I see one, but an anxiety that stems from a lifetime of living in a conventional house.

Flats are different. They have leases, service charges and communal areas. Oh and lifts, which I’m not keen on.

So, to try and fight what I know is an irrational fear, I have asked around for some advice. The reason for this is that I can see that apartment living has many, many benefits and it is definitely on my long-term radar

Newly-built flats are getting better all the time. They are energy efficient and the sound-proofing is vastly improved. The best developers now understand the need for storage and intelligent design.


(Redrow Flats In London)

Apartments are also more secure. There’s not as much risk in locking up and leaving them while you are on holiday. As for maintenance, the exterior fabric of the building is taken care of for you so there’s no need to fret about a leaky roof, damp or repointing.

Then there’s the sense of community that you find in some schemes, especially those that cater for the over 55s. Most of the retirement property developments have communal lounges, events and day trips. The upmarket versions come with gyms, swimming pools and restaurants.

So, with all that in mind, here is some helpful information for those who have never bought a flat and feel they might like to:
 
Leasehold.

Most apartments are leasehold and it is essential that you investigate the terms of the lease to understand your rights and responsibilities. It is best to get a property lawyer to check this. Leasehold ownership is effectively a very long tenancy ranging from 99 to 999 years. It usually means that you are responsible for everything within the flat, including floorboards and plaster to walls and ceiling, but does not usually include the external or structural walls.

The structure and common parts of the building and the land it stands on are usually owned by the freeholder, who is also the landlord. The freeholder is responsible for the maintenance and repair of the building and the communal areas. In some smaller developments, the leaseholders can have a share of the freehold through a residents’ management company.
 
Communal areas.

Everything from the hallways to the entrance area, lifts and garden are the responsibility of the leaseholder. The service charge you pay should help to maintain these areas. Alarm bells should ring if they are scruffy.
 
Service charge.

This is the annual fee, often broken into monthly payments, to the building’s freeholder. It must be factored into your budget. The average service charge now stands at £1,863 for all properties in Britain and £2,777 for new-builds. It usually includes your contribution to ground rent, maintaining the fabric of the building and communal areas and the building insurance premiums.

The landlord can only recover “reasonable” costs for these services. Leaseholders have the legal right to challenge service charges if they feel they are unreasonable. Check that there is a reserve fund and if there are plans for work that could affect the service charge in the few years after your purchase.
 
Management.

The freeholder usually passes the management and maintenance of a building onto a professional managing agent. If you and fellow flat owners are unhappy with the standard of service then you can get together and arrange these services under the 'Right to Manage' scheme, providing more than half of the building's tenants agree to participate.
For more information, the government-backed website www.lease-advice.org is excellent.
 

Publish date: 22/09/2017