The ‘Right’ to Extend a Short Lease During Conveyancing
Some lenders might not lend on a very short lease and the school of thought is that it is always preferable for sellers to have obtained a lease extension before they sell, thereby allowing them to ask a higher price for the property. On the other hand sellers might not want to do this because the time taken to secure the benefit of a lease extension may add several months to the conveyancing process. Not only that but the buyer will not know what he is going to pay until the price is agreed with the freeholder. Some freeholders take so long to agree terms that the situation ends up having to be referred to the First Tier Tribunal for a determination. So legislation allows the assigning of the ‘right’ to an extension providing the seller has owned the property for 2 years or more.
The process is as follows:
- After agreeing with the freeholder on the price to be paid, the amount is inserted into a Deed of Assignment of the Benefit of the Notice which is then served on the freeholder. Note that this figure is for the lease extension only, and not the sale price minus the extension cost. It is also highly advisable for this figure to be determined by a qualified surveyor, for which the buyer should be ready to pay.
- Whilst the conveyancing solicitors acting for both parties should agree the form, the rules for completion and service of these notices are very strict. If they are not adhered to then the notice will be declared invalid, involving the buyer in litigation about the validity of the claim. If the claim turns out to be invalid then the buyer will have no choice but to wait until he is legally entitled to serve notice himself (i.e. he will have had to have owned the property for two years or more).
- Once the seller has the cash from the sale, they pay the cost of that extension to the freeholder
- On completion the sellers rights stated in the Notice served on the freeholder will be properly assigned to the new owner at the same time as the assignment of the lease itself, i.e. when the buyer takes real ownership. Note that if technical legal reasons prevent this then the claim will be deemed to be withdrawn.
The notice itself should be served between exchange of contracts and completion because if the buyer withdraws before exchange, the seller may have to a) complete the process himself and b) pay all the costs.
It is important however to be aware that the lease will not be extended at completion if it is carried out under statute as there are specific time-frames to adhere to for each part of the process. It is therefore advisable that no informal arrangement should be made with the freeholder, perhaps to try speed up the sale, because this can be an extremely risky route to take because there is no protection against it going wrong.