The London property market enjoys a somewhat unique status as one of the more expensive places to live in the world. According to the Land Registry, average house prices in London are now around £376,000, with the average flat costing in the region of £337,000. Compare this with the national average house price of less than £161,000 and it is therefore important to find a reputable property lawyer to oversee the finer details of your move.
So what kind of local issues will a conveyancer look out for on your behalf in the London area?
Leasehold or Freehold?
A large number of transactions carried out in London are leasehold. This is due to the considerable number of developments for apartments scattered across the city from the revamped Docklands in the east, to the trendy, multicultural West End. These types of properties, as well as some redevelopments, are usually leasehold.
Do you know the difference between leasehold and freehold property? A leasehold property gives homeowners the right to occupy for a specified time period, but not the bricks and mortar and is more usually associated with apartments, while a freehold property means homeowners are wholly responsible for the land and the building, and is most often a traditional house.
Leasehold rights and obligations are designed to protect the common good of all occupants in a building. These include rights of access, use of communal areas and grounds and the upkeep and decoration of the building. This reflects how a block of flats needs to be run.
Some movers are wrongly informed their desired property is a freehold, when it is actually a ‘share of freehold’ i.e. multiple owners that share the freehold responsibilities. This is common in London with converted buildings and redevelopments. A shared freehold gives residents a say in the running of the building as a whole i.e. the works that are carried out and who by.
Ensure the solicitor undertaking the conveyancing for your London house purchase is aware of the status of your prospective property before proceeding as there are nuances and responsibilities they’ll want to check.
It can be difficult to insure a property in areas across London where flooding regularly occurs or the risk is high. According to the Environment Agency’s 2013 national flood risk assessment, unpublished but seen by the Guardian, 10 of the top 25 most at-risk local authority areas across England and Wales are now London boroughs; roughly amounting to one-in-four properties worth around £250bn.
Hammersmith and Fulham, Southwark and Wandsworth are the London boroughs most threatened by the risk of flooding. A 26 per cent year-on-year drop in investment in flood defences between 2010 and 2011 will not have gone unnoticed with insurers, so be aware of potential costs in your purchasing decision.
Subsequently, as part of the London Plan the land use policy basis for assessing flood risk promotes:
Greater emphasis on flood resilience
Sustainable drainage techniques
Increased coordination between land use planning and emergency planning
The Thames Barrier, one of the largest movable flood barriers in the world, is the capital’s most significant flood defence mechanism, spanning 520 metres across the River Thames near Woolwich. Designed to protect 125 square kilometres of Central London from flooding caused by tidal surges, it is thought that development work will be necessary on the barrier in order to counteract rising sea levels which could increase by half a metre by 2100.
The imminent expiry of a deal between Government and the insurance industry, which ensures high-risk properties can get affordable insurance, is also something worth keeping in mind throughout negotiations.
The Environment Agency provides an indicator of London properties at risk of flooding as part of its National Flood Risk Assessment (NAFRA) and pinpoints the areas most susceptible to flooding. Additionally, as part of your conveyancing, an environmental search report will contain Ordinance Survey (OS) maps, highlighting environmental factors and areas of concern in relation to the property in the immediate to long term.
For more information about London and the risks of flooding in the capital, take a look at our article, Flooding in London.
Major road and rail works
In such an important commercial and industrial city such as London, it is inevitable that major road or rail works occur. Back in 2010 it was revealed that more than 5,500 of London’s major roads were being worked on including major business and tourist areas such as Oxford Street, Piccadilly and Chancery Lane.
Your conveyancer will carry out a range of searches to check if your prospective home is within 200 metres of any new proposed roads, alterations to existing roads and proposed railways, tramways, light railways and monorails.
Note: Local searches carried out by a solicitor will only be able to uncover schemes that have already received approval, or those which have been formally proposed at council level. With that in mind it may be useful to liaise with prominent members of the community, such as newsagents, milkmen or even local councillors, if possible, to ascertain any rumoured planning applications.
As one of the biggest and most influential cities on the planet, there is constant pressure for London’s transport network to be improved and upgraded to meet 21st Century demands. Bear in mind that the Crossrail scheme, a new high frequency railway connecting London and the South East, is now underway, along with plans for the proposed HS2 line from London Euston, which could affect many boroughs in North West London.
Tree Preservation Orders (TPO)
Your chosen solicitor will also need to check whether there is any Tree Preservation Orders (TPO) on trees in the vicinity of your prospective home. TPO-protected trees cannot be trimmed, pruned or uprooted without prior council approval. It is a criminal offence for anyone to wilfully damage or destroy a tree under a TPO.
Given that London is a densely populated, urban area, many local boroughs place TPO’s on individual trees that are at risk and have a positive visual impact on the general public and in areas where development is proposed.
Details of confirmed and provisional Orders are kept in the local land charges register and in the Department of the Built Environment at the Guildhall. An official search before you purchase a property should reveal the existence of a TPO – or whether the property is located in a conservation area.
There are exceptions where the consent of your borough council to remove a tree under a TPO is not required. It is possible to cut down trees in accordance with one of the Forestry Commission’s grant schemes, or where the Commission has granted a felling licence. It is also permissible to cut down or prune a tree under a TP which presents an urgent and serious safety risk; although written notice of the proposed work must still be made to the local planning authority.
Conservation areas and listed buildings
Another factor your conveyancer will look for in any prospective home is its location in relation to conservation areas and whether it is a listed building. Conservation areas are designed to safeguard areas of special architectural and historic interest and enhance the character and appearance of the surrounding area.
In the City of London borough alone there are 26 conservation areas – including Chancery Lane, Fleet Street and Bishopsgate - each with special planning controls which need to be considered when undertaking development.
Note: Even in more suburban London boroughs there are a number of conservation areas. For instance in Barnet, North London, there are 16 areas of conservation that may affect a prospective property. Similarly in Hackney, conservation areas exist to preserve the historic core of the borough and large areas of Georgian and Victorian housing developments.
London is also home to dozens of historic properties that are listed to preserve their character and appearance. These are classified into three grades:
Grade I – buildings of exceptional national interest. Such as the Palace of Westminster
Grade II* – Important buildings of more than special interest. E.g. Battersea Power station or the Coliseum Theatre
Grade II – buildings of special interest which should be preserved if possible
English Heritage have put together an interactive map of all listed buildings in England, allowing users to input postcodes and see if their prospective new home or neighbouring properties are listed. There are many unexpected entries in a number of residential areas in London. For instance, in Haringey alone there are currently 471 statutory listed buildings.
Listed buildings require permission from local planning authorities before changes can be made to their appearance. It is also up to the property owner to maintain the overall condition of the property, preserving it for future generations.
Residents should also be aware of Chancel repair liability. This ancient medieval law can still affect conveyancing transactions, and is said to affect up to 5,200 parishes across the UK; including London. In these cases home owners will be duty bound to pay for repairs to their local church. It is important your property lawyer gets this checked out as it does not necessarily show up on Title Deeds.
The 1932 Chancel Repair Act gives the courts power to prosecute in the event of a failure to repair the Chancel of a relevant church. However, as from October 13 2013, Chancel repair liability will cease to be an overriding interest under the Land Registration Act 1925, and further protection will be required to enforce liability against those purchasing land after that date.
Subsidence can also be a problem for areas across London, and your conveyancer in London can check the risk of subsidence to your London property, and whether there has been any previous treatment for subsidence. For more advice about subsidence, view our guide to subsidence in London.
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