When buying a home, you’re likely to hear a lot of opinions on whether it’s better to buy a house or a flat.
There’s no right or wrong answer - it all comes down to what’s best for you in your circumstances. Whether you’re a First Time Buyer, retiring and downsizing, or just moving somewhere new, it’s important to assess the pros and cons of a house vs a flat.
We’ve broken down the key areas where the two kinds of living differ to help you decide what’s most suitable for you.
The most obvious thing you’re going to think about when buying is how much the property costs. Property prices will vary depending on the area you’re buying, but if you’re looking at flats and houses in the same area, it’s likely that a flat is going to be the cheaper option. Cheaper flats are therefore a good idea, particularly for First Time Buyers as they require a smaller deposit, making it easier to get on the property ladder.
However, the thing to be aware of with property prices is, when we say they vary by area, this does not mean simply city to city. There can be subtle, or even drastic differences in house prices even street to street. So, you may find in some places that a nice one-bed flat costs slightly more than a three-bed house a few roads away, for example if its a newer build or its closer to a school. This is why it’s important to do plenty of research on the properties available in the area you want to move to.
One of the major factors choosing between a house or a flat comes down to is what is available in your area. This really is a game of volume. Because flats are smaller and are built in blocks on one plot of land, it’s very likely that there are going to be more flats available to you in your price range than there are houses.
So, depending on how soon you want to move, you’re probably going to have more choice between the flats that are available to you as opposed to houses. If you really want to consider a house, you may have to wait until something you like comes on the market.
Freehold vs leasehold
An important thing to consider when buying is whether you would prefer to own a freehold or a leasehold property. In most cases, flats tend to be leasehold, as someone else owns the apartment building. On the other hand, houses tend to be freehold as you are purchasing the house along with the land it sits on. However, there are rare outliers to this trend, so make sure you are clear on the status of any property you are looking at.
Both come with pros and cons, for example leasehold properties come with extra cost for communal areas and less control, but they tend to be cheaper to buy and come with fewer responsibilities towards the upkeep of the property. Find out more about the difference between freehold and leasehold properties to help you decide what is right for you.
Fees & maintenance
Wherever you move to, you’re going to have monthly bills (gas, electric etc) to keep up with, as well as your mortgage. But fees and payments may work a bit differently depending on if you’re in a house or a flat.
Some fees are unique to living in an apartment building, such as ground rent and services charges that help maintain the building and any facilities within it. However, this does mean that you will have less responsibility to organise repairs and maintenance, for example fixing the lift or replacing broken tiles, as it will be the responsibility of the freeholder.
If you own a house, any repairs or issues are solely your responsibility to deal with. So whilst your monthly costs may be lower, you might be faced with a bigger pay out down the line (as well as the added responsibility).
Privacy & Security
One of the main reasons people often gravitate towards buying a house is space. You’re not going to have anyone living above or below you, and you may not share walls with neighbours either side depending on where you buy. If you want this level privacy, then a house is ideal.
However, the upside of living around so many people in a flat is that there is likely to be more security in place, such as gates, coded doors and alarms, as the freeholder will be trying to look after a whole load of people. Whereas staying safe will be your own responsibility in your house.
Space & Facilities
As well as having your privacy, The square footage you get from owning a house is usually superior. Often you get outside space and more bedrooms.
Flats are generally more compact and have fewer rooms, but many apartment buildings counteract this lack of space through communal spaces for residents. This could be a courtyard or a terrace garden, and some places will even have resident facilities such as pools and gyms available. These kinds of things aren’t guaranteed (and could make the flat more expensive) so have a look at what the flats in your area offer.
Freedom to design
One of the reasons many people want to become homeowners is to live in a space that is all their own, and a big part of this is being able to design and renovate your home. A house is likely to give you more possibilities for interior design modifications as you have more freedom to do building work on the property. You can get an extension, knock down walls, replace the windows, because it’s your building, and you own it. Whereas with a flat you are limited to just the painting and decorating side of things.
When buying any home, it’s key to think about how long you want to live there. Are you buying your forever home, or just somewhere to get on the property ladder and sell in a couple of years?
Because houses are freehold and are generally more expensive (meaning a bigger mortgage to pay off) they are most suitable for staying put for longer. We would suggest they are at the very least a 5 year commitment. The ability to adapt and enhance the property how you like also makes them ideal for staying longer as you can adapt as your life changes.
Although you may be happy staying in a flat for a long time, the lack of space and flexibility can be easy to outgrow. Their future value may also be affected by how long the leasehold agreement has left, as people will be less likely to want to buy a flat nearing the end of the agreement, increasing the urgency to sell. Flats tend to be ideal for selling or renting out in order to get money to upsize into a bigger home in a few years.
Time of life
It’s easy to believe a house is preferential in most circumstances, but in many cases a ground floor flat with garden space can be just as good. For elderly owners who require fewer stairs, having a home all one level is an advantage. Similarly, for people with accessibility issues or ill health, ground floor flats are ideal.
For busy professionals, a small flat can be easier to clean and keep tidy, as well as being more affordable. However, for those planning to start a family, they might want to consider whether there’s a lift, where they would leave a pushchair, or whether they need more space.
In most instances, a flat or a house can work well, but it’s really down to what you need at the time when you’re buying – just don’t forget to plan for the future too.