Property Law in England
The Acquisition Procedure
The procedure for acquiring property is very different from the one we know in France. England has no equivalent to our notarial system. About 95% of sales are made by solicitors (lawyers of customary law practicing the drafting of private documents) and the rest by Licensed Conveyancers (lawyers in real estate law empowered to make sales). Sales are made in the form of a contract and not an act of sale as we have in France and the formalism is much more relaxed. In England, the concept of property is different from that which one knows on the continent.
A distinction must be made between the FREEHOLD ESTATE which corresponds to free and perpetual property and the LEASEHOLD ESTATE which corresponds to free but temporary property.
These two terms describe an important difference in defining ownership in England. They come directly from the history of England. At the time, the King was the sole owner of all the land. The majority of houses are sold in Freehold and the majority of apartments are sold in Leasehold.
The Freehold Estate
There are several types of Freehold but only one is generally applied, the others having fallen into disuse. By definition, this right is supposed to be the most absolute. It corresponds to the ownership of the building and the land on which it is built. Freehold is a perpetual right unlike leasehold. It will only end if there are no more heirs and no will has been contemplated. The property will then return to the Crown. The holder of the Freehold Estate is registered as a landowner in the official state documents.
Since 1993, Leasehold holders can buy the Freehold among themselves, which explains why more and more apartments are acquired with part of the Freehold. If the owner of Freehold wants to sell, he must give the Leasehold holder the choice to buy first.
The Leasehold Estate
It is a method of ownership in England recognized since the law on land ownership "The Law of Property" of 1925. Leasehold is a right inferior to that granted by Freehold and is a right of full property recognized as absolute but granted for a fixed period. The rights of possession enjoyed by the holder of the Leasehold are more limited than those enjoyed by the owner of the property in Freehold.
Three characteristics are essential to define a Leasehole:
- A fixed duration: The maximum duration must be fixed when the Leasehold is granted. A departure date for the lease must also be mentioned. The Leasehold can be fixed term (it is granted for a fixed period) or it can be periodic (it is fixed for a fixed period, for example weekly, monthly, annual ... and is renewable with a fixed notice period. It is this period of notice that defines the duration of the Leasehold). It is possible for a Leasehold owner to sell his right at any time. When acquiring a Leasehold, the remaining term of the lease must be taken into account. If it remains less than 50 years, it will be difficult to find a loan (75 years being the minimum duration to be considered).
- Exclusive property: It is the possibility of excluding anyone from property, including the owner of Freehold.
It is possible for a holder of Leasehold to mortgage his property and rent it (No clause can prohibit the rental).
- An annuity payable: An annuity is generally payable to the holder of the Leasehold. The terms must be established at the time the Leasehold is fixed. Generally the Leaseholder must also pay an annual service to the Freeholder to cover the maintenance and repairs of the building and / or common parts if necessary.
Buying a Property in England
- Procedure and negotiation
The right of property in England is very different from the right of property which one knows in the Latin countries. If you wish to acquire a property across the Channel, you will have to respect an acquisition procedure. After visiting a few properties and then selecting the one you want, you must make an acquisition offer to the owner. As in France, this is generally written and details the conditions of purchase (bank loan, deadlines, special conditions if applicable…). This step will allow you to enter into negotiations with the seller who can accept or refuse your offer.
Warning: unlike France, an offer made to the displayed purchase price does not oblige the seller to accept and bidding is common. In order not to fall into the trap of endless negotiation, we can assist you in this process.
- Bank loan and “Surveyor”
If you are using a bank loan, the lending institution may ask you for an appraisal of the price of the property by an expert. Called "surveyor", this estimate of the value of the property is the responsibility of the purchaser and is most often organized by the lending institution.
- Contract signature
Once these steps have been taken, if the seller and the buyer agree on the conditions of the sale, they can proceed to sign the contract. Upon signing, you will be asked to pay 10% of the amount of the fixed purchase price as a deposit. Finally, it is once the balance is paid that the registration of the act can take place. It takes an average of 8 weeks for all of these steps.
Please note: if you have never bought in England, you must anticipate the transactional, organizational and tax issues of your purchase. We support you in all of these research-related steps up to the signing of the final contract to acquire your future property in London.
Selling a Property in England
- Sales and marketing prices
Before selling your property, it is strongly advised to have it assessed by a real estate agency. The English markets are evolving rapidly and since the announcement of Brexit, prices have undergone large variations. Once this evaluation has been made and the sale price determined, you can call on a professional for marketing. On average, agency fees vary between 1.5% and 3% HT of the sale price of the property (VAT: 20%) and depend on the type of sale mandate. As in France, the commission is due on the final sale of your property and is in addition to the "net seller" price. The real estate agent will take care of all the marketing procedures, take professional photos, distribute your property in the appropriate media, take care of the visits and take care of carrying out the diagnoses (note that you are not not obliged to call on the agency's service to have these diagnoses carried out even if often their negotiated rates are attractive).
In France, the seller has the obligation to have these diagnoses carried out before the property is marketed. In England, these diagnoses are not compulsory for the sale but only when the sales contract is signed. However, it is customary to have these diagnoses carried out (by a "solicitor") for sale, as in France, in order to save time during negotiations.
Advice: Support from a real estate agency when selling your property in London is very important. In addition to guiding you in the sale, she will take care of supporting you in carrying out the mandatory technical and legal procedures. We have been able to develop expertise in the London market. Contact us for more information and to meet a professional selected by Story's.
- Taxation on the sale
Before selling your property, it is important to anticipate the various taxes that may be payable. The question of taxation is central to the realization of your future projects, in England or abroad.
If you sell a property in England as a French tax resident, you will have to pay this tax in England but also a part in France because you will depend on the rules defined in the tax convention signed between France and England. This will define the rules for taxation and non-double taxation. In the case of capital gains tax, France will be able to claim from you an amount of tax corresponding to the difference between what you have to pay in England and what you would have had to pay if the property had been located in France. In other words, the total final amount that you will pay will correspond to the amount of French tax on the capital gain realized.
If you sell real estate in England as an English tax resident, you will be subject to normal English taxes. (see tax page in England)
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