UK Property Guide

UK Property Guide: discover what only the top, expert property lawyer in United Kingdom know about uk property guide

  1. The Conveyancing Process in England & Wales
  2. Initial Agreement
  3. Exchange of Contracts
  4. Completion
  5. Key Advice for Non-resident Investors
  6. Summary UK property Tax Rates
  7. Seven tips if you are looking to invest your money

THE CONVEYANCING PROCESS IN ENGLAND & WALES

In England & Wales the legal and administrative process of transferring property or land from one owner to another is known as conveyancing (NB – the process is different in Scotland and Northern Ireland).
Conveyancing is customarily undertaken by solicitors or licensed conveyancers, regulated professionals who must by law carry adequate professional indemnity insurance to protect their clients. This ensures a high degree of technical competence and means that all parties to the transaction are fully protected (legally and financially).
The conveyancing process broadly comprises three stages as listed below. Typically, it will take on average between 4 to 8 weeks for these 3 stages to be completed; however, in some cases, for example, a ‘cash’ transaction with no related sale or purchase, the whole process can be undertaken in days rather than weeks. Each party to the transaction is responsible for meeting their own legal fees. The selling agent’s commission is usually paid by the seller.

INITIAL AGREEMENT

After a buyer’s offer to purchase a property is accepted, the seller and buyer instruct their own solicitors to represent their interests. This ensures independent representation and avoids a conflict of interest. At this stage an offer to buy is always conditional and is made on a subject to contract basis. This allows the parties enough time, via their lawyers, to agree the finer details of the transaction. Terms and conditions are written into a formal contract of sale, the buyer’s lawyer carries out thorough and detailed searches, enquiries and due diligence on the seller, the property and the legal title. It is also an opportunity for the buyer to make financial and other arrangements, for example, to secure a mortgage offer and, given that English law applies the doctrine of caveat emptor (meaning that the buyer acquires the property with any defects it may have) to commission a survey report of the property.

EXCHANGE OF CONTRACTS

After the preliminary steps of stage 1 have been completed to the buyer’s satisfaction, a completion date is agreed (usually 2-4 weeks later) and the matter proceeds to the next phase, known as exchange of contracts. The sale contract is signed, binding both parties to execute the transaction on an agreed date, the completion date. At this point the buyer typically pays the seller’s solicitor a deposit of 10% of the purchase price and the balance will be paid on completion. This is held in escrow or, by agreement, can be used by the seller to put down a deposit on another property. Between exchange of contracts and completion, final searches will be conducted by the buyer’s lawyers, the transfer deed will be prepared and agreed by the lawyers on both sides and the loan drawn down, if there is a mortgage.

COMPLETION

This is the agreed date upon which the transaction is executed, closed or completed. The seller receives the balance of the purchase monies and the buyer becomes the new owner of the property, free from any loans, charges or encumbrances, receiving the keys and usually the right to move into the property and occupy it with vacant possession. The buyer may choose to buy an investment property subject to an existing tenancy in which case vacant possession is replaced by the right to receive the rents and profits from that date. The buyer’s solicitors then pay the stamp duty land tax due and, on receipt of a certificate of payment from the tax authority, register the buyer’s title at the Land Registry. The transaction is complete.

KEY ADVICE FOR NON-RESIDENT INVESTORS

Whether you are a first-time buyer or a veteran, there are a few key principles that will help you on your way.

Set your goals – always strategize before you buy. Be realistic about your financial circumstances and set clear goals. If your emphasis is going to be on producing income, look at the commercial sector, if it’s capital growth, you are likely to be better served by the residential sector.

Set your financial limits – unless you are buying a property to live in, it’s important to be ruled by your head, not your heart. Affordability and an exit plan are key, and you stand a better chance of making a capital or income return on your investment if you buy well – research the market, shop around, don’t be afraid to walk away. Property investment is a medium to long term strategy, make sure you can afford to fund the holding costs of the property for 7-10 years.

Caveat emptor – let the buyer beware means responsibility for defects – in the property and in the title – can be passed to the buyer. The antidote to this is to ensure that proper due diligence is carried out both physically, by inspection and survey, and procedurally, by the buyer’s lawyer requesting formal disclosure of appropriate information from the seller and by inserting affirmative representations about the condition and suitability of the property in the sale contract.

Structure once, structure well – will you buy the property personally or via an entity such as a partnership, company or trust? There are advantages and pitfalls to each, and the tax authorities will tax each differently. If you make the wrong choice initially, it can cost you thousands in additional taxes. It may be possible to rectify this further down the track it could cost you thousands in transaction costs, stamp duty and capital gains tax. Professional advice at the outset of the buying process is key.

Tax planning – the UK has a complex tax regime and the days when overseas investors had the benefit of favourable tax treatment have gone. UK investors and overseas investors in UK property are now taxed in much the same way and there are even special, as in ‘unfavourable’, rules for overseas investors purchasing real estate above £500,000. Professional advice is essential to navigate the tax maze – stamp duty land tax, ATED, income tax, capital gains tax and inheritance tax are all relevant issues for investors buying comparatively modest properties in the UK. Professional tax advice taken simultaneously with structuring advice is key to maximising your investment.

This can seem daunting, but don’t be deterred. The UK property market has historically been a safe haven for international investor. For the investor who thinks ahead, plans well, takes professional advice at the outset and executes well, the market remains predictable and navigable. Yes, professional advice costs money, but it can also save money.

SUMMARY UK PROPERTY TAX RATES

INDIVIDUAL & STRUCTURED OWNERSHIP (RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY)

Event/OccasionIndividualUK CompanyNon-UK CompanyTrust
AcquisitionSDLT at rates from 0% up to 12% where value exceeds £1.5 million (plus additional 3% where purchaser already owns a residential property)SDLT at 15% (personal use)SDLT at 15% for properties valued at more than £500,000SDLT from 3% up to 15%
OwnershipNo ATED
Income tax on rental income at rates between 20% and 40%
ATED charged at variable rates annually depending on market value of property – from £3,650 p.a. for properties over £500,000 to £232,350 p.a. for properties over £20 million
Corporation tax on rental income at 19%
ATED charged at variable rates annually depending on market value of property – from £3,650 p.a. for properties over £500,000 to £232,350 p.a. for properties over £20 million
Corporation tax on rental income at 19%
No ATED
Income tax on rental income tax at rates between 20% and 40%
Disposal0% if main residence exemption available but otherwise Capital Gains Tax from 18% to 28% (depending on total UK income or capital gains in year of sale)Corporation Tax 19%Corporation Tax 19%0% if main residence exemption available but otherwise Capital Gains Tax of 28%.
DeathInheritance tax at up to 40% for estate above £325,000 (subject to exemptions and reliefs)Inheritance tax at up to 40% on death of individual shareholder for estate above £325,000Inheritance tax at up to 40% on death of individual shareholder for estate above £325,000Inheritance tax at up to 40%

SEVEN TIPS IF YOU ARE LOOKING TO INVEST YOUR MONEY

  1. It’s common sense but still worth saying–do not invest in schemes that are “too good to be true”.
  2. Always get your own independent advice from a law firm or other trusted professional. Be wary of using the adviser the investment company recommends or says you need to use.
  3. Make sure your own adviser looks carefully at the documents. Schemes often promise a lot and look as though they could work in theory – but detail in the small print means they probably won’t in reality.
  4. Do your homework. Research the scheme and look at official sources. Look for warnings or decisions from financial regulators. You can usually find details on their websites. A good example is the Financial Conduct Authority warnings (http://scamsmart.fca.org.uk/warninglist/).
  5. Do not be pushed to get involved quickly- it is very common for the fraudsters to say you have to act urgently. If they say that, you should be very suspicious.
  6. If the proposed investment is in something unusual, ask yourself why. Remember, the suggested asset will be worthless if it is a scam, or if the company managing it is not well run and closes.
  7. Complain if something goes wrong – report your concerns and do not be put off by the investment company or solicitors relying on small print. The documents have to be fair to you.

Related Services

Testimonials for our Property Purchase service
  • Anuradha Oogur, La Manga Del Mar Menor
    Anuradha Oogur, La Manga Del Mar Menor
    Jul 15, 2021

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