Leaseholders usually have to pay ground rent to the freeholder. This is an annual charge to essentially ‘rent’ the space in their building (in the case of a block of flats), or the land (in the case of a bungalow). Details of the ground rent should be written into the lease, so always check the terms for reviewing and increasing the ground rent.
It’s normal to pay a service charge on any leasehold flat to pay for things such as maintaining communal areas and buildings insurance. The management organisation will also charge for providing their management services. However, because sheltered housing includes specialist services, such as a scheme manager, a 24-hour alarm system and laundry, service charges are likely to be higher than in a regular flat.
- Service charges might be charged monthly, quarterly or annually.
- Charges vary, depending on the type of property and services included, but they could be anything from £100 to £300, or even in excess of £500 per month for a luxury property.
- Residents are entitled to see a breakdown of what the service charge covers. They are also entitled to challenge any charges that they feel are unfair.
Be warned that fees such as the service charge are ongoing, regardless of whether the property is occupied. So if you had to move into alternative accommodation or were in hospital for a long period, for example, charges would still apply.
There have also been examples of times when the service may change – such as a 24/7 service manager changing to being around only, say, during the day – but the service charge isn’t altered accordingly. You should ask for any changes, whether to the charge or the service, to be sent to you in writing.
Be warned that fees such as the service charge are ongoing, regardless of whether the property is occupied.
Reserve fund/sinking fund
This is a fund to cover any unexpected or future maintenance or work on the property – a new roof, lift repairs or external decoration, for example. Some agents will take money for this out of the service charge, others might charge separately. It might be written into the lease that managing agents can ask for a one-off payment for the sinking fund when you sell the property.
Some managing agents charge a fee when you sell your retirement property or if the main occupant of your home changes; if you sublet the property or another person moves in, for example. These fees can vary hugely – from around 1% to 30% of the sale price, although the majority are only 1% or 2%.
Transfer fees (also called event fees, exit fees and deferred management charges) are often used by retirement housing operators to ensure a constant income. This may then be reinvested back into maintaining and improving the development.
The higher charges of 10%, 20% or even 30% are generally associated with extra care housing where a wider range of additional services are available onsite. By agreeing to this transfer fee the resident may, in return, be able to fix the amount of service charge they pay, have the cost of meals in the restaurant subsidised or pay a reduced amount for any future care that they require. In short, transfer fees can sometimes be used to afford a lifestyle that may otherwise be out of reach.
At the time of writing, the Law Commission has issued a set of recommendations to reform the law. These aim to give greater transparency where a transfer fee is payable upon the sale of a retirement property, and ensure that consumers are provided with clear information about the fees at an early stage in the purchase process.
There are other fees to watch out for. These should be detailed in the lease or tenancy agreement, so make sure that you go through this with a fine-toothed comb and seek legal advice if necessary.
A permission (or administration) fee may be payable if you want to make any changes to the property. This might be structural work or, in some cases, simply swapping a bath for a shower. Fees can be around £40–£50.
When working out the cost of sheltered housing, don’t forget that residents are responsible for bills for their own properties, such as:
- electricity and gas for their own flat
- contents insurance
- Council Tax (unless receiving benefit)
- TV licence – you may qualify for a concessionary Accommodation for residential care (ARC) licence, which costs £7.50 per room, flat or bungalow (over-75s qualify for a free licence)
- help with housework, such as gardening and cleaning.
Find out what these costs are likely to be so that you can factor them into the budget.
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