Thousands of homeowners will be freed from toxic leasehold contracts in a landmark victory for campaigners.
Housing developer Persimmon has agreed to sell freeholds to leaseholders at a discounted price, while insurance and investment giant Aviva will refund up to 1,000 families whose ground rent bills doubled. Pressure is now piling on other developers that saddled homes with toxic deals and the investment firms that bought freeholds to cash in.
The competition watchdog warned last night that firms could face legal action if they do not rectify the situation. There has been a campaign calling for an end to the scandal of buyers missold homes with onerous costs buried in contracts. It left leaseholders unable to sell homes lumbered with soaring ground rent bills, or forced to pay over the odds for a freehold sold to an investor.
Around 4.5million homeowners do not own the freehold of their property. Some have been unable to sell either because the clauses are unattractive to buyers or because lenders will not grant mortgages on the property. Many buyers claim they were not properly informed about the onerous contracts. Persimmon has now agreed to cap the price of freeholds on its houses at £2,000 - a 47% discount on the £3,750 its homeowners currently pay on average. The builder, which reported a £784million pre-tax profit for last year, will also refund any families who paid more for their freehold and are still in their homes. The pledges, which come after an investigation into unfair practice by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), could help almost 10,000 homeowners and are expected to cost the firm millions.
Aviva, which bought freeholds from developers, has agreed to remove conditions that meant that some ground rents doubled every ten to fifteen years. Charges will be set to what they were at purchase and up to 1,000 homeowners will get a refund.
CMA chief Andrea Coscelli said: 'This is a real win for thousands of leaseholders. For too long people have found themselves trapped in homes they can struggle to sell or been faced with unexpectedly high prices to buy their freehold. But our work isn't done. We now expect other housing developers and investors to follow the lead of Aviva and Persimmon.'
The CMA launched enforcement action against developers Countryside, Taylor Wimpey, Persimmon, and Barret Homes in September last year. The case is still in progress , although the regulator has dropped its misselling probe into Persimmon.
Grandparents have used money tied up in their homes to gift almost £1 million a day to younger family members for house deposits during the stamp duty holiday. Since the tax break started on July 8th last year, 'the bank of Gran and Grandad' has given away £323.9 million using equity release.
An equity release mortgage for the over-55s has no monthly repayments and is paid off by the sale of your house when you die or move into care. According to broker Key, the average size of the deposit gifted is more than £50,000.
Thousands of property sales are at risk of falling through if they are not completed before the imminent stamp duty deadline. Solicitors are working flat out, but buyers are threatening to pull out as the window closes.
It is feared that four in ten sales agreed before April 1st will not complete by June 30th, leaving more than 160,000 buyers missing out on tax savings of up to £15,000, warns property data firm TwentyCi. The stamp duty holiday applies to properties worth up to £500,000. The knock on effect could cause thousands of property chains to collapse, causing even more buyers to lose their dream homes.
During the first lockdown, some law firms made entire conveyancing teams redundant. when the market bounced back more quickly than expected, many struggled to rehire and now run on skeleton staff - who are often still working from home.
Solicitors have described the market as frantic, with worried buyers throwing tantrums ahead of the deadline. Panicked sellers are moving to rented properties so their buyers do not pull out. Buyers are also struggling to find removal firms, with many fully booked.
The stamp duty holiday was introduced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak last July to kickstart the market after it was frozen at the start of the pandemic. along with pent-up demand and a desire to upsize after lockdown, it has led to record prices. More than 300,000 deals were tipped to miss the original stamp duty deadline of March 31st, TwentyCi said. But the Government extended the holiday until the end of June. The stamp duty-free threshold then drops to £250,000 until September 30th. While the extension gave breathing space to those at risk of missing the first deadline, it also opened up the floodgates to a wave of new buyers.
All residential properties are given an EPC rating between A and G when they are built, sold or rented. Yet just 2 per cent of homes meet the top A and B grades, while around 85 per cent are either C or D, according to the latest English Housing Survey. Around 13 per cent - some 14.6 million - are rated E, F or G. The very lowest ratings, according to energy assessor Kevin Bolton, are given to homes that usually have archaic heating systems, such as coal fires.
The grading assessment must be done by an accredited assessor. Someone will visit your home and collect information about the property, such as size, age and features including walls, windows, lighting and the roof. These details are then run through a computer system that helps them provide a final score. Each part of the property is assessed as either very good, good, average, poor or very poor and given points.
Recommended energy - saving measures such as insulation and double glazing will boost your score - up to a maximum of 100. If your property scores 92 or more it will be given an energy rating of A. Between 81 and 91 is a B, while a score of 20 or lower is rated G.
The EPC, valid for 10 years, also estimates how much you will pay for your energy, and includes the carbon emissions produced by your home, along with recommendations on measures you can take to improve and the costs. But the rating system risks penalising those with older houses who have limited options when making their homes more energy efficient, experts warn.
Assessor Mr Bolton says the EPC is a 'blunt instrument'. He adds: 'Properties in the UK are very diverse and unfortunately the system uses a one - size - fits - all approach. The recommendations may not be suitable for your home because it does not take into account the age of the property, or the materials used to build it.
The methodology of the EPC has also not been updated since 2012, according to Martyn Reed, from Elmhurst Energy, which runs the accreditation scheme for assessors. However, he says improvements to the quality of calculations and recommendations may be introduced next year.
More than 700,000 home sales across Britain are nearing completion, marking the biggest "conveyancing log jam" in more than a decade.
Around 704,000 sales are going through the process as the stamp duty holiday deadline looms, said estate agents Rightmove. Some sellers may need to brace themselves for buyers trying to renegotiate the price if they miss the deadline.
The stamp duty deadline was extended in the March budget and, once the June 30th deadline passes, a new tapered rate will come into force and run from July to the end of September.