The first aspects of a property to be considered by the layman are usually the location, the appearance and the physical condition. Where it is, what it looks like, its accommodation, services and condition are all important factors when considering value, but for the valuer the most important initial considerations are legal. This is because it is the legal title to property with all its encumbrances that is bought and sold. ‘Every man’s home is his castle’summarises most people’s aspirations for home ownership, to own something which is theirs and which is defensible against all-comers. In practice, the main line of defence is title; if the title is in any way limited, then solid walls may not prove to be the best defence.
In England and Wales the titles to be valued will either be freehold or leasehold, but it is also possible to own no more than an interest for life in a particular parcel of land.
The legal term for a freehold interest is fee simple absolute in possession. This just means that the whole estate, or any part of the estate can be transferred by the freeholder at any time, either during the owner’s lifetime or on their death by will or under the rules of intestacy.
A freeholder has the right to occupy and use the land, create lesser interests out of it such as long leases, periodic tenancies and life interests. In theory the Crown owns all of the land so a freehold interest is the closest that a person can come to absolute ownership of land. This is illustrated by the fact that if a freeholder dies without making a will and without any living relatives to inherit the land, then the title will revert to the Crown.
Although the freeholder has in theory absolute rights over the land, this ownership is secondary to other common law and statutory rights.
Civil and military aircraft can enter the airspace over a land, subject to limitations.
All gold, silver and coal belongs to the Crown who grant licences for the excavation of such minerals. Items of historic interest that are found on land may also belong to the Crown, but compensation can be paid to the owner of the land on which the items are discovered.
Ponds and lakes that fall within the boundary can be owned, but control and use of larger water bodies is strictly regulated. Ownership of river frontages may or may not include fishing rights and the riparian rights of others must be respected. Two other title restrictions require special mention.
First, on transfer of title it is possible for an owner to impose on a purchaser specific restrictions known as restrictive covenants. From a valuation viewpoint the most important are those covenants that restrict the use: development may be restricted to a specific number of houses, occupation restricted to family occupation, use may be restricted to public open space, and there may be restrictions on parking of caravans. These restrictions may remain enforceable for many years, but the right to enforce may be lost if the person enjoying the benefit of that covenant has permitted breaches to occur.
In other cases it may be necessary to apply to the Lands Tribunal under the Law of Property Act 1925 for the restrictions to be modified or discharged. Clearly such restrictions may hold values up where they help to maintain an environment, but they may also depress values where they prevent the land being used to its highest and best use in today’s market. Thus land suitable for building 10 houses may be restricted to one house by a covenant created in the 19th century.
Second, it was possible for a freehold title to be made subject to a rent charge. This entitled a party with no legal interest in the land to receive an annual payment. The Rent Charges Act 1977 prohibits the creation of new rent charges and contains provisions for the gradual extinguishment or voluntary redemption of such charges as currently exist (see Appendix IA). Rent charges will cease to exist from July 2037.
A freeholder is subject to the general laws of the land when it comes to determining what he can do with his land. There aver various acts that determine use of the land, such as the Town and Country Planning Acts, Environmental Protection Acts and the Building Regulations.
The police may also override the freeholder’s legal position to enter the property to enforce the law.
Freehold property also includes improvements to the land such as buildings and those things so attached to the land that they are held to be fixtures and so part of the land. The distinction between personal property that is movable and personal property which has been so attached to the land as to become a fixture is often very fine and has given rise to a branch of law known as the law of fixtures. In the residential market it has become the custom for questionable items to be listed as being included or excluded from the sale. The valuer will take the obvious fixtures into account in a valuation as they may add to the value of the property. Clearly an item such as a central heating boiler is a fixture, but it is less certain whether a built-in hob and oven in a kitchen will be classed as a fixture. When in doubt the valuer should make it clear in a valuation report which items have been included in the valuation of the property.
Until the passing of the Leasehold Reform Act in 1967 it was quite common practice for residential property to be sold on a leasehold basis and in the case of blocks of flats, house conversions, sheltered housing or whenever property management may be a major issue it is still common practice to sell on a leasehold basis with a share in a specifically created management company which owns the freehold.
In September 2004 a new form of land tenure was introduced. It is called commonhold and it is a way of owning freehold land. It is intended to be an alternative to the leasehold system for multi-owned, interdependent properties with common parts. Its most obvious application is to blocks of flats and apartments, but it could be used for developments of houses or mixed use buildings where there are communal areas. A commonhold association must be formed as a private company limited by guarantee. This owns the common parts and all individual unit owners are members of the association and so they can control those common parts. The individual unit owners will own the freehold of their unit.
A leasehold estate in property will be for a definite term. This is an important value factor.
Traditionally such leases in residential property have been for terms of 99 years or 999 years. But in addition to the covenant to pay rent there may be covenants to repair, insure, pay local taxes, to clean, to maintain grounds and gardens or to meet some or all such costs through a service charge levied by the landlord. In most instances these covenants impose a contractual requirement on the leaseholder to undertake everything that one would expect from a reasonable freehold owner of residential property. However, a freeholder has a choice of whether or not to paint the property, to clean the windows and to maintain the garden; the leaseholder will not necessarily have that choice. Further, the leaseholder may be specifically restricted in terms of the use and enjoyment of the property. There may be covenants about music after 11.30 pm, about hanging out clothes to dry, about erecting TV and radio aerials and satellite dishes and a requirement to obtain the freeholder’s consent for all alterations and for any sale (assignment) or further sub-leasing of the property. A licence fee may have to be paid to the freeholder whenever the freeholder’s consent is required under the terms of the lease.
A valuer when instructed to prepare a valuation must be satisfied by inspection and enquiry as to the nature of the title to be valued and any restrictions or other encumbrances that attach to the title. However, because of the time-limits imposed upon the valuer by many clients, valuations are often prepared on the basis of an unencumbered freehold or on the basis of minimum information relating to a lease. A valuer is valuing on the basis of information supplied and will naturally reserve the right to review that valuation if that information is subsequently found to be incorrect. Nevertheless valuers are trained to observe and should therefore account for the obvious, such as signposted public footpaths, unmade and un-adopted roads, shared driveways and shared areas in blocks of flats.