frequently asked qestions

Everything you need to know about property and mortgage.

I've found a property I love. What do I do now?

It is advisable to apply for a Decision in Principle from a mortgage lender and find a solicitor before you make an offer. Oakland Estate Agents can help you with both of these services. Just contact your local branch for more information.

What Help to Buy Schemes are there?

There were recently two Help to Buy Equity Loan schemes available in England but the one launched in 2013 has since closed (on 28 February 2021). There remains, however, the newer Help to Buy Equity Loan (2021-2023) scheme for first time buyers only, which launched in December 2020, for purchases from April 2021, and will run until March 2023.

It is a government backed mortgage scheme which offers the chance to purchase a new home with as little as a 5% deposit.

Do I need a survey?

Your mortgage lender will arrange a mortgage valuation that you will have to pay for in order to secure a mortgage. A mortgage valuation merely confirms with the lender that the property is worth what you are being loaned and will not give details on the condition of the property.

We recommend that you arrange your own survey whenever you purchase a property. It allows you to see the current condition of the property, reducing the chance of nasty surprises further down the line. There are three main types of surveys with varying costs.

How to make an appointment for evaluation?

Contact us to discuss this and make an appointment.

How long will it take to complete my purchase?

Every purchase is different, and your position and the seller’s position need to be taken into consideration before this question can be answered accurately. If the seller has already vacated the property and you have already secured a mortgage, exchange of contracts and completion can happen relatively quickly. 

However, if you need a mortgage and the seller is still in the property, the exchange of contracts normally takes between 4 and 6 weeks, the completion takes between 2 and 4 weeks. So, in total you should expect up to 10 weeks to complete the purchase. Please note that in Scotland conclusion of missives normally takes between 6 and 8 weeks.

How much will conveyancing cost?

‘Conveyancing’ sounds like boring legal stuff, but it’s everything that needs to happen to make the property officially yours. It can be a confusing process and you need a solicitor to make it happen. Contact your local branch to receive an accurate quote for how much this will cost.

How much will stamp duty cost?

From 1st July 2021, if your property costs more than £250,000 then you will have to pay Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT), unless you are a first-time buyer which means you don't have to pay any SDLT on a property up to £300,000. The amount you pay does depend on the value of your property as it is worked out on a percentage of your purchase price.

In Scotland it is slightly different, the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax Rate applies.

When do I need to pay the deposit?

The deposit is paid to the seller’s solicitor, usually upon exchange of contracts. This is not applicable in Scotland.

When will my mortgage lender release the funds?

The mortgage will be requested from the lender by your solicitor. It usually takes around 4-5 working days for the lender to release the money being loaned. Your solicitor will take this time into account when advising you of the earliest possible completion date.

When do I need to arrange insurance?

We recommend organising home and contents insurance shortly before you sign the contract. Don’t forget, you need all relevant insurance policies to begin from the exchange of contract date.

You should also consider organising mortgage protection so that your family isn’t pressured to meet your mortgage payments in the worst-case scenario of illness or death. This should be arranged when you complete you mortgage application.

When do I sign the contract?

After the sale is agreed, the seller’s solicitor will draft a contract. Your solicitor will confirm the details of the property and perform searches. At the same time, your mortgage lender will need to conduct a mortgage valuation and send you a mortgage offer. Once all of this is complete, you will be ready to sign. Please note this is different in Scotland.

When is the buyer or seller bound to the sale or purchase?

Until both solicitors receive signed contracts from the seller and the buyer, either party can pull out at any time and for any reason without cost or penalty until the contracts are exchanged. Please note this is different in Scotland, refer to the Scottish buying process.

How is a completion date chosen?

Once both parties have signed the contracts then your solicitor and the seller’s solicitor will consult both parties and agree a completion date. If you require a mortgage then after the contracts are signed, the mortgage will be requested from the lender by your solicitor. The mortgage lender will let your solicitor know when the funds will be released, then your solicitor and the seller’s solicitor will consult both parties and agree a completion date. Please note this is different in Scotland, refer to the Scottish buying process.

How and when do I get the keys?

Once the seller's solicitor has confirmed receipt of funds to confirm the transaction has completed, the estate agent will be able to confirm where and when you may collect the keys. Please note this is different in Scotland, refer to the Scottish buying process.

What happens to my title deeds?

Even after you’ve received the keys to your property, there is still a significant amount of work to be carried out by your solicitor. The title deeds of your property will remain with your solicitor for some months before finally being sent to your Lender for storage. They will hold the deeds until such time as you repay in full the mortgage you have with them.

What will the seller leave in the property?

A list of fixtures and fittings will be agreed between the solicitors prior to the contract being signed. This sets out what they intend to remove and what they are prepared to include in the house price. In some instances, they may offer items for sale for the purchaser to consider, and some contents can be offered for inclusion as part of the negotiation of the purchase price.

I want to sell a property. What do I do first?

First of all, you need to receive a valuation to find out how much your home is worth. We recommend asking at least three different estate agents to value your home. Ask them about the services they offer, the current state of the local market, and the purchase price you can hope you achieve. Make and plan and how this sits with your priorities and timescales. For more help, Contact us.

How much will it cost to sell my property?

There are three main costs involved in selling a property:

  • Estate Agent Fees

    Estate Agent Fees will either be a percentage of the purchase price, or a fixed fee. When estate agents visit to value your home, make sure they outline their fees so you can take these into account.

  • Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)

    You are legally required to provide an EPC when you market your property for sale. This outlines the energy efficiency rating of your property. Your Move can organise this for you. Contact your local branch for a quote for how much this will cost. In Scotland you will need a Home Report which includes an EPC.

  • Conveyancing

    ‘Conveyancing’ means the legal transfer of your property to the buyer, and you will need to employ a solicitor to make this happen. Prices will vary depending on your circumstances. Your Move can introduce you to a solicitor and offer a no sale no fee conveyancing service with a guaranteed fixed price to keep everything easy. Contact your local branch to receive an accurate quote for how much this will cost.

    • You may also decide to pay for extras such as professional photography or advanced web positioning. And don’t forget about removals. Ask your agent to outline all these costs at the start of your sale so that you can budget your move.

Do I need to conduct viewings?

Your estate agent should accompany all viewings, but you may decide that you’d like to be present. It’s really up to you.

Will there be more viewings once I've accepted an offer?

This partly depends on the conditions of the offer. Remember, neither the buyer or the seller is bound to the purchase or sale until the contracts are signed and exchanged (in Scotland at conclusion of missives), so it’s worth keeping your options open.

How long will it take to complete my sale?

Every sale is different. Both your position and the buyer’s position needs to be taken into account before this question can be answered accurately. If your home has been realistically valued, you should expect to receive offers within the first four weeks.

Then, assuming your buyer has to apply for their mortgage, the exchange of contracts normally takes between 4 and 6 weeks and then completion is between 2 and 4 weeks later. So, in total you should expect 12-14 weeks to complete the sale. Please note that in Scotland conclusion of missives normally takes between 6 and 8 weeks.

Do I need an EPC?

In England, all sellers are required to purchase an EPC for a property before they sell it. Estate agents must display the EPC rating whenever they market the property.

In Scotland, the seller is required to purchase a Home Report, which is a more complete report detailing the condition of the property. An EPC is included in this report.

What is conveyancing?

‘Conveyancing’ is everything that needs to happen to legally transfer your home to the buyer. You will need a solicitor to make it happen. Your Move can introduce you to a solicitor. It’s a no sale no fee conveyancing service offered at a fixed price so you know where you stand.

Do I have to pay Stamp Duty?

No. The buyer is responsible for paying Stamp Duty.

Will my property be surveyed?

In England you do not need to arrange a survey, but it is likely that the buyer will, and so a surveyor will arrange an appointment to visit you home. The five key things a surveyor will be looking for are problems with utilities, damp, cracking, problems with roofs, and timber defects. In addition, your buyer’s mortgage lender will organise a mortgage valuation to confirm that the property is worth the money being lent.

In Scotland you must organise a Home Report for your property. A Home Report is a pack of three documents that give buyers a clear picture of the condition of the property for sale: the Single Survey which details the condition of the property; the Energy Report which gives the property an energy efficiency rating; and the Property Questionnaire which outlines other key information such as the property’s council tax band.

What are searches?

As part of the conveyancing process, your buyer’s solicitor will perform searches of Land Registry and Local Authority information in relation to your home. They will be checking for planning history, and any potential developments around roads, drainage and mining near the property.

When do I sign the contract?

Once the sale has been agreed, your solicitor will draft a contract. The seller’s solicitor will confirm the details of the property and perform searches. At the same time, the buyer’s mortgage lender will conduct a mortgage valuation and send a mortgage offer to the buyer. When all of this is complete, you will be ready to sign the contract and agree the completion date.

When is the buyer or seller bound to the sale or purchase?

The seller or the buyer can pull out of the sale at any time and for any reason until the point that both solicitors have received signed contracts from both parties.

How is a completion date chosen?

When both contracts have been signed, the buyer’s solicitor will request the mortgage from the buyer’s lender. Once these funds are released, then your solicitor and the buyer’s solicitor will consult both parties and agree a completion date.

Where are my title deeds?

Your title deeds give proof of ownership of the property and will need to be transferred to the buyer as part of the conveyancing process. These are usually held by your mortgage lender, and it will be your solicitor’s responsibility to obtain these.

What do I have to leave in the property?

You are not required to leave any furniture or furnishings in the property, but you may agree to include some as part of the negotiations of the sale.

When do I have to move out?

The contract will specify the completion day, and usually the buyer will be asked to collect the keys to their new home from the estate agent. In most cases the seller is asked to vacate the property by 12pm.

Do I have to pay Capital Gains Tax?

In most cases you are only required to pay Capital Gains Tax if the property is not your main home.

How does Remortgaging work?

Remortgaging can save you hundreds of pounds. But there are a lot of things you need to be aware of to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

Why should I remortgage?

When you first took out your mortgage, you might have signed up for a really good deal. But over time, the mortgage market changes, and new deals become available. This means there might be a better deal available for you now, which could save you hundreds of pounds.

You won’t necessarily have to change lender.

Remember to check if there are any arrangement or product fees on any new mortgages you’re looking at, and if you’re ending your mortgage deal early, any early repayment charges from your existing lender.

These fees can add to the cost of remortgaging and might make remortgaging more expensive than staying on your current deal.

When should I remortgage?

You can remortgage at any time. But if you’re not at the end of your fixed rate term, you might have to pay an early repayment charge. Most people remortgage when they get to the end of their fixed rate term as this is when your mortgage might stop being a good deal.

Why it pays to switch and when it doesn’t

So, how can you work out if remortgaging really is getting you a better deal?

In the examples below you can see the different amounts you would pay in total, over the fixed period, per month and in interest, depending on if you stuck with your original deal or moved to one of the two remortgaging options.

Both option 1 and option 2 save you money compared with sticking on your original deal. However, the arrangement fee on option 2 makes it more expensive than option 1.

Remortgaging examples

Mortgage loan amount Staying on current deal £175,000 Option 1 £175,000 Option 2 £175,000
Term of loan 20 years 20 years 20 years
Interest during fixed period 5% 3% 3%
Arrangement or product fees 0 0 £2,000 arrangement fee added to mortgage
Total cost of mortgage over 20-year term £291,196 £271,719 £274,824
Total interest charged over 20-year term £116,196 £96,719 £97,824
Total monthly payment £1,155 £971 £982
Cost of mortgage over five-year fixed period including interest £69,295 £58,233 £58,898

If you change your mortgage before the end of your deal you might have to pay a fee (called an ‘early repayment charge’).

The total cost for credit is based on any mortgage related fees being paid upfront and not added to the mortgage. Mortgage-related costs can vary between providers and make your repayments bigger if you add them to the loan. The cost over the deal period is based on the initial rate remaining the same over that time and assumes that it will be reverted to the lenders standard reversion rate or SVR of 6%. The calculator is for a repayment mortgage where interest is calculated monthly. The results apply to daily interest where only one payment is made per month. Figures quoted have been rounded.

Check the costs
  • Comparison websites won’t all give you the same results, so make sure you use more than one site before deciding.
  • t's also important to do some research into the type of product and features you need before making a purchase or changing supplier.
Get advice

Taking advice from a qualified expert offers you extra protection because if the mortgage turns out to be unsuitable, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS). If you choose to go down the ‘execution-only’ route (where you make decisions on your own without advice), there will be fewer circumstances where you can complain to FOS.

Do I have to get a special 'buy-to-let' mortgage?

A typical 'ordinary' mortgage will include clauses which prohibit you from letting out the property, or require you to get the lender's permission before doing so. If you let the property without informing the lender, then you are in breach of the terms of the mortgage.

In these circumstances, the lender could take action against you. For example, the lender might demand immediate repayment of the mortgage. If you cannot repay the mortgage, the lender will normally be entitled to take possession of the property and sell it.

So, investigate available 'buy-to-let' mortgages, designed specifically for buy-to-let investments. But be prepared to comply with some rigorous conditions. For example, that you can only apply for a 75% mortgage if you are over 25, your annual income (apart from your rental income) is at least £35,000 and this is not your first mortgage. As with any mortgage you should shop around and, if in doubt, take advice from a trusted adviser.

Will I need to make alterations to a buy-to-let property?

Legally, there are a number of obligations in relation to:

  • gas appliances
  • electrical equipment
  • furniture and furnishings
  • energy information
  • repairs and general condition

Separately, you may want to make alterations for commercial reasons: for example, modifying the property to meet your target tenants' requirements, or upgrading the property to increase the likely rental you will be able to charge.

What do I have to do about gas appliances in a buy-to-let?

You are legally required to have all gas appliances, whether fixed or mobile, and ventilation (such as flues) checked every 12 months to make sure they are safe. If you employ a managing agent to manage your property for you and they have said they will organise this, make sure they do. You are still legally responsible for making sure these checks are carried out.

The work must be carried out by a Gas Safe registered engineer. You can check they are registered by going to the Gas Safe Register website or calling the Gas Safe Register on 0800 408 5500. The engineer should be able to show you a current id card, which includes information on the work they are authorised to undertake.

The engineer should give you a landlord's annual safety certificate. You need to give a copy to the tenant within 28 days after the check is carried out, and to any new tenants before they move in.

You should also ensure that tenants have all the information they need: for example, instruction manuals for appliances.

Be aware that there are restrictions on the use of gas appliances, such as heaters, in any room used as a bedroom. If there are gas appliances in any bedroom, you should consider replacing them, or take advice to check that they are allowed.

You also have to provide a free copy of an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) on the property to every new tenant and prospective tenants when they first view the property. You will need to commission an inspection of the property by a registered energy assessor, who checks the age, layout, construction, insulation, heating, lighting and other energy-related facilities of the property. You can find an EPC assessor through the Energy Performance of Buildings Register.

The EPC gives your property an energy efficiency rating (based on how much the property costs to run) and an environmental impact rating (based on the amount of carbon dioxide the property releases into the atmosphere). The ratings run from A to G in each case.

An EPC may include recommendations for improving the property, eg by insulating it, but you do not have to implement them. However, you are no longer allowed to let a property unless it has at least an 'E' rating. Your tenant will also see the EPC and may ask you to act.

An EPC usually costs somewhere between £35 and £100, dependent on the size, value and location of your property and, of course, the supplier, so shop around. It is valid for ten years, no matter how many different tenants you have in that period.

If you own multiple, similar properties, there are special rules that allow you to commission just one EPC that covers them all. You will need advice on the options available.

What do I have to do about electrical equipment in a buy-to-let?

You are responsible for the safety of electrical equipment, though the regulations do not specify precisely what you need to do.

Broadly speaking, you are required to take reasonable steps to ensure safety. This might include:

  • ensuring that any appliances you purchase are in good condition (for example, by purchasing new appliances from reputable suppliers)
  • having the electrical installation (eg wiring) reviewed by a qualified electrician
  • ensuring that all appliances have the correct fuses installed
  • periodically (eg annually) inspecting electrical appliances for any signs of wear and tear or problems (eg worn cables, or signs of scorching)
  • periodically having all electrical equipment inspected by a qualified electrician
  • providing appropriate instructions and safety information to the tenants

You should keep a record of all your safety measures.

What do I have to do about furniture and furnishings in a buy-to-let?

You are legally required to ensure that certain items of furniture are fire resistant. The regulations apply to upholstered furniture (such as sofas and beds), children's or nursery furniture, and garden furniture for indoor use. Antique furniture is not covered by the regulations.

Typically, new furniture that is fire resistant will carry a display label stating that it meets the 1988 safety regulations, and a permanent label giving details. (Beds and bed bases may instead say that they meet the British Standard BS7177.)

More broadly, you must take steps to ensure that any furniture, furnishings or equipment you supply are safe. You must also provide information on any risks which are not obvious.

What checks should I make on prospective tenants when letting a property?

You can ask a prospective tenant to provide references from their previous landlord, a reference from their employer, and a bank reference. You should also run a credit check on them.

Under the "right to rent" rules, landlords are obliged to check their new tenant or lodger's immigration status to make sure they are legally allowed to rent property in England (the rules do not apply in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland). If you are found to be letting property to someone not allowed to stay in England you may face a fine of up to £1,000 the first time, increasing to £3,000 if caught again.

Ask prospective tenants for their proof of residency in England and make copies (write the date on the copy) of the relevant pages. This can be a valid passport or identity card from a European Economic Area (EEA) country, a passport with a visa showing a right to rent in the UK, an asylum seeker identity card endorsed with a right to rent, or two documents from a list of other options for those who do not have passports. If the prospective tenant's residency is only valid for a limited time, you must make a note of the date it expires and check again. You can read a full list of the documents and more information about the "right to rent" rules on the GOV.UK website.

If you are letting to a company, you should check the company's details with Companies House. You should also run a credit check on the company.

Unfortunately, these checks will not guarantee that you get a good tenant. You will also need to keep an eye on the tenant, and be ready to take action if the tenant fails to make payments or causes any other problems. Making sure you have the right; written agreement will help if there are any problems.

What sort of legal agreement should I use with the tenant for my buy-to-let?

In most cases, the most appropriate form of agreement is an assured shorthold tenancy. The key advantage of this form of agreement is that it allows you to regain possession of the property at the end of the term. Shorthold tenancies run for a fixed period of between six months and three years. An agreement can also contain a break clause allowing the landlord or the tenant (or either of them) to terminate the agreement early.

An assured shorthold tenancy agreement is not appropriate in some circumstances: for example, a holiday letting, a long-term letting (over three years), a high rental letting (over £100,000 per annum), a business letting, or if the landlord will live in the same building. Your lawyer can advise you.

If you are letting to several tenants, you should also ensure that the tenancy agreement makes them jointly and severally liable for the rent and for any damage they may cause. That means that if any of them leave and/or cannot be traced, you can take action against those left, or that you can find, for the whole amount.

Whatever the circumstances, a written agreement is essential. Without a written agreement, you may have great difficulty evicting the tenants or enforcing your rights if the tenants fail to fulfil their obligations.

How should I handle the tenant's deposit?

If you let premises using an assured shorthold tenancy you are legally required to protect any deposit using a tenancy deposit scheme. You are also required to provide the tenant with information relating to the deposit within 14 days.

The Government has authorised three schemes:

  • Deposit Protection Service - any landlord can use this service to hold a deposit in a bank account. When the tenancy ends, the money is returned to the person entitled to it. There is no charge to the landlord or tenant for using this scheme.
  • MyDeposits - this is an insurance-based scheme that can only be used by members of approved trade associations. Under this scheme the landlord or agent holds the deposit, but pays a fee that funds an insurance scheme. If there is a wrongful failure to repay the deposit, the insurance pays it back. Tenants pay nothing.
  • Tenancy Deposit Scheme - this is another insurance-based scheme that operates in the same way as MyDeposits.

If landlords fail to comply, they lose their right to recover possession of the property simply by giving notice to the tenant - which is usually the reason they granted an assured shorthold tenancy - and are liable to pay a fine of three times the amount of the deposit.

There have been court decisions that say you can make a late payment into a scheme and avoid the penalty if there is a dispute with a tenant, provided you do so before the matter gets to court. However, take specialist legal advice if there is a dispute and you have not complied, to make sure your position is safeguarded.

Should I use a managing agent when letting my property and what are the key issues to look out for?

Letting residential premises typically involves a whole range of activities and responsibilities:

  • finding a suitable tenant
  • doing background checks on prospective tenants (including "right to rent")
  • preparing an appropriate tenancy agreement
  • preparing an inventory of contents
  • insuring and maintaining the property (and any common parts such as hallways in a building with multiple occupancy)
  • providing any services agreed
  • ensuring that tenants are up to date with their rental payments
  • making sure that tenants do not breach the terms of the rental agreement
  • dealing with tenants' complaints and problems
  • dealing with termination of the rental

Many landlords choose to manage as much as possible of this themselves. However, the practicalities of dealing with tenants can be quite onerous, particularly if you do not live locally.

A managing agent will typically charge 10-15% of the rental income to manage the premises. It is important to ensure that you have a clear written agreement stating what the agent's responsibilities are. Some agents charge a percentage for basic specified duties, but add on extra charges, e.g., for having to make more than three site visits in a 12-month period. Be sure you are clear what your total liabilities could be in a worst-case scenario, e.g., if a problem at the property requires many site visits. You should also satisfy yourself that the agent will carry out their responsibilities properly.

What repairs am I required to make to my buy-to-let?

You are legally obliged to maintain the property, and to ensure that it is of an acceptable standard for human habitation. This will include maintaining the structure and exterior of the building, water, electricity and gas installations, and plumbing fittings (such as baths and toilets).

The rules on the expenses you can claim have changed. If you rent out an unfurnished, part-furnished or fully furnished property, you can claim the actual costs you have incurred in the improvement or maintenance of the property (previously there was an annual wear and tear allowance of 10% of your net rent).

You are also legally required to take reasonable steps to ensure that the premises are safe. This will include ensuring that gas appliances, electrical appliances and furniture are safe, and if necessary, repairing or replacing them.

Finally, you must ensure that you carry out any repair obligations agreed in the tenancy agreement.

What is my potential liability if a tenant or visitor is injured, and how can I protect myself?

You are legally required to take reasonable steps to ensure that the premises are safe. If you fail to do this, you could be liable for any injury or damage to property they suffer.

To help protect yourself, you should have a program of regular inspection and maintenance. This should include proper maintenance of gas and electrical appliances.

You should also ensure that it is easy for tenants to contact you (or your agent) if there is a problem, and that you respond promptly.

Finally, you may want to take out appropriate insurance. Landlord's insurance can include cover for landlord's liability and for legal expenses.

Am I responsible for my tenant's activities?

If the property is a flat, there may be restrictions and obligations in your lease, the constitution of the management company or association and/or any internal rules and bye-laws. For example, there may be rules about pets, making a noise after certain hours, and siting of satellite dishes. Ensure that your lease to your tenants obliges them to comply with these rules too.

Otherwise, you are not normally responsible for your tenant's activities unless you have authorised them.

There may be an exception if you are letting out more than one property (for example, several flats in the same building), and one tenant is disturbing others. If you fail to take action against the disruptive tenant, the other tenants might claim that you are failing to fulfil your responsibilities under your agreements with them.

If you let your property or a room in your house to someone that is not allowed to live in England, you can face an initial fine of up to £1,000 and £3,000 subsequently. Before letting your property ensure you have done the appropriate background checks.

What insurances should I have for a buy-to-let?

You should insure the building and contents. Your insurance will not normally include any contents owned by the tenants, who should make their own arrangements.

If you have existing insurance, check whether it will still be valid if you rent out the property: most domestic insurance policies will not be valid. You may need to get business or specialised landlord's insurance instead.

Landlord’s insurance cover may include compensation for loss of rent as well as damage: for example, if you have to offer a tenant a reduction in rent while damage is repaired.

You should also consider cover for landlords' liability and for legal expenses if a tenant is injured or suffers damage to their property. This cover is often included in packaged landlord's insurance policies.

What rights do I have to enter the property while it is let to a tenant?

You (or an agent acting on your behalf) have a right to reasonable access to make repairs. Normally, you should arrange to visit at a convenient time and should give at least 24 hours' notice. However, you can enter without notice to make emergency repairs (eg in case of flooding).

You should ensure that the lease agreement also gives you a reasonable right of access to inspect the state of the property, and to provide any agreed services (eg cleaning). You may also want to include additional rights (for example, allowing you to show prospective new tenants around the property before the existing tenant's lease expires). However, these rights must not be unfair: if necessary, you should take advice on what is acceptable.

Apart from these rights, you are not generally allowed to enter the property without the tenant's permission or a court order.

What should I do if a tenant fails to make a payment on time?

Immediately contact the tenant and find out why the payment has not been made. Assuming that the tenant cannot or will not pay, you have several options:

  • You can negotiate with the tenant. For example, if the tenant has a temporary cash flow problem, you might agree smaller payments for the next few months, and then increased payments to cover the shortfall later on.
  • You can take court action to evict the tenant, if you have let the property using an assured shorthold tenancy. The procedure and notice period required depends on the circumstances, including how many months arrears the tenant owes.
  • You can take court action to recover any money you are owed. In practice, you may be better advised to simply write off the debt.

You should take advice on the best approach in your circumstances. In any case, try to keep a good relationship with the tenant. An angry tenant could make your life difficult, causing damage to your property and refusing to leave until you have gone through lengthy court procedures (often lasting several months). Under no circumstances should you try to harass the tenant into leaving.

If the tenant isn't meeting their obligations, can I just throw the tenant out and change the locks?

No. Harassing or unlawfully evicting the tenant is a criminal offence - even if the tenant is in breach of the tenancy agreement. You could face fines or even imprisonment. The tenant might also be able to claim damages from you, adding insult to injury.

If you need to take action against a tenant, ensure that you follow the correct procedures. You will need a court order before a tenant can be forced to leave. Take advice.

Should I inspect my buy-to-let property during the tenancy?

You should inspect the property regularly as part of your maintenance and repair obligations. It's also worth inspecting the property to see how the tenants are treating it: you may be able to detect early warning signs of possible problems.

You should ensure that your agreement with the tenant includes the necessary rights of entry to inspect the property.

Can I refuse to return the deposit if the tenant has damaged the property or items within it?

Any deposit has to be held in a tenancy deposit scheme which will set out how the deposit is treated when the tenancy comes to an end. If there is a dispute, optional alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures are available, at no charge to either you or the tenant, under all three tenancy deposit schemes.

How is rental income taxed?

You pay tax on the profits you make from residential lettings. The profit is based on the rental income, less 'allowable' expenses. The first £1,000 of rental income is tax-free.

Most of the costs associated with letting the property are allowable, for example:

  • repairs and maintenance - but not the cost of improvements
  • your costs of owning the property (eg council tax, utility bills, any rent or service charges you pay, interest on loans) - but not the costs of buying and equipping the property
  • your costs of letting the property (eg advertising, fees for advisors and agents)
  • a capital allowance towards the costs of any equipment you need to buy for furnished holiday lettings only (eg lawnmower, vacuum cleaner)

There are special tax rules for a 'holiday letting': broadly, where furnished premises are let for short-term holidays rather than for people to live in. (There are detailed rules on what qualifies as a holiday letting.) You cannot claim a wear and tear allowance for items such as furniture, but you can claim a capital allowance (or a renewal allowance).

There are also special rules if you rent out a room within your own home for someone to live in. Under the Rent a Room scheme, you can get tax-free rental income of up to £7,500 per year. However, you cannot claim any expenses under this scheme, and the allowance is halved if anyone else (eg your spouse) also receives income from renting out a room in your home. As tax can be complex, you should take appropriate advice.

What is the tax position if I decide to sell a buy-to-let property?

In most cases, you are liable for Capital Gains Tax (CGT) if you sell a property that is not your main home. The taxable gain is based on the difference between the price you sell the house for and your original purchase cost. However, you will be able to deduct some of the costs (eg estate agents and solicitors' fees). The rates are 18% and 28%, depending on the total amount of your taxable income. You also have an annual tax-free CGT allowance of £12,300 in 2020/21(expected to remain unchanged through 2025/26) that you can set off against the gain.

You may be able to defer payment of CGT if you use the sales proceeds to buy another property, or invest in another business.

CGT can be complex and you should seek appropriate advice.

Are there any special tax rules if I let out a property that I previously lived in?

The rental income is taxed in the same way as for any other rental property.

When you sell the property, there are generous allowances which make the Capital Gains Tax (CGT) position more complicated. Suppose, for example, that you own a property for 10 years, living in it for the first two years and then letting it out for eight before selling it for a capital gain of £300,000. For these purposes you are treated as making an equal gain each year, so your gain in this example will be £30,000 per year. Your position is:

  • There is no CGT for the years that you lived in the property ie 2 years. The last 9 months of ownership are also exempt even if you weren't living there, bringing the total exemption to 2.75 years. This is called private residence relief (PRR). (The 9 month exemption was eighteen months prior to April 2020.)
  • The PRR gives you exemption for 2.75 years out of the total 10 years' ownership, ie 27.5%. The capital gain is therefore reduced by 27.5%, to £217,500.

The amount of tax payable is then calculated (at the 18% and 28% rates, depending on your total taxable income) after allowing for your CGT tax-free allowance in the year you sell the property.

There is a special 'lettings relief' for landlords who have been sharing occupancy with the tenant.

What does life insurance cover?

Life insurance is a way of helping your family cope financially when you die. It is intended to provide help to your loved ones when they can’t rely on your salary or income any longer.

The pay-out can be used to clear debts, pay off the mortgage or just cover everyday expenses. It could even pay for your funeral if you haven’t set anything aside for that.

Should I bother with life insurance?

If you are single with no one depending on your income, then you probably don’t need life insurance.

If on the other hand you have a partner or family who may struggle to cope financially, then life insurance could offer the help they need at a very difficult time.

Can I get life insurance through my employer?

Some employers might offer life insurance in what’s known as a ‘death-in-service benefit’. This, like regular life insurance, pays out a lump sum if you die while in employment, at a rate that’s usually four times your annual salary.

While it can be a valuable benefit, you might need to take out additional life cover depending on certain factors such as how much you owe on your mortgage, or any financial provisions for your dependants’ future.

What is term life insurance?

Term policies, the most common type of life insurance, only pay out if you die within the duration agreed in the policy. For example, if you take out a term life policy for 25 years, your family can claim if you die during this 25-year period.

Does your life insurance pay out stay the same no matter when you die?

This depends on the life insurance policy you buy. If you buy level term insurance, the pay-out is the same whether you die in year one or in the 25th year.

Decreasing term insurance is a cheaper option, because the pay-out gradually becomes smaller over the years. This type of decreasing level policy is often linked to repayment mortgages because the amount you owe the lender also decreases over time.

Family income benefit is another option. It pays an income much like a monthly salary rather than a lump sum from the time of the claim until the end of the term you agreed with the insurer. Family income benefit is even cheaper than level or decreasing term life insurance because the amount paid out by the insurer is expected to be less overall.

How do I decide the length of the life insurance term?

You’ll need to consider exactly what you want it for. Maybe you want to make sure the policy lasts as long as your mortgage repayments. Perhaps you want to link it to your children’s age, so it won’t expire until they have finished school, turned 18 or finished university.

Of course, your own age will have an impact on your decision.

Can I buy life insurance that will pay out whenever I die?

Yes, it is called life assurance or whole-of-life insurance. Your family can claim for your policy no matter when you die, unrestricted by a policy term.

Life assurance is normally more expensive than term insurance, as the insurer knows for sure that it will have to pay out eventually.

Are life insurance premiums fixed?

Level and decreasing-term insurance, and family income benefit policies, usually have guaranteed fixed premiums throughout the policy term.

That said, check the small print as some firms offer ‘reviewable’ premiums, which can be reviewed every five to ten years and normally go up in price.

But whole-of-life assurance is slightly different because it is typically linked to a specific investment. So, if the investment does not perform well, then the premium is likely to increase so the insurer doesn’t lose money.

How much life insurance do I need?

It all depends on your personal circumstances as the amount of cover, also known as the ‘sum insured’, can be different for each family.

Let’s say you are married, have a large mortgage and four children. In this case you are going to need more cover than a single parent living in a two-bedroom flat with one child.

Most of the time, the recommended level of life insurance is 10 times your annual salary or income. Obviously however you should make more detailed calculations to make sure you are fully covered.

How much does life insurance cost?

Your premium will vary depending on the type of policy, the size of the sum insured and also the risk of a claim – if you have a dangerous job, for example.

Also, age is a factor, so life insurance will be more expensive for an older person. Similarly, if a customer is in poor health, they can expect to pay a higher premium.

The insurer will take into account occupation, hobbies, lifestyle – such as whether you smoke, your weight and your fitness – to help determine their premiums.

Even postcodes are checked, as certain areas of the country are more likely to claim.

Can I still take out life insurance if I have a pre-existing condition?

In truth, it can be difficult to find affordable life insurance if you have a pre-existing medical condition, especially a serious one.

Some insurers will just turn you down outright, while others might exclude the condition itself. For example, if you had diabetes, you might find yourself with a policy which wouldn’t pay out if you died from the disease.

You would be covered if your death was not related to your condition, or could be proven not to be.

Nevertheless, there are a number of specialists who offer life insurance to those with pre-existing conditions, but you must be prepared to pay higher premiums because of the high risk of a claim.

Can older people buy life insurance?

Yes, but life insurance premiums rise with age and older people will almost certainly pay more for cover.

It is still possible to take out life insurance when you are in your 50s, and some firms will accept you without medical or health questions.

Can I insure my partner?

Many couples take out joint life insurance, due to convenience and the fact it is normally cheaper.

It is worth noting that joint life insurance normally only pays out once, at the first death, and leaves the surviving partner without insurance.

When the survivor wishes to take out new insurance, the premiums are likely to be higher, because the person will be older and/or in a worse state of health.

Can the policy pay out a regular income rather than a lump sum?

If you opt for family income benefit, then yes, your beneficiaries will receive an income much like a salary after your death.

This is often easier to manage than a lump sum because you don’t need to worry about investing or management fees.

What’s more, premiums are typically cheaper because the longer you live, the less the insurer has to pay. If, for instance, you take a £30,000-a-year policy for 25 years and died in year 20, the insurer would only pay for five years.

Will my family have to pay tax on my life insurance?

Proceeds from a life insurance claim are free from income and capital gains tax, but they are counted as part of your estate and are therefore liable for inheritance tax (IHT).

It is easy to sidestep IHT by writing the policy in trust, so it is not taken as part of your estate when you die.

Can I make changes to my policy?

While you can usually make amendments to your life insurance policy, it might result in higher premiums.

You should also keep your insurer up to date with any changes in circumstance or you might invalidate the cover.

In fact, you should regularly review your policy to make any changes you might need, such as marriage, a new home or a new addition to the family.

Are there any common exclusions?

Always read the small print of any life insurance policy to understand the level of cover and the exclusions.

Most insurers will not pay out if you die as a result of alcohol abuse, suicide or a drug-related death.

It is also difficult to get cover for a pre-existing medical condition, or if you die as a result of a dangerous sport or hobby.

What is critical illness cover?

Critical illness cover is a common extra people add to their life insurance. It pays out a lump sum if you are diagnosed with a serious condition during the term of your policy. However, most policies only pay out once, so if you claim, your family would not be able to claim again on your death.

Also, the list of conditions is not exhaustive, so check the small print for what is listed.

Are there any other life insurance add-ons?

You can also add terminal illness cover – where you receive a pay-out upon being diagnosed with a terminal, life-ending illness or condition.

Another common add-on is waiver of premium, which helps pay the premium when you are unable to work due to illness or injury.

How do I cut the cost of life insurance?

It makes sense to buy life insurance as young as possible as older people pay more for their premiums, so do it in your 20s and 30s rather than your 50s.

Improving your health by losing weight and giving up smoking will also significantly reduce your premiums.

Another money-saving tip is to shop around.

Premiums vary from insurer to insurer so you can often save money if you compare prices. We can help you get a great deal on your life insurance in a matter of minutes.