Buying or Selling

In general, property in Northern Ireland is acquired by

(i) buying it outright;

(ii) leasing it; or

(iii) buying the remaining term of an existing lease.

Depending on the nature of the interest, the owner will have different rights and duties in relation to the land. It is not unusual for one piece of land to have several interests of different kinds, owned by different people at the same time, e.g. a landlord, a tenant and a sub-tenant.

Northern Ireland operates a land registration system where a party’s interest in property is registered on a public register. This ensures that an owner’s interest in property is documented and protected to a certain degree.

It is important to consult a solicitor as soon as a suitable property has been identified so that appropriate searches and checks can be carried out. In the case of an existing building, a surveyor or engineer should also inspect the building at an early stage to ensure it is free from costly defects.

To sell a property in Northern Ireland the parties enter into a detailed written contract to transfer the interest in the property from the seller to the buyer. The solicitor for the buyer will investigate the title and the planning status of the property to ensure that it is in order.

Any problems with the title generally follow the property and so become the responsibility of the buyer, including environmental issues, secured liabilities or planning issues, so it is important to have such matters identified at the outset, allowing them to be properly dealt with.

If a financial institution is providing finance for the purchase of property, the property itself will usually form part of the security for the loan.

The financial institution will usually require that its own solicitor checks the title to the property, but may rely on a certificate from the buyer’s solicitor.

There is often a deposit of 10% paid on the signing of the contract, but this is a matter for commercial negotiation. The balance is paid on completion, which usually takes place a short period later or once any conditions, such as planning or building works, have been satisfied.

When buying property, the buyer pays stamp duty land tax, a tax based on the value of the transaction. At present, for commercial property, the rates for acquisitions are as follows: (with tax payable cumulatively at the rate for each band)

(i) up to £150,000: 0%;

(ii) £150,000 to £250,000 : 2%;

(iii) £250,000 and above: 5%; and with the tax generally payable within 30 days of completion.

There is no restriction on a foreign national or company purchasing or leasing property and there are various reliefs and exemptions that may reduce your liability, depending on the particular circumstances.