Photo: Tom Gilling

Maintenance and service charges

A large, Victorian building with spacious gardens requires a good deal of care. The outside windows have to be painted regularly, the brickwork, roof and chimneys need inspection and attention, dry and wet rot have to be kept at bay, gardening has to be done, walls repaired, adequate insurance taken out, plumbing fixed, drains cleaned, and so on.

The costs for all this were a main reason why Helena Court was sold to a commercial freeholder in 1976. But the new owner didn't do much more than minimum maintenance. Decline in those years threatened both the quality of life at Helena Court and the value of individual flats. When the Residents Association bought the freehold in 1990 it began a programme of gradual restoration and committed itself to a reasonable level of maintenance.

"Maintenance" includes routine items like cleaning and gardening and repairs in general as well as the improvements necessary to restore the property and bring it up to date with modern conditions and reasonable quality of life expectations.

Every leaseholder pays service charges for maintenance and property management to the Residents Association as landlord. These cover both running costs and major works whose cost must be spread over time. Provision for major works builds up gradually in a reserve fund, billed with the regular service charge and accompanying management fees. A long-range reserve avoids leaseholders being confronted with huge bills out of the blue and has been increased in recent years. The level of individual service charges differs from flat to flat according to a value scale. The managing agent collects the service charges and carries out the maintenance works. The managing agent in turn reports to the Association's directors and the AGM.

Workplans of up to five years' duration reflect the building's maintenance cycle, whose biggest items are external repairs and decoration. These works are phased across the front, side and rear elevations and by sections of the roof and chimneys; no five-year period can afford to go by without these works being done, given weather damage etc. The second biggest regular item is decoration of the common ways inside Helena Court, together with replacement of carpets or flooring when necessary.

Workplans are reviewed by the board across the year.

Surveys have been performed from 2014 onwards to give deeper insight into maintenance problems and their urgency, so facilitating planning. These have covered the drains, fire risks, electrical wiring, windows and the roof, and the plumbing and water system. Repairs or upgrades have followed most of the surveys undertaken..

See improvements for more information on works now in the pipeline.

Since 2004, the managing agent and the Association's board of directors have applied strict cost discipline.

Nevertheless, anyone buying a flat at Helena Court is warned that what may seem a low sale price can be deceptive. This is because the service charges for maintenance are substantial. They can consequently reduce a flat's market value and thus price. And they of course have to be paid, every month. Potential buyers are thus advised to calculate carefully the monthly budget needed to cover the service charges alongside outgoings for Council tax, gas and electricity, etc.