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The pitfalls of an empty home

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Thu 24 Jan 2019

The pitfalls of an empty home

Despite widespread anxiety about a shortage of housing supply, there are, in fact, 610,123 empty homes in England, according to the government.  Of these, 205,821 have been unoccupied for six months or more, the official definition of "long-term" emptiness. As mentioned below, empty buildings can be a magnet for trouble: anti-social behaviour, metal theft, vandalism, squatting, graffiti, fly-tipping… the list is long.   Fly-tipping is the latest menace on the rise. Current figures show there were 1,002,000 cases of fly-tipping handled by councils in England between April 2016 and March 2017, equivalent to 114 every hour, 66,000 (7%) more than the previous year. It cost taxpayers £58 million to clean-up and this was the fourth year in a row that incidents increased.  

If you own vacant property, you will know that it is a drain on financial resources: you will be paying for insurance, council tax and probably some form of security.  Even with security systems in place, an empty building can still attract anti-social behaviour or determined thieves (perhaps after, e.g., copper piping and wiring, fireplaces, or anything with a scrap value). Vacant premises also deteriorate rapidly, and this can cover everything from vermin infestation to leaking roofs, blocked guttering and frost damage.

On top of the security and cost element, there is a huge social factor to also consider.  The UK has a huge housing shortage, especially in the social sector and for first-time buyers trying to get on the housing ladder in some expensive parts of the UK, notably the south and south-east. The country’s economy is somewhat in limbo due to the implications of Brexit and inflation is creeping upwards once more, so this has had an impact the property sector with many people struggling to find affordable homes, especially in our local areas.

Many local councils are supporting the 'No Use Empty' campaign to reduce the number of vacant buildings, and Guildford Council has some incentives to help to get a property back into use.  Namely:

  • Home Improvement Grants (subject to eligibility)
  • Home Trust Loan Scheme (subject to eligibility)
  • Surveying services to assist in organising works
  • Assistance to access a reduced rate of VAT for properties empty over two years, or exemption if the property is empty for more than 10 years.

Local Authorities can, of course, deal with empty dwellings which have been left uninhabited for 2+ years by applying for an 'Empty Dwelling Management Order (EDMO)' if it is apparent that the owner has no intention of bringing the property back into use.  If the Council is successful in obtaining the Order, they can take over the running of the property and bring it back into use by force.

What can Wills & Smerdon do to help?

Over the past few months, we have been surprised by the number of valuations we have carried out on long-term empty properties.  This could be down to a number of reasons ~

  • people are being bequeathed more homes (we are an ageing population after all);
  • the changing economic climate is giving more urgency to those with a second home that's sitting empty, to start making it pay for itself; 
  • or perhaps, those second property owners are being blighted by the increase in some of the problems associated with empty homes (as mentioned above).

But, whatever the reason, Wills and Smerdon are delighted to help out.  Here's how:

1.  Let us come and see the property, give you our options on either a) selling or b) renting.
2.  Let us advise you on any works required prior to putting the property on the market.
3.  Let us organise quotations for any works, we can even over-see this work for you.
4.  Let us find you a fabulous buyer or tenant.  
5.  Alternatively, why not let us manage the vacant property for you if you do not want to sell or rent?  

We have been instrumental in assisting a good number of clients to find better solutions for their vacant properties, and we are here to answer any questions you have, just give us a call on 01483 284141 (East Horsley Office).

Check out our Vacant Property Minding Service Here.