What’s the problem?
When discussing empty homes, the image likely to spring to most people’s mind is that of an abandoned property where the owner has died or moved away, and that is falling into a state of disrepair. However, according to recent reports, there is a growing trend within the UK for these empty properties to actually be well-tended investment properties owned by wealthy businessmen from around the world.
This in itself is not particularly a problem – that is, until you look at it against the stark reality that house prices have jumped 151% since 1996, while the average earnings have risen only about a quarter as much. Clearly, at a time when housing is in such short supply, the fact that property is being underutilized in this way is illogical.
How big is the problem?
This issue is far from a small-scale or localised problem, with more than 200,000 homes worth over £43 billion left lying empty across England last year. This demonstrates an incredible waste of readily available living space, as well as a huge vacuum of capital that would be available if these properties were on the open market.
In fact, the problem in London has now risen to such heights that the current mayor, Sadiq Khan, has spoken out with drastic plans to implement an extra tax for empty London homes that are owned by foreign nationals. He hopes that if such measures were implemented, it would provide a leg up to London residents who tend to struggle to find a way onto the competitive housing ladder.
What are the dangers?
Leaving aside the arguments relating to underutilized property, this growing trend of empty houses can also pose a secondary problem. With record numbers of properties being left vacant for substantial periods of time, the potential for damage and crime to take place is significantly increased. In some particularly run-down areas, entire streets can be made up of properties that are no-longer lived in, providing a perfect breeding ground for crime and antisocial behaviour.
What can be done?
While the solutions to a national housing crisis may be hard to reach, there are steps that can be taken by individuals who own empty houses, in order to minimise any problems that they pose.
One of the first steps to take when in possession of an empty house is ensuring that there are sufficient security measures being utilised. This will provide the best chances of deterring any would-be thieves and is general good practice in house ownership.
Door and window locks should be of the highest possible standard and maintained regularly in order to keep them in good working order. Such security can be reinforced by the installation of CCTV and motion sensor security lights.
Further good practices that could be utilised in this situation involve the prevention of a home looking neglected. Making sure that someone regularly collects post from the property means that it becomes harder to tell exactly how often it is being visited. Opportunist thieves are looking for the easiest target they can find – if they believe there to be a chance of a property being occupied, they are likely to move on to the next target.
The garden of the property should also be mown regularly and not allowed to become wild and overgrown. For added security, leaving an inside lamp on a timer will help create an illusion of someone being in the house, again making that address infinitely less desirable to thieves.
A final step that is vital for the protection of your unoccupied property is to ensure that it is adequately insured. This means that should anything happen at the property, your financial interest will be protected. Many standard insurance policies are not able to provide cover for a property that isn’t being permanently lived in. Property owners should take care to read the small print of their policy carefully, and if in any doubt, take out a specialist unoccupied policy from a provider such as CoverBuilder.
Ultimately, action needs to be taken to try and tackle the escalating number of empty properties within the UK. However, on a smaller scale, individual property owners need to take action to ensure that they are doing their part to minimise empty property crime and keep communities safe.