Many individuals, companies and charities have ambitions to bring empty properties back into usable, affordable accommodation by renovating, then selling or letting them – all without the hassle of having to wait for someone else to move out before starting refurbishments!
So, with around 635,000 empty properties being available across England (government reports) and around a third of these standing empty for over 6 months, how can you find an empty property to buy?
Secure an opportunity
If you’re on the market for an empty property, there are places it pays to look:
Register your interest with estate agents in the locality where you’re looking to purchase and investigate online services such as RightMove and Zoopla, so you can compare pricing across areas and property types, and view online property sales.
There’s a reason Homes Under The Hammer is so popular! It not only captures our lively national interest in the drama of auction action, but also shows the success individuals have: in bringing empty homes right back into use as accommodation and often with considerable returns on the buyers’ investments.
It’s definitely worth visiting property auctions and registering for alerts and listing information. If you’re unsuccessful in bidding at auction (for instance if the property’s withdrawn after failing to meet reserve valuations) some auction houses will put you in touch with the owner, so always consider following up with enquiries even if your bidding hasn’t resulted in success.
By spotting a vacant property and contacting the owner
Empty properties are often easy to spot and if you think you’ve found one, there are way to investigate who owns it:
- The property may be ex-local authority housing stock, so check with the local council to see if it’s one they have available for purchase.
- In any case, speak to the council’s Empty Property Officer (EPO) as a useful starting point, especially if you’ve been unlucky in finding a suitable property. Remember to approach conversations from the solution-offering perspective of bringing an empty property back into use.
- Gaining contact information for owners can be difficult due to necessary data-protection issues. However, many local authorities have targets for bringing empty properties back into use so ask the relevant council to work with you to contact the owner, for example by passing on a letter of enquiry on your behalf.
- Conducting a Land Registry search can help to identify a property’s legal owner. However, bear in mind that this is a fee-based service and the information generated may not be up to date.
- The uninhabited, undeveloped look is typical of properties caught up in planning wrangles, so do also contact the local authority planning office, to check for any planning applications registered for the address.
This line of enquiry could result in information about the owner or alternatively help you to eliminate the property from your wish-list: if you find out that renovations are about to begin, or that planning has been denied and an appeal lodged, any of which would then explain why the property’s looking deserted.
Remember too, you can always put a note through the door of the property or ask neighbours if they have the owner’s contact details to forward an enquiry letter for you.
By buying a plot – with an empty property on it
Sometimes, plots for development are advertised, which already have a property in place. Although these are frequently uninhabitable, with the right expertise and professional network, it can be worth pursuing a plot plus property – at the right price!
If you’ve spotted a possible property, check the Council Tax band tool on the gov.uk website. After putting in the relevant postcode, the tool reveals the council tax bands for properties within the postcode. Any listings which return as ‘deleted’ are likely to be derelict domestic properties which are neglected and no longer liable for council tax, the only reason a band is deleted, as indicated at the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) gov.uk website:
“If a property is actually occupied, it’s generally assumed to be habitable and the VOA won’t delete the band, even if repair and renovation works are ongoing.”
This method is not entirely assured – for instance a ‘deleted’ property may be caught in a probate wrangle and already have several prospective owners-in-waiting – but it does offer a useful starting point for finding potentially available empty properties in your chosen area.
Secure additional funds
The best way to buy an empty property is with cash, as many empty properties (particularly auction properties) are not mortgageable. Having cash available to purchase quickly also increases your bargaining power and chances of securing the opportunity.
Buying an empty property to refurbish can be profitable if you have access to a good professional network for fixing the property up, and another for re-selling or letting it out with minimal headaches. It may also help to know that accessing financial help to make an empty house habitable could be possible …
Empty property grants or loans
To help incentivise new owners to refurbish previously unoccupied, neglected and uninhabitable homes, empty property grants were introduced in 2011.
In this scheme government funding is made to local authorities who in turn allocate funds, usually in the form of interest-free loans or grants, to owners / purchasers of vacant properties.
Such funding can be used to help refurbish the property, although to access funds owners must agree to the conditions laid out by the awarding local authority. Every council sets its own criteria and policies relating to these funds – from whether they’re awarded as interest-free loans or conditional grants, to stipulations about what happens once the work’s finished, such as the property must be let to a tenant introduced by the council.
Secure your investment
Finally, once you’ve successfully bought an empty property, secure it whilst you’re making decisions and applications …
Remove waste – including any fly-tipped rubbish, an unfortunate occurrence when properties are vacant (particularly those ‘deleted’ properties on council tax lists).
Secure entry points – if the property’s been vacant for a while, tidying up the plot and securing the property and its boundaries improves ongoing security and safety. It can also set you off on good terms with the neighbours, as no one wants to live next door to a neglected eyesore and, by securing your new property against trespass and illegal occupation, you’ll also be reducing risk of anti-social behaviour and potential for crime within the neighbourhood.
For additional information, SafeSite Security Solutions offer a comprehensive guide for securing and protecting vacant property.