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25 April 2014
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Empty loft

How to rescue an empty property

Buying an empty property may seem a daunting project, but with a little time, know-how and money, a home can be restored to its former glory. David Ireland from The Empty Homes Agency has advice for a sucessful house rescue.

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Getting started

According to The Empty Homes Agency, there are an estimated 870,000 empty homes in the UK and enough empty commercial property to create 420,000 new homes. First consider these key points before you decide to invest in an empty property:

  • Make sure you are allowed to do what you want to the property. It's all very well having imaginative plans to redesign the property into the house of your dreams but if there are legal restrictions, or if it's a listed property, you may not be allowed to.
  • Work out a proper budget before you start. Rescuing a house doesn't have to be expensive, but if you run out of money half way through you'll be skint and homeless. Build 200 into your project to spend on a treat for yourself at the end. It'll help keep you focussed on sticking to the budget.
  • Build the right team of people to help you. Choose architects, builders and conveyancers who you can work with and will help you, not fleece you.
  • Choose the right building materials for the job. There's a range of alternatives for every eventuality. Some choices are good for your pocket, some are good for the environment and some are just less hassle for your builder.
  • Don't bank on a grant, but do see what's available. Rescuing an empty property meets the objectives of lots of organisations some of them may be prepared to subsidize your costs.

How to find an empty property

Keep your eyes peeled. About one in 20 homes in the country is empty. Once you start looking, you'll see them everywhere. Try the following options to get your search off the ground.

  • Local council - Your local council will probably have a list of all the empty properties in their area. Some councils will be happy to let you see the information, but beware that others may not be so open. If they won't disclose the information you could make a written request - you've got a legal right to request it.
  • Estate agents - Their shop windows don't want to be cluttered with pictures of wrecks, but that doesn't mean to say that they haven't got some houses in need of rescuing in the back of the filing cabinet. So, make sure you ask to see what's available.
  • Online auctions - Auction catalogues are a good place to find empty properties that are for sale. On the web look out for specialist websites that specialise in empty properties.
  • Land for sale - More often than not building land for sale has already got a house on it that the seller is inviting you to buy to demolish. Often the house is beyond saving but sometimes it's salvageable.

Finding out who owns the property

Once you've found an empty property, how do you know who owns it? It may be as simple as asking the people who live near by. If you explain to them why you want to know, they will probably be happy to tell you.

Many properties are registered at the Land Registry. For a small fee you can look at the register and see who the owner is. The HM Land Registry website for England and Wales is: www.landregisteronline.gov.uk, the Registers of Scotland Executive Agency is: www.ros.gov.uk and the Land Registry of Northern Ireland is: www.lrni.gov.uk.

Most local authorities have a register of empty properties and know who the owner is. Local authorities have different policies on disclosing this information. If your local authority won't tell you, you could put the request in writing citing the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

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In Lifestyle

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Elsewhere on bbc.co.uk

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Buying and renting guide
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Elsewhere on the web

Empty Homes Agency
Empro.co.uk
Empty homes and management powers
National Association of Estate Agents
Royal Institute of British Architects
Property spy
Self build ABC
No Use Empty
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