How your local authority can help
Most local authorities employ an empty property officer whose job it is to get empty properties back in use. The officers work by persuading owners that it's more valuable to have a lived-in property than to have it vacant. They often have good contacts and can help to match up property owners with ready-made schemes and local housing providers. If this is unsuccessful, many have powers to compel owners to do something about the property, these include:
- Compulsory purchase - As a last resort, the local authority has the power to buy a empty property with or without the owner's permission.
- Enforced sale - If the owner has debts to the council secured on the property, the council can require the owner to pay them back. If they don't, the council can force the property's sale in order to get its money.
- Publicly owned empty property - A little known power lurks on our statute books called PRODS - a Public Request to Order Disposal, which can require public authorities to sell buildings they are leaving empty.
If your local authority has nobody who can help, why not lobby for some changes? The local press are often very interested in the waste of empty properties. Owners don't like the adverse publicity and it can shame them into action.
Mortgages can be tricky to find if you want to rescue an empty property. The problem is that old wrecks aren't worth much until they are renovated. Many people want to borrow more money for the combined costs of purchase and renovation, than the property is actually worth in its wrecked state. From a lenders point of view this is high risk, because if you default on your payments the property isn't worth enough for them to recover the loan if they repossess the property. Happily, the situation is improving fast.
These are some of the lenders offering mortgage products particularly suited to rescuing empty properties: The Ecology Building Society, Buildstore, The Co-operative Bank and the Norwich and Peterborough Building Society. However, do search on the internet for other recommendations.
Owning an empty property
If you're an owner of an empty property and are struggling to sell, there are a number of options open to you. Most estate agents will be able to sell the property for you, but if the market is failing, it's best to refer to a specialist. Look out for estate agents that specifically market properties to developers. It's also possible to advertise through a self-build plot agency that advertises properties to those wanting to restore or redevelop them.
Consult your local authority's empty property officer, who will be able to help you to find a use for the building. Usually they will only use legal sanctions when a voluntary solution is not possible. Also, local housing associations or your local council can sometimes buy properties to restore and let out.
Another viable and often profitable option is to become a landlord, although this may prove to be a lot of hard work. Using managing agents or leasing your property will reduce the potential income, but will save you time and stress.
Share your stories
Are you affected by empty homes? Whether your experience is the nightmare of living next to an empty home, owning an empty property or the challenge of rescuing one - the independent charity The Empty Homes Agency (EHA) would like to hear from you. Visit the EHA website and share your story. The information you provide will create a unique record and resource that will enable people to better understand the problem of empty homes and help encourage more people to rescue them.
David Ireland has written a book to accompany the series, called 'How to Rescue a House', published by Penguin Books Ltd, ISBN: 0141023368. It is available from all good bookshops and online retailers.
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