Here’s some practical information and advice support to help you through the process.
How to identify an empty home
There are a number of ways to identify an empty home.
Walk the streets
If you know the area in which you want to live, try an on-foot survey to identify any properties that appear empty and suitable for your needs. It is worth noting though that not every property that looks neglected is actually unoccupied!
Estate Agents and Auction Houses
Try looking in local estate agents or auction websites. Most estate agents know which properties are empty and may be able to point you in the right direction. Auction websites publish lists of properties to be auctioned in the near future, and often seem to be used for empty properties in poorer condition. Auctions are also used to sell properties which have been repossessed by lenders, or by Local Authorities where they are dealing with a property through compulsory purchase or enforced sale.
RenovateAlerts.com specialises in properties in need of work, renovation or modernisation.
There’s also a few websites which advertise building land for sale, often with an empty home already on it:
Details of historic, mainly empty buildings which have been neglected and are in need of repair can be found through Save Britain’s Heritage
Public Request for Disposal (PROD)
This is a little known piece of legislation from the Local Government and Planning Land Act 1980. A PROD allows an individual to force a public landowner to take action over derelict publicly-owned land or even be compelled to put it up for sale.
Finding the owner
It is sometimes difficult to establish who owns an empty property, as not all properties have been registered with Land Registry or Council Tax. However, where an empty property is brought to our notice, we will always try to find out who owns it and take appropriate steps to try to bring it back into use.
Here are other methods you could try to identify the owner of an empty home
Neighbours will often know who the owner of an empty home is. If you explain to them why you want to know they may be happy to tell you
Many properties are registered at the Land Registry. For a small fee, you can look at the title register to identify who the owner is. The register may also include an address of the owner.
You can also trace people through telephone directories, birth marriage and death records, or electoral registers.
The following links contain other useful information on finding property owners:
- Directgov – Research your local, family or house history
- British Library guide to tracing living people
- National Archives guides to tracing missing persons and looking for a person
Reviewing Your Options
Before you decide to buy an empty property, you need to decide if it makes good financial sense, and should consider:
How much is the property worth now?
How much would it be worth in a refurbished condition?
How much would it cost to renovate?
If I choose to rent it, how much rental income can I expect to receive?
Surveys & Valuations
Seek advice from local estate agents and a surveyor as to the property’s value now and after you have renovated it. Further information can be found on this website:
Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors - Buying a Home and Property Surveys
If you plan to rent the property out and have not been a landlord before have a look at our becoming a landlord page to find out what you have to do.
As mentioned earlier, it can be difficult to obtain a mortgage on any property which is in poor condition, and this includes empty homes. If you want to apply for a mortgage both for buying and renovating a property, you could be asking for more than it is worth in its current condition. From a lender’s perspective, lending in these circumstances is high risk because, if you don’t repay the loan, the property may not be worth enough for them to recover the money you borrowed.
The Empty Homes Agency lists the following as some of the many lenders who have mortgage products particularly suited to rescuing empty properties.
- The Ecology Building Society
- The Co-operative Bank
For information and advice on finding a lender, contact the Council of Mortgage Lenders.
In some circumstances, it is possible to benefit from a reduced rate of VAT if you are renovating a property which has been unoccupied for 2 years immediately prior to the start of the renovation works. Further information can be found on the HMRC website.
If you need to provide evidence to HMRC that your property has been empty for the qualifying period of 2 years (or 10 years), plpease contact us. HMRC will normally accpet a letter from the Local Authority confirming how long a property has been unoccupied.