Finding empty properties to renovate

Posted: 6th Jun 2015


There are both moral and economic imperatives for rehabilitating empty or abandoned houses to return to the market for private sector tenants. The most basic of these are:

  • the waste of a valuable and one of the most essential human needs if housing is left empty when so many families and individuals lack a permanent home; and
  • the financial incentives that are available to landlords and prospective landlords prepared to take on the task of revitalising and bringing up to decent, modern standards housing that might otherwise be left empty and falling into dereliction.

The moral imperatives

According to the Grants Expert website, there are more than a million empty homes in Britain, offering an important reserve of properties that might be used to help alleviate the current housing shortage.

This is at a time when more than 90,000 families with children have no permanent place to live, says the BBC quoting research published by the housing charity Shelter at the end of 2014.

Whilst individuals, families and especially children are without access to even this most essential of human needs, therefore, it might be considered something of a crime that so many homes in the country remain empty and unoccupied.

The economic imperatives

Not only housing charities but the government too recognises the importance of returning unused accommodation to the stock of decent homes for people to live in. As a measure of its commitment to boosting the housing stock in this way, the government’s policy paper – updated as recently as the 7th of May 2015 – sets out the many millions of pounds available to developers, builders and individuals for the rehabilitation of currently empty homes.

Funding for many of these financial incentives is administered by local authorities, so if you are a landlord looking to renovate empty housing this might be one of the first places to look for any economic help that may be available:

Renovation grants

  • the details of any scheme are of course subject to local variation, but Haringey Council in London, for instance, issues grants for the renovation of property that has been empty for longer than a month. The value of the grant is 50% of the cost of renovation work, up to a maximum of £30,000;

Energy saving grants

  • whether the property you are interested in buying to let is currently empty or already occupied by tenants, you may also qualify for a range of energy saving grants;
  • these are designed not only to encourage landlords to maintain their properties up to decent modern standards but also to make use of the full range of energy saving measures currently available;
  • details of some of those energy saving measures may be found on the website of the Energy Saving Trust;
  • this may also be the place to remind landlords – as the website Landlord Zone does – that with effect from October 2015, there is a legal obligation to install functioning carbon monoxide and smoke alarms in any private rented accommodation;

VAT

  • a further incentive for anyone in the process of turning once empty housing into modern, renovated homes – for owner occupiers or for tenants – is administered by the apparently unlikely source of HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC);
  • for building works to properties that have been empty for a minimum of the preceding two years, HMRC reduces VAT from the normal 20% to just 5% and if the building has been empty for five years or more, VAT is reduced to zero.

Finding an empty home

With so much financial help on offer, you might well be tempted into acquiring such a property in order to renovate it, bring it up to modern standards, and let it to tenants – for the rental income such a buy to let proposition may realise.

There are a number of resources to help you find a suitable empty property:

  • as already suggested, the local council is likely to be a source not only for information about any grants or loans of offer, but also the availability and location of empty homes, too;
  • there are also websites – such as Empty Homes – specialising in campaigns and programmes for the rehabilitation of empty housing;
  • as you are browsing the internet, you might also come across auction sales of largely empty homes that are advertised from time to time;
  • your local estate agent’s window – or online versions of the same – may also be worth keeping your eye upon;
  • finally, plots of land for sale are frequently advertised as building plots – these may already have a property upon them, which many builders may want to demolish, but which nevertheless be salvageable, suitable for renovation and subsequent letting.

Taken together, these moral and economic imperatives for saving and rehabilitating empty homes may represent a range of attractive opportunities for landlords.