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Renovating an empty property?

The renovation of an empty property – either one you already own or one which you intend to buy for that purpose – may serve two purposes:

  • it contributes to the overall standard and quality of the country’s housing stock – an important consideration given the current pressures on the supply of decent housing; and
  • it increases the value of your investment in the property – whether you intend living there as an owner occupier or subsequently letting it to tenants.

Indeed, local authorities are generally so keen to see empty properties returned to the housing stock at an improved standard that they may offer grants, loans and plenty of advice to encourage property owners to those ends.

An example of the encouragement and range of advice available from some local authorities is illustrated in a guide to renovating empty property published by Sheffield City Council.

As the guide points out, if you seeking a grant or loan for renovating a property you intend to let to tenants, the council may impose certain conditions – such as your letting to those on the council’s housing waiting list or at an affordable rent.

The works

With respect to the renovation works themselves, there are a number of important considerations involving:

  • insurance;
  • planning permission and building regulations; and
  • contractors.


Just as you might give priority to safeguarding the finished property, you are likely to want to maintain a similarly comprehensive level of protection throughout the building works.

Insurers typically regard any property which is unoccupied for more than 30 consecutive days to be a vacant property, for which specialist empty property insurance is required.

This kind of insurance for unoccupied property is one of our specialisations here at Cover4LetProperty, so you may want to discuss with us your particular needs and requirements.

Planning permission and building regulations

When you are involved in anything likely to be so extensive, time-consuming and expensive as renovating an empty property, careful planning of every aspect of the work is clearly important.

High on your list of priorities may be the need to establish whether the renovations require planning permission and, if they do, that you make an early application for the necessary planning permission. Since your application may take some time to process, the sooner you are able to submit it, the sooner might the work actually start.

Starting the work without planning permission or failing to comply with the relevant building regulations may ultimately prove very expensive – if you are subsequently required to tear down and rebuild any part of the works.


Your choice of contractors is also likely to prove critical to the success of your project – tradesmen such as builders, carpenters, electricians, plumbers and so on.

Something you may wish to make clear to your contractors at an early stage and before they raise any invoices for their work is any dispensation you may have from HM Revenue & Customs for a reduced rate of VAT. If you are renovating a property that has been empty for more than two years, and you intend it for residential use – as your own home or to let – you may qualify for a reduction in the standard rate of VAT from 20% to just 5% (current legislation at the time of writing).

It is likely to be as well to establish your qualification and to make sure your contractors know at an early stage, since it may prove more difficult and time-consuming to recover overpaid VAT after the event.

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