Converting the UK’s thousands of empty homes is no mean feat, but with government support, could it help to solve the ongoing housing supply issues?
Propertymark, which is a leading trade body for property agents and others involved in the housing industry, has once again called for action on the country’s empty homes.
Last week, the body wrote to Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. It demanded that the government step up its plans to alleviate the housing crisis, which is affecting the private rented sector in particular, as well as buyers.
While the government distributed £100m through its Empty Homes Programme previously, this closed in 2015. As well as reigniting a programme to bring properties back to life, Propertymark has called for incentives such as scrapping VAT on energy efficiency improvements.
It also suggests either discounting or exempting buyers from paying council tax and stamp duty in a bid to encourage them to purchase and use empty properties.
What’s the issue?
Properymark puts it simply: “Leaving homes empty is a waste.” It is also something the government cannot afford to do when it currently needs 300,000 additional homes a year; a target which is yet to be met.
The industry body cites recent government data showing there are an estimated 238,306 properties that have been sitting empty for more than six months. In total, though, the number of vacant properties stands at more than 600,000 across the country.
Propertymark states: “In a bid to tackle supply issues in the industry, Propertymark has renewed its call for the UK government to restart the Empty Homes Community Grant Programme.
“We urge Ministers to consider a scheme like the one in the recent Levelling Up White Paper, to ensure avenues available for people and local authorities to buy, lease and refurbish empty homes to also provide affordable housing.”
Ripe for conversion
Another avenue that Propertymark believes is an important one to explore is commercial to residential conversions. There are numerous large, empty commercial premises, and these could “play a valuable role in providing more housing options”.
BuyAssociation, which helps investors find property investment opportunities across the UK direct with developers, has been involved in a number of projects which involved conversions. These give the buyer the benefit of brand-new homes within characterful, ideally located buildings.
Empty homes ‘makes no sense’
Timothy Douglas, head of policy and campaigns for Propertymark, sys: “Empty homes are a wasted resource and at a time when the housing market is in the grip of unsustainably low levels of stock for sale and for rent, it makes no sense that there are thousands of homes sitting vacant.
“We have long called for the reintroduction of a national programme of funding because of the much-needed incentive that it can provide to get these properties back into the market for would-be home buyers or landlords.”
He added: “The UK government has set itself a target of building 300,000 new houses a year, but it must not miss opportunities to do more to better manage the growing level of existing housing stock that is currently being underused, or not used at all.”
A regional issue
A report released last year by GoodMove revealed how the number of empty homes varies greatly across the country. It also found that 68% of Brits agree these properties should be used to meet the government’s housebuilding targets.
In England, the north-west and Yorkshire and Humber have the highest number of empty dwellings, with 67,000 between them, says GoodMove. In the south-east, there are more than 27,000 empty homes, while in London there are more than 22,000.
Nima Ghasri, chartered surveyor and director at GoodMove, said: “It’s really interesting to see the number of empty houses in the UK, and that the vast majority of them are also situated in England.
“Empty dwellings vary from an abandoned house to a completely derelict building and of course not all of them are safe to be lived in, or even economically viable to be renovated into liveable properties.
“But with nearly seven in 10 Brits believing these empty houses could be used to accommodate homeless people in the UK, it raises a very important and interesting issue.”