The UK housing crisis continues to worsen, as widely reported in the media.
Yet, a baffling correlation exists between the volume of vacant properties and increasing housing demand that has spurred the government to call on private developers to help.
One of the key frustrations is that so many empty homes could be repurposed with professional property management, adding value to local communities and plugging housing availability gaps.
Today Clearway looks to clarify how many empty properties there are in the UK and identify some of the issues that persist – along with solutions from the property security experts!
The UK Vacant Property Crisis
There are over a quarter of a million long-term empty residential properties across Britain according to averages from differing studies including government numbers and independent findings. According to data from Goodmove, “There are currently 288,539 empty houses in the UK.”
The latest government Empty Housing statistics, published in October 2020, estimate that:
- In October 2019, there were 648,114 vacant homes in England alone, increasing 2.2% from the year before.
- Of that total, 225,845 were deemed long-term empty properties – meaning they had not been occupied for at least six months.
Action on Empty Homes puts the number at 238,306 (again solely in England).
Statistics by region identify the areas with the highest instances of either empty properties or those kept as second homes and not in regular use.
To quantify the scale of the problem, there are over 15,500 vacant residential homes in Cornwall, 8,000 in Manchester and almost 7,000 in Birmingham.
Given that government targets are to build 300,000 homes per year by 2025, putting these thousands of unused properties back into the housing market could have a huge impact.
Why Vacant Property Numbers are Rising
Several contributing factors lead to more and more good quality, viable homes falling into disrepair, inevitably being neglected until the renovation costs would be higher than the market value.
The challenge doesn’t end there because the influx of new-builds means eating up more green spaces and leaving thousands of people unable to get on to the property ladder.
So, why are there so many empty properties in the UK, and why does that number keep increasing?
Let’s look at some of the reasons:
- Lack of maintenance causes profound structural concerns – things like damp or flooding, when left unchecked, can be impossible to put right without a full demolition and rebuild.
- Councils have very little budget to invest in social housing repairs, and there is no cohesive government strategy to support local authorities in bringing vacant or uninhabitable properties back into usable condition.
- Second homes and investment properties are another matter. Foreign national investors commonly purchase property in London, for example, with no intention of living there and sometimes no intention to let them out.
Holiday homes are not in use for extended periods of the year – sometimes used just once or twice every 12 months.
Many are also let as short-term rentals, but while this can add to local tourism economies, it has proven damaging to housing prices and communities.
In essence, if a proportion of homes in coastal towns are purchased for a higher price, it inevitably pushes all the property values in the area up, often out-pricing local residents who don’t see a corresponding boost in average salaries.
Lack of housing then forces families to move elsewhere to find a home at an affordable price, so a property left empty for any reason can be detrimental.
Common Vacant Property Problems
As mentioned earlier, there are lots of reasons a vacant property falls into poor condition. Still, with regular inspections and some uncomplicated security measures, it needn’t be such a big crisis.
Typical dilemmas affecting empty homes include:
- Vandalism: broken windows, stolen piping and roof tiles, graffiti and property damage.
- Fly-tipping: illegally dumped waste, commonly in gardens, can attract infestations and cause a health hazard.
- High insurance costs: empty buildings inevitably cost more to insure – although sufficient security can mitigate additional costs.
- Maintenance issues: stagnant water in pipes, burst water pipes, leaking roofs and exposed electrical wiring are potential risks.
- Arson: fire hazards are substantially increased in empty properties, which can be a target for deliberate arson.
- Squatters: vacant homes, particularly those in reasonable condition, may attract trespassers and squatters that can be costly to remove.
- Damp and mould: a lack of ventilation and heating, combined with the likelihood of small leaks, can cause no end of mould spores and water damage.
Health threats are perhaps the most concerning for landlords since an empty property often attracts a build-up of rubbish, leading to rodent and insect infestations. Any plumbing that isn’t used means the lack of flushing may cause unpleasant odours to persist, attracting further insects and bacteria.
Resolving Vacant Property Issues
Property owners can resolve many of these frequent situations fairly easily through prevention.
Security doors are built to withstand tampering and heavy impacts, ideal for vacant properties expected to remain empty for extended periods, such as those pending renovation.
Isolating utilities and draining water from the plumbing prevents most maintenance challenges caused by unmonitored utilities – including preventing Legionnaires disease, found in stagnant water supplies.
Taking action to preserve utility connections avoids:
- Fire risks from electrical wiring
- Potential gas leaks or further fire hazards
- Burst pipes and stagnant water
- Leaks, water staining and damp
Vacant property alarms, CCTV surveillance and regular inspections are straightforward options, immediately identifying situations that need resolving before they become of greater concern.
CCTV cameras, for example, are an effective deterrent against fly-tipping or vandalism and can alert property owners quickly if any security breaches are attempted.
If you’re concerned about an empty residence falling into disrepair or keen to safeguard rental properties that are likely to be empty between tenants, please contact the Clearway team.
We deliver all of the vacant property services mentioned here and many more besides. We are always on hand to offer professional advice to ensure your property doesn’t become affected by some of the many prevalent problems impacting vacant homes across the country.