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Empty properties

An empty property is a private sector residential property which has been unoccupied for six months or more. Some buildings do not fit this definition, but are still part of the strategy to reduce empty properties and increase housing availability.

They include:

  • churches
  • chapels
  • other non-residential properties that can be converted into residential accommodation such as commercial properties

An empty property can be brought back into use by renting, selling, or auctioning it, or by the owners themselves moving in.

There are many reasons why a property may be empty, below are some of the most common reasons:

  • properties pending a change of ownership
  • owners lack information on options available to bring properties back into use
  • properties left empty because the owner has moved into residential care
  • Delays or disputes in the administration of the estate where the owner has died
  • perceived problems with renting the property
  • owner awaiting further increases in the market before selling
  • cost of renovation can be higher in older long-term empties
  • owners are unaware that they own a property or live elsewhere

A long-term empty property is usually easy to identify as it may be neglected and in a state of disrepair. Some tell-tale signs may include:

  • large amount of uncollected post building up inside the front door.
  • the garden not being maintained or rubbish being dumped and not removed.
  • signs of disrepair and external damage that are not being dealt with. For example; broken windows, graffiti or a damaged roof.
  • the property is boarded up. For example; doors and windows are fitted with metal or wooden grilles.
  • lights left on and nobody visits the property.
  • the neighbours might know something about the property. It is worth asking neighbours what they know about the property and its owner and how long they can remember the property being empty.
  • the council might know about the empty property. Contact the local authority where the property is located. The council can see if the property is listed on their records as a long-term empty property.

Where there is a combination of the above factors, the chances are that the property is a long-term empty.

Be under no illusions, an empty property is an asset at increasing risk.

Owners of empty properties could be losing money, when they have an asset which should be making money.

Owning an empty property can have the following problems:

  • increased insurance premiums or companies refusing cover
  • ongoing council tax payments with no discount rates available
  • risk of squatters & legal fees to remove them
  • no rental income
  • dilapidation whilst empty
  • increased risk of vandalism
  • increased risk of fire
  • boarding up costs
  • ongoing security costs
  • ongoing neighbour complaints

If you own an empty property the local authority can provide you with help and advice. There are a range of options available to you to maximise its potential. This includes information on financial assistance, selling or rental options.

Selling an empty property is a highly profitable opportunity for the owner. There are several ways in which you can sell your property:

  • selling through an estate agent
  • selling at auction
  • Selling an empty property yourself

Using an estate agent to sell the property will make the process easier as they will be responsible for:

  • valuing the property and advertising it in the best way in order to target suitable buyers.
  • arranging viewings of the property and showing potential buyers around.
  • receiving and negotiating offers from potential buyers.
  • advising you on any improvements that could be made to achieve a sale.

How to decide on which estate agent to use

There are a number of estate agents that operate in the Bridgend area. It is advisable to ensure that the estate agents you contact are members of the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA).

Information on the services of estate agents can be obtained from the National Association of Estate Agents website.

It is advisable to get more than one reputable estate agent to visit the property to give you a valuation and their professional opinion on its sale.

Estate agent fees

Estate agents fees do vary. Generally you would expect to pay between 1% and 3% commission on the sale price of the property for their services.

Auctions have a targeted audience made up of developers, cash buyers, investors and portfolio landlords. Unlike selling via an estate agent, once the gavel falls the purchaser has a legal obligation to complete the sale of the property.

This eradicates the complication of a prospective purchaser withdrawing from the sale. This can happen when a property is sold subject to contract via the estate agency method.

There is also the added benefit of speed of sale by selling at auction. Once the sale has been agreed, it usually only takes 20 working days for completion. With realistic guide prices it is also the best way to achieve a good sale price. Although a guide price will be determined by the auctioneers, a minimum price can be set by the seller.

Which auctioneer to use

Choosing the right auctioneer is important. Clearly trying to sell a poor condition property in an auction specialising in prestige properties is not the best idea. Different auction houses attract different client groups and picking the one most likely to be interested in your property is a good way of choosing.

There are numerous auctioneers that sell properties within the Bridgend area. Most auctioneers cover South Wales or the whole of Wales and hold auctions on a monthly or quarterly basis in various locations.

Find out the dates and locations of future auctions in your local area.

Fees

Auctioneers typically charge around 2% to 3% plus VAT of the sales price achieved which may be subject to a minimum fee. Some auctioneers request an upfront catalogue /entry fee of around £200 to £300 plus VAT.

The seller is also responsible for paying for a legal pack to be prepared prior to the auction which may costs around £300 plus VAT.

Selling a property without using an estate agent can be a cheaper option. It will require a lot more effort on the part of the seller. Although money will be saved on estate agency fees, a legal professional will still be required to carry out the legal process of the sale of the property.

The property will need to be valued. There are a number of ways a property can be valued:

  • by a professional surveyor which will incur a charge.
  • by an estate agent. Estate agents value a property based on the price that similar properties of a similar size and type are selling for in the same area.
  • by estimating a value. Conducting research and finding out the prices of similar properties in the same area. This may give an idea of the value of your property. There is a danger in this approach that, if the value is wrong, it will affect the sale of the property.

It is important to widely promote the property for sale for a quick and hassle-free sale. There are a number of ways of marketing your property including advertising in newspapers and using for-sale signboards.

A common approach is to advertise using the internet. There are a number of property websites that will market the property on your behalf.

The local authority can put you in contact with local developers or individuals who are seeking to purchase empty properties in the area.

If you decide to sell your property in this way, any subsequent transaction would be between the seller and the buyer only. We always advise both parties to get an independent valuation and to always use a solicitor.

There are many advantages of letting an empty property including;

  • it allows you to retain the property and put it to beneficial use.
  • it provides you with a monthly income.
  • it provides a home for a family that needs it.
  • it increases the value of the property.

However, the decision to become a landlord should not be taken lightly. There is an increasing amount of responsibility placed on landlords to ensure that properties are safe for tenants to live in.

Every landlord has a duty to ensure they are fully aware of their responsibilities.

If you are considering letting out your property you can contact the private sector housing team on 0300 123 6696. You can discuss the legal requirements for letting your property.

There are a number of ways of letting and managing your property. It is important to consider how much involvement you want with the property before deciding the best way to proceed.

You may wish to act as the landlord yourself. The law stipulates that there are certain rights and obligations attached to becoming a landlord. It is important that you are aware of these conditions when letting your property.

 

Don't underestimate the work involved in managing a property. It is important that you understand that becoming a landlord is a business opportunity and must be considered in this context.

 

If you have no business experience and limited time, you should seriously consider if becoming a landlord is a suitable option.

A landlord’s responsibility includes:

  • keeping your rented property safe and free from health hazards
  • making sure all gas and electrical equipment you supply is safely installed and maintained.
  • following fire safety regulations.
  • providing an Energy Performance Certificate for the property.
  • protecting your tenants deposit in a government-approved scheme.
  • ensuring that you are registered and licensed to act a landlord.

For information about your legal obligation to be registered/ licensed please visit the Rent Smart Wales website.

More information on the Deposit Protection Scheme, Tenancy Agreements, Evicting Tenants, Energy Performance Certificates and a Guide to Renting Out your Property.

If becoming a landlord sounds like too much work, you may wish to consider getting a letting agent to manage it for you. It is wise to contact several agencies to discuss their practices and fees before committing yourself.

A letting agent can provide you with the following services:

  • advising you on rent levels
  • finding tenants and checking references
  • collecting rent and holding the money in a separate client account and
  • providing a monthly statement
  • arranging utility safety checks and routine maintenance work
  • arranging regular inspections of the property
  • dealing with all legal and administrative paperwork between tenant and landlord.

There are a number of lettings agents in the Bridgend area that can assist you in letting and managing a private rented tenancy.  Bridgend County Borough Council does not have an affiliation with any private letting agents.

Letting agents who have signed up to a scheme will provide professional standards of service to both landlord and tenant. These schemes include Rent Smart Wales, the National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS) or the Association of Residential Letting Agencies (ARLA). 

It is always advisable to check if the letting agent has signed up to any of these and other relevant schemes. Check if an agent is licensed through Rent Smart Wales and type in the Agents name.

Fees vary from agency to agency but typically charge 10% to 15% of the rental income (plus VAT). As a landlord you will still be responsible for insuring the building and for repairs and maintenance.

Housing Associations / Registered Social Landlords (RSL’s) aim to increase the number of properties available for rent.

RSL’s are experienced in letting properties and may be interested in leasing or managing the letting of a property in exchange for guaranteed rental income.

RSL’s can offer professional assistance to any private sector landlord which may be of particular assistance to:

  • first time landlords
  • buy to let landlords
  • owners with inherited homes
  • absentee landlords

RSL’s are non-profit making and are regulated by Welsh Government. The following Registered Social Landlords work in partnership with Bridgend County Borough Council:

- Valleys to Coast

- Wales & West

- Hafod

- Linc-Cymru

One of the main barriers to owners bringing their empty properties back into use is the cost of the renovation works. The Local Authority has a number of financial packages available to assist empty property owners in bringing their properties up to standard so that they can be occupied. These options include:

Empty property loans

The Welsh Assembly Government’s Houses into Homes scheme.

To apply for a loan you must be the owner of a property which has been empty for a minimum of 6 months. You can apply for a maximum of £25,000 per unit to carry out repairs or improvements to enable you to sell or rent the property.

There will be a loan application fee and you will be required to demonstrate your ability to repay the loan within a set period of time. The repayment period will be determined by how the property will be used.

If you sell the property you will be required to repay the loan at the end of 2 years. If you rent the property you will need to repay the loan at the end of 5 years.

Further information can be found in the Council’s empty homes guide (.PDF 1836KB)

Empty property grants

The Empty Homes Property Grant aims to help bring empty properties back into use and increase the supply of much needed affordable rented homes. To apply for a grant you must be the owner of a property (over 10 years old) which is on the Council’s empty homes register.

You must agree to let the property for a period of 3 years in line with Council’s lettings policy and must be registered with Rent Smart Wales by completion of the works.

The maximum grant available depends on the work being carried out:

  • up to £10,000 or 75% of the eligible cost per unit for a like-for-like conversion. Such as a two bed house being brought back into use as a two bed house;
  • up to £15,000 or 75% of the eligible cost per unit for a conversion into more units. Such as a two bed house being brought back into use as two one bed flats;
  • up to £9,000 or 75% of the eligible cost per unit for a conversion into units that have shared facilities. Such as bedsit-type units that share kitchen bathroom facilities or both.

The Council will assess what works are needed to bring a property back into use. Works must not have started before the application is approved, and must be completed within six months of the grant being approved.

Homes in Town Grant

This grant encourages town centre living in the County Borough. It helps tackle empty space in Bridgend town centre and increases the supply of affordable accommodation.

To apply for a grant you must be the owner of a property (over 10 years old) which is suitable for conversion into residential use.

You must agree to let the property for a period of 3- 5 years in line with Council’s lettings policy and must be registered with Rent Smart Wales by completion of the works.

The maximum grant available depends on the work being carried out:

  • 85% of the cost, up to a maximum of £10,000, to create a separate access (if one is not already present) to the residential premises;
  • 85% of any works identified/ recommended as the result of an acoustic survey
  • 60% of the cost, up to a maximum of £30,000 per unit of accommodation, for the conversion of vacant space into a residential unit.

Properties in the townscape heritage initiative area take priority, but key buildings in the wider town centre area may also be considered.

The Council will assess what works are needed to bring a property back into use. Works must not have started before the application is approved. They must begin within six months and be completed within 12 months of the grant’s approval. This grant can be combined with other grants.

Empty Homes Grant (Valleys Taskforce Areas)

Empty property grants are available through the Welsh Government’s Valleys Taskforce empty homes grant.

If you live in a Valleys Taskforce area of Bridgend County Borough you may be able to apply for a grant of up to £20,000.

£10 million has been set aside by the Valleys Taskforce to help bring empty homes in the valleys back into use. This grant can be used to help bring properties that have been standing empty for six months or more back to life.

The grant is for essential works to make the property safe and secure. You must be looking to buy, or own the property, and plan to live in the house as your main home for at least five years.

Certain areas within some local authorities fall outside Valleys Taskforce boundaries.

Please use the Valleys Taskforce map to check that you can apply.

Apply for the Empty Homes Grant (Valleys Taskforce Areas)

VAT discounts for empty properties

You may be eligible for reduced rate VAT if the property:

  • has not been lived in during the two years immediately before your work starts, and
  • is intended for use solely for a relevant residential purpose

If required, we can write an official letter to the developer or property owner confirming how long the property has been empty.

This is their evidence if HMRC needs to check. If you need this to be sent to you, contact the Empty Property Coordinator using the details at the bottom of this page.

To find out more, please visit the VAT Notice 708: buildings and construction page on HMRC’s website.

Buying an empty property could be seen as a daunting and painstaking prospect for some people. However, it can provide an excellent opportunity to redevelop an existing property which can be either rented out or later sold at a profit.

Renovating an empty property also has a number of benefits for the local community including:

  • more housing available for people on the council waiting list, which reduces the number of people in housing need
  • vandalism, crime and the fear of crime in the community will be reduced
  • a reduction in dangerous or unsightly property which present a risk to the community
  • the area will become more attractive increasing trade for local business and improving house values and sales

More often than not an empty property will require some work to bring it back into use. It is important that there are sufficient funds to cover such work before buying the property.

By purchasing an empty property, a property can be bought for a bargain. However, it may require determination and vision to take on a significant project.

If you are interested in buying an empty property it is advisable to contact:

Estate Agents

Try contacting your local estate agent to find out if they have details of any empty properties. They may not have pictures of these properties in their shop window so it is worth asking to see what is available.

Auction Houses

Auction catalogues are also a good place to find empty properties that are for sale.  Find out the dates and locations of future auctions in your local area.

Please note that whilst the local authority holds information about the location and ownership of long term empty properties, we are unable to share this information with members of the public or other organisations.

Tracing an unknown/ absent owner is the first step towards bringing an empty property back into use. The following steps outline the steps you can take to find the name and whereabouts of an owner.

  1. Speak with people in the community, e.g. neighbours or community groups as they may know something about the owner.
  2. You could post a notice on the door of the empty property stating that you would like to contact the owner. 
  3. You could do a Land Registry search. This will contain information on all owners of registered land. This is a useful way to find the owner's name, but the address given is often the same as the empty property address.
  4. Once you know the owners name, there are a number of websites that can be used to assist in tracing them.
  5. If the owner of the empty home has died and the will is disputed or the heirs do not come forward, the property can sit 'in limbo'. This is while the identity of the new owner is being established and there will be a question mark over who is responsible for it.

We work together with owners of empty properties to bring them back into use. However, some properties remain empty, are in a state of disrepair and are detrimental or a nuisance to the community. In these cases, we may use our legislative powers to bring the property back into use.

This may include:

  • enforced sale
  • voluntary acquisition
  • empty dwelling management orders
  • compulsory purchase orders

Your report will be processed within 5 working days. The private sector housing team will try to work closely with the owner of the empty property to encourage them to bring the property back in to use.

However it is important to note that it is not an offence to leave a property unoccupied and it is not always possible to take enforcement action. Enforcement action can only be taken as a last resort where the property is causing nuisance or is a blight to an area.

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