Imagine you walk past a home that looks a little worse for wear. You can see the potential for it to become your dream home and picture your family enjoying living there.
However, your dream fades as you don’t know where to start to find who owns the empty property, let alone how to buy it.
Thankfully, it’s easier than you think to find who owns any property and the process of negotiating a purchase is even simpler.
Why empty homes matter
It’s worth taking a moment to discuss the facts that surround empty properties. In England alone, the government estimates that at least 216,000 homes have been empty for over six months.
The charity Action On Empty Home believes that over 600,000 homes are currently vacant in the UK.
To meet the current demand for housing we need to be building around 300,000 new homes each year. So bringing as many of these properties back to life, helps to lower the demand placed on greenfield sits and save the environment as fewer materials need to be produced and delivered.
Also, bring these vacant properties back to life makes local communities stronger and helps to lower crime.
Before you start
It’s worth taking a step back and getting some of the fundamentals in place before you start trying to look for and make contact with owners of empty homes.
Have a budget in place and know how you will quickly get the money together.
As you’re agreeing to purchase privately, there’s no estate agent to guide you through the process and check that you have the right funds.
If you’re not sure, talk to a whole of market mortgage broker as they will be able to put together funding for your project.
Refurbishing an empty property requires a team of skilled professionals. Having the right architect, builders and trades will help you to speed up the process.
They’ll be able to point out issues, some which you won’t notice and should be able to save you thousands. It’s a team sport, so get the right people on board from the start.
Your local council might provide grants or other financial incentives to people who want to bring an empty property back to life.
However, it’s better to do your research before you start looking than discover after you’ve purchased a property that it doesn’t qualify for a grant.
Your local council may be able to point you in the direction of other organisations who can help to subsidize your refurbishment costs.
Leave a note
The first and easiest method is to write a simple, to the point note and post it through the door. State that you would like to discuss buying the property and also how the owner can get in touch if they are interested.
Do hand write your note. While typing a note is easier, the owner might see it as spam. Don’t forget to include at least 2 contact methods. Some people prefer to get the ball rolling over email, others want to pick up the phone.
Do be short and sweet. The most effective marketing messages are catchy and for good reason. If they get in contact, you’ll have plenty of time to talk. So be brief.
Don’t pin all of your hopes on this method or even on this property, but it’s a fantastic first step.
Every street has at least someone who could be nicknamed “neighbour watch”! This person knows pretty much what’s happening in the street and is the best person to talk to.
Most neighbours might not be as involved in a street’s happenings but could know what’s happening in the empty property you want to acquire.
They might not be able to help you directly, but could be able to point you in the right direction or help you with valuable information.
Updated every year, the electoral roll is available for you to view at your local library or town hall.
Of course, the owner might have decided not to register. It’s more likely, however, that they are on the register and so you can discover the name of the owner.
Search Land Registry
If you’re still stuck, then try searching HM Land Registry. This central database has information on all owners of registered land.
Searching their database is likely to uncover the owner’s name. However, usually, the address given is often the same as the empty property address.
Sadly, if the land isn’t registered, the Land Registry won’t be able t provide you with any information.
Land Charges Registry
If you still haven’t had any luck then try a search of the Land Charges Registry.
This database holds the owner’s details and if there are any charges against the property such as a mortgage. It will also tell you if bankruptcy papers have been filed.
Once you have owner’s name, it’s time to turn detective!
You might be able to search the name on Google and Facebook and get lucky. However, you might be able to trace the owner using a search agency.
Start by Googling “Detective Agencies in (your town)”. usually, this is the easiest and most cost-effective way to trace anyone. Typically, fees for such services can range from £20 to around £200.
Your local council
Your local council has a number of enforcement power to deal with empty homes. As part of a council’s long term housing policy, it’s likely they will have an empty homes strategy.
This plan sets out how they will tackle empty homes in their area. You can ask for a copy or search for information on their website.
Most council either have dedicated empty homes officer or a team, and they may be able to help you find the owner. They also might be able to provide ongoing support and grants to enable you to bring the property back into use.
A good local estate agent will keep their nose to the ground and will know of any empty properties in your area. They might have even approached the owner to see if they can list the property. If they have, they’ll be one step ahead of you.
They’re unlike to put properties in need to serious TLC in their shop window. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t have any. You could discover that they have a few stuck in their filing cabinet and one could easily fit your requirements.
Auctions can be a treasure trove of properties in need of TLC. Our guide to property auctions will take you through how to find your nearest one, what to look for and how to bid.
You might have to visit a few auctions before the right property comes up but visiting one will be a fantastic education.
Land for sale
Most land that comes up for sale already has a house built on it. The vendor is selling you the opportunity to demolish it and start again.
Often the property isn’t salvageable, hence why it’s available as land. However, there are times where the property can be saved and a vendor has seen the chance to increase the property’s value by enhancing the planning on the land.
So, it’s also worth looking at your local planning portal before you discount a plot as just dirt.
If the owner of the empty home has died, the process can become more complex. If Probate has been granted, you can purchase a copy of the Will or Probate document. Using the Will, you should be able to find details of the Executors and a list of which heirs inherited each item.
Of course, if the will is disputed or the heirs do not come forward, the property can sit ‘in limbo’ while the identity of the new owner is being established.
Buying a property in Probate can be a double edge sword. On one hand, you may be able to buy at a discount. However, you could find yourself in the midst of a family disagreement which drags on.
With hundreds of thousands of empty properties in the UK, there’s plenty of opportunities available for you to create your dream home.
That said, it’s worth weighing the risks. Start by putting a team and finance in place.
When you have these in place, then try a few old school methods. Put notes through doors, talk to neighbours, and even incentive friends with free meals or cash.
In addition to all of these low tech methods, talk with your local council, estate agents and auction houses.
Whatever you do, it will take a lot of patience and some luck for you to find and purchase an empty property. And even more for you to turn it into your dream home.