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It was hard going but we got there! – Reflections on my experience of renovating an empty home

Debbie Guild

Debbie Guild

Having just purchased an empty house at auction for the first time I found myself standing outside with the keys. There was something about this abandoned empty home that called to me and pulled on my heartstrings.

Due to its condition, it was considered unsafe to view prior to auction and so I did have a moment of anxiety. Had I been too hasty?  Could I handle this?  What was I going to find inside…?  It was certainly a journey but with perseverance, hard work and a little help from the Scottish Empty Homes Advice Service, I was able to bring the property back to life.

Since taking ownership, I discovered that the house had lain empty since 2014 and the neglect was clear.  Debris was everywhere with clear signs of vandalism with every window broken, holes in walls and evidence of fire setting. To make matters worse nesting birds had caused holes in the roof.

Before

After

Adapting to changing circumstances

I originally planned to sell the property after renovation. But having got the keys a few days before the first lockdown, unfortunately, I lost my main source of income. My budget for renovation now had to cover my living costs too. The pressure was on to complete the work as it was now to become my home.

Finding tradespeople

It can be difficult to know where to start but my main priority was dealing with the holes in the roof and getting windows fitted. Finding trusted tradespeople is so important, and luckily, the initial roofer was able to recommend other contractors that they had worked with.

When the pot starts to run dry

Renovating an empty home in the middle of a pandemic isn’t without its challenges. First, I struggled to get the electricity supply connected.  Second, there were issues connecting the gas supply, meaning I had no heating until I moved in. The window manufacturers had also paused operations.

By the time the windows were finally installed in July 2020, the money had started to run out. I contacted the Scottish Empty Homes Advice Service to ask about funding. They put me in touch with the local Council’s Empty Homes Officer (EHO).  Their role is to work with owners to help them bring empty homes back into use.

I discovered that funding for empty homes is limited but the moral support provided by the Advice Service was invaluable, particularly when those moments of anxiety surfaced.

Regular check-ins from the Empty Homes Adviser were a boost at every stage.  Whether you are just starting out and feeling overwhelmed, or have reached the halfway point and don’t know how to proceed, I highly recommend contacting the Scottish Empty Homes Advice Service.

When the property market restarted in July 2020 I was fortunate that my current home sold within a week, freeing up more funds. With the bulk of the work done I was able to move in and complete the remaining jobs as I went. Looking back on that first day standing outside it’s hard to believe that it’s the same property.

 

Before

After

What lessons have I learned from bringing an empty home back into use?

  • I enjoyed starting from zero and having the freedom to put what you want, where you want it. It’s amazing what a difference a bit of cleaning and painting makes!
  • I learned the impact abandoned homes can have on the community. Neighbours were relieved to see the house brought up to standard and occupied again.

What were the biggest barriers I faced?

  • Sourcing funding – Dedicated funding is limited and often not tailored towards those like me who want to make an empty house their home.

What advice can I give to those looking to bring an empty property back into use?

  • Contact the Scottish Empty Homes Advice Service and get advice early.  They can give practical information on VAT discounts, provide discounts for local builders/merchants, and advise on Council Tax.  They can also provide information on local funding although this may be limited.
  • The advisers recognise that knowing where to start with bringing an empty home back into use can be overwhelming, and personal circumstances and unexpected challenges can throw a spanner in the works. They can be that sounding board when you need someone to listen and help you work out where to go next.

Phew, it was hard going but we got there!

Despite the hiccups I faced I would absolutely take on another empty homes project. With my newfound knowledge and trades contacts, I have caught the bug.  If you are thinking of bringing an empty home back into use, go for it!

To find out more about Debbie’s experience, please find the video of her presentation at the 2020 SEHP Annual Conference: here