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Unlocking empty homes – Tips for Investors

Have you seen a run down property and thought about this as a renovation project? Or are you an investor thinking about opportunities to develop homes that are unoccupied? While these are possibilities, it is hoped that this blog post will debunk some common myths, answer some of our most frequently asked questions and share our insight into the world of empty homes.

There are approximately 43,000 empty homes in Scotland. These are residential homes that have been empty for 6 months or more. There is a housing emergency, where there is a considerable housing shortage of affordable, decent homes in the right places where people want to live. The answer to this problem may seem obvious: let’s bring some of these empty homes back into use. This is true and it's why we exist, but, it’s not quite that simple. Before you start out on your empty homes journey, there are important things to note about matching supply of private empty homes and demand from buyers.

Do you have a list of empty homes?

We are often asked if there is a publicly available list of empty homes. This does not exist. Information on empty homes is collected by local authorities through Council Tax records and can only be passed on to a third party with the permission of the owner.

Also, with it being the responsibility of empty home owners to ensure that records are accurate, sometimes these records are not updated when the home becomes empty . It is for this reason that the local authorities aren’t always aware that a home is empty until it is reported by someone in the community.

If there are so many empty homes, why can’t I buy one?

Often, we are approached by investors and individuals looking to make an empty homes purchase. Although there are thousands of empty homes, buying one is not that easy.

Even if a property has been sitting empty for years, falling into a state of disrepair and causing an array of issues for neighbours, ultimately, there is no legal requirement to ensure that a property is occupied. In Scotland, the owner is responsible for their property. This is the reason why we can never force a property to be sold. As a private individual you need the consent of the owner to buy the property, as only local authorities, Scottish Government or utility companies can acquire a property without an owner’s consent using a Compulsory Purchase Order.

I would love to buy an empty home. Where can I start my search?

There are many different routes that you can begin your empty homes search. Aside from noticing an empty property and referring it on to us, you may like to consider:

Following up an empty home

We are sometimes contacted by individuals who have seen an empty home and would like to ask the owner if they would be interested in selling. Even with the knowledge of an empty homes whereabouts, there are still challenges of identifying the owner and then attempting to make contact with them. It is important to bear in mind that even if contact with the owner is achieved, the owner may not be open to selling!

If you spot an empty home and would like to follow this up yourself, you can begin by obtaining a copy of the Title Sheet from the Registers of Scotland, for a small fee plus VAT. This would show last owner and address. These details aren’t always updated so sometimes we see they just give the empty property address. If there have been no transactions associated with the property in some time, then it may still be on the older Register of Sasines, and ROS’ fee for this search is slightly greater. From here, you can contact the owner directly and ask them if they would be interested in selling.

Auction and Open Market 

We often advise people to keep an eye on property auctions alongside looking on the open market. Many empty home owners choose this route to sell their empty homes.

Matchmaker Schemes 

Some local authorities in Scotland participate in a Matchmaker Scheme to help connect people wishing to sell an empty home with people who want to buy them. It is a free service and local empty homes officers will do their best to match buyers with properties that meet their criteria.

The matchmaker schemes are one way of finding an empty home to buy, however we recommend maximising your chances of success by also looking on the open market and perhaps at auction as well.

The following local authorities now have their matchmaker schemes on the website where you can register direct.

Aberdeen City Council matchmake to sell and matchmake to rent schemes

Aberdeenshire Council matchmaker scheme

Perth and Kinross Council Matchmaker

We do tend to find that the matchmaker schemes are oversubscribed, with more potential buyers registered than empty home sellers. However, we have heard some success stories of individuals going on to buy empty homes marketed through the schemes.

Is there anything else I need to think about?

Before taking on an empty home it is important to do some research about the local market as homes might not always be in areas people now want to live. You should consider the demand for housing in the area. Is a property empty just because it requires some work or are you going to struggle to find someone to occupy it after renovation because there are other factors at play?

While this blog post aims to provide ideas, an understanding, and myth-bust some popular misconceptions about empty homes, we do not want to discourage those who would like to take on an empty home of their own! In fact, we hope that this post leaves our readers better informed, and in a better position to begin their empty homes search.

Do you have an ongoing empty homes project that you would like to share with us? Or perhaps you find yourself inspired, but with further questions on empty homes? If so, please don’t hesitate to contact our advice service:

Tel: 0344 515 1941

Email: [email protected]