Buying an empty home

Empty Homes

Buying an empty home can seem like a daunting and painstaking prospect for some people, although can provide excellent bargains, particularly for those who are looking for properties to renovate themselves.

Be warned, it can be a lengthy and difficult process and there are many complicated reasons why a home might be empty. Every empty home has its own story.


Here’s some practical information and advice support to help you through the process.

You should also have a look at the I want an empty property pages on the Empty Homes Agency’s website.

How to Identify an Empty Home
Obviously your first step is to find an empty home and with thousands of long term empty homes across North Wales this might be easier than you think!

Walk the Streets
If you know where you’d like to buy it’s worth walking around the area to see what you can find. Walk rather than drive, it’s the only way to look at the properties properly.

You’ll be surprised what you can find, but don’t assume that every unloved looking house is empty!

Estate Agents & Auction Houses
Go into your local estate agents and ask about empty homes. They might not have photographs of them in their shop window, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t got some empty houses for sale.

Auction catalogues are also a good place to find empty homes that are for sale. Auctions are used by mortgage companies to sell repossessed properties and local Councils may also sell any property that they no longer need in this way.

Specialist Websites
The Shelter Cymru website details of empty homes in Wales which are been spotted and reported. specialises in properties in need of work, renovation or modernisation.

There’s also a few websites which advertise building land for sale, often with an empty home already on it:

Details of historic, mainly empty buildings which have been neglected and are in need of repair can be found through Save Britain’s Heritage

Local Authorities
Most Local Authorities in North Wales now have a database of long term empty homes in their area. You can ask to see this through the Freedom of Information Act 2000 but may be refused the information if the Authority believes that it’s not in the public’s interest to release it.

All the Authorities now have Empty Home Officers who are working to bring empty homes back into use and who will be happy to help you in any way they can.

Public Request for Disposal
There is a little known piece of legislation from the 1980 Local Government Planning and Land Act called a PROD - a Public Request to Order Disposal. A PROD allows an individual to force a public landowner to take action over derelict publicly-owned land or even be forced to put it up for sale.

It covers land in England and Wales owned by public authorities. The best information about this on-line has been put together by Kent’s Empty Homes Officers. Click here to see it.

Finding the Owner
So you’re found an empty home and now you want to buy it. Things are straight forward if the home is being marketed for sale, but what if it isn’t? Here’s some advice on finding out who owns it.

Neighbours will often know who the owner of an empty home is. If you explain to them why you want to know they may be happy to tell you

Land Registry
Most properties are registered at the Land Registry. For £4 you can look at the title register and see who the owner is, sometimes there may also be an alternative address for them.

Local Authority
The Local Authority will not be able to give you information about the owner. If they know who it is though and have an alternative address, then the empty homes officers may be happy to forward post onto them for you.

Further Advice
You can also trace people through telephone directories, birth marriage and death records and electoral registers. Here’s a few links to some more detailed guidance:

Reviewing Your Options
Before you decide to buy an empty property, you need to consider if it is worth it.

Ask yourself these questions.

  • How much is the property worth now?
  • How much would it be worth in good condition?
  • How much would it cost to renovate?
  • If I wanted to rent it out, how much rent could I ask?

Surveys & Valuations
Get advice from local estate agents and a surveyor to get some figures before you go ahead.

Here’s a few links to further guidance:

If you plan to rent the property out and have not been a landlord before have a look at our becoming a landlord page to find out what you have to do.

Mortgages for renovating empty properties can be hard to find. The problem is that derelict (run-down) properties aren’t worth much until they are renovated.

If you want to borrow money for both buying and renovating a property, you will be asking for more than it is actually worth in its run-down state. From a lender’s point of view this is high risk because, if you don’t repay the loan, the property isn't worth enough for them to get back the money they have lent you if they repossess the property. Happily the situation is improving fast.

The Empty Homes Agency lists the following as some of the many lenders who have mortgage products particularly suited to rescuing empty properties.

For information and advice on finding a lender, contact the Council of Mortgage Lenders.

Please note that this information is correct at the time of writing but may change.
Have a look at the HM Revenue and Customs website for up to date information.

Remember that if you are doing up a house that has been empty for a long time, there are reduced rates of VAT for purchase and refurbishment costs:

VAT can be zero rated on the sale of homes which have been empty for 10 years or more.

It can be also reduced to 5% for refurbishment works on empty homes where no one has lived for 2 years immediately before the work starts.

Refurbishment works include:

  • Repair
  • Maintenance e.g. redecoration
  • Improvement e.g. building an extension or installing double glazing
  • Provision of water, electricity and drainage

The following services must be standard VAT rated:

  • Installing non building materials e.g. carpets
  • Scaffolding
  • Landscaping
  • Professional Services e.g. architect, surveyor
  • Building control and planning consent

For both the zero and reduced rates of VAT evidence must be provided. You could provide details from the Electoral Roll or Council Tax records, Utility Companies, or your local Empty Home Officers.