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There are nearly a million homes abandoned in the UK just
waiting for someone to come along and breathe life back into them.
Whether it's a tired semi or a rambling mansion, we're on the search for Britain's empty homes.
Wherever you live in the UK, chances are you are
living pretty close to a property that is lying empty and unloved.
But these abandoned houses can be turned into homes again, and we are going to show you how.
First I will be taking a couple of property hunters round two vacant
houses waiting to be turned back into homes.
If you could knock through this wall, potentially make it larger, it makes it very interesting.
We find out why some of these places are lying empty,
and meet the people on a mission to change all that.
I want answers as to why he has got three properties like that empty. I am going to do something about it.
And we will be checking out the successful restoration of two formerly forgotten dwellings.
Now, a property that has been left empty and abandoned for a while may indeed have lost its allure
for many buyers, but with a bit of imagination, some courage and a lot
of hard graft, they can be turned back into stunning family homes.
Martin Worsley and Louise Allhusen currently rent a two-bed flat in
south-west London, and are looking to buy their first place together.
We have been officially going out for about 18 months, but we have known each other for nearer eight years.
I have been a firm believer in charity cases, supporting the needy, and looking after Lou is one of
those opportunities to give back to society.
When love blossomed, Louise moved from the country with her dog Meg into Martin's bachelor pad.
Which is absolutely gorgeous, but it is underneath the flight path, which makes it a little bit noisy.
4.30 in the morning, they start.
Louise works mainly from home, but Martin works in the City, so
they are also looking for something close to London, putting them in expensive commuter-belt territory.
Not that this has lowered their sights.
I have always been a fan of Victorian and Georgian houses,
similar to the ones in Pride and Prejudice.
Something that has a lot of character.
The main thing is space. We both love just big, open-plan houses.
And either have a big garden, or have a small garden but access straight into fields.
OK, so they want a period property, lots of space inside and out, and within an hour's commute of London.
Which means even with their generous budget,
it is going to be a challenge.
I am hoping to convince them that an abandoned property
they can spend money turning into their dream home is the way to go. Which is why I've brought them here.
Crossways House is a rather dilapidated property in the idyllic Hampshire village of Grayshott.
It is Victorian, and at just under an hour from London by train, it is perfect for Martin's commute.
This place is one of the oldest buildings in the village, about 200 years old.
That aside, it hasn't really been touched since the '30s.
So there are loads and loads and loads of beautiful original features in here.
The previous occupant was a protected tenant who lived here all their life.
It has now been standing empty for seven months, and is on the market
for £300,000, exactly half Martin and Louise's budget.
So I am hoping its potential and its colourful history will be enough to win them over.
In terms of history, the Post Office right next door was frequented by Arthur Conan Doyle.
Bernard Shaw used to live just down the road. So you would be following in some quite
illustrious footsteps if you became residents of Grayshott, there is no doubt about that.
I like it. I like the features in particular, the fireplace.
It is bigger than it looks from the outside.
And it is great seeing the natural light coming in.
High ceilings. On the right tracks.
On the right tracks, brilliant! There is lots more to explore.
Come and have a look through here.
Now, back through the hallway, a very interesting cellar down there, guys. That is quite interesting.
Very damp, but full height.
Come into here, Louise, because I am thinking this would be the kitchen.
You have lovely brick reveals around the doorway here.
This place has been all kinds of things.
It has been a laundry, it's been a cafe, it's been a B&B.
This goes through to a kind of utility area.
I do like the features, but if you could knock through this wall, make it larger, very interesting.
The upstairs is currently split into two entirely separate areas.
The main section is reached by the stairs in the hallway, which lead up into three bedrooms.
Then there are the stairs at the back.
We plans which will make sense of this
weird geography. Come and have a look up here.
'At the top of these stairs is the second area, containing a loo, a bathroom and this.'
-This is enormous, isn't it?
It just goes on and on and on.
This is, of course, now separate to the rest of the upstairs that we've seen,
next door through that wall.
To make sense of it, have a look at these.
These plans we've had drawn up to describe what could happen
if you were to reconfigure the whole thing.
'OK, so, we are currently here, and the wall that separates the two areas is here.
'By removing it, the whole of the upstairs would become connected by a single corridor,
'and they will end up with a pretty substantial four-bedroom house.'
You're going to be in London paying for it!
You're going to be here working.
We have got a perfect little office space for you.
Come with me. Come and have a look outside.
OK, in fairness to you, Louise, it is not the acres that you perhaps
might have dreamt of, but in the context of a village location, it does offer something that
could be quite private and again, very, very pretty.
But there's the rear elevation, Martin.
-I wasn't expecting the corrugated iron.
-No, there is something of a tin shed about it.
But I did bring you out here to promise you somewhere to work, and what I am suggesting is this.
It is an old laundry, but it would offer you somewhere to actually go to work.
Let's do the commute, shall we? Come on. Follow me through here.
I think this is quite a useful little space, really.
I mean, it would be a really cosy place to work.
Obviously it needs a new roof and a few other bits and pieces, probably a damp course.
At least it's separate from home.
Before taking on a project like this,
you should always get a building expert to have a good look around.
We asked a local architect to work up plans and figures for everything, including combining the utility area
with the kitchen, renovating the large cellar, removing a staircase
and uniting the two upstairs areas, making good the exterior and turning the old laundry into an office.
All in all, he reckoned the whole lot could be done for £150,000.
Given the basic cost of the building, which is currently on the market for £300,000, for £450,000
you could end up with something quite interesting, and you have still
got 150 grand left over from your proposed maximum spend of 600 grand.
-Very much so.
-Good. Worth coming?
I am glad Martin and Louise aren't put off by the prospect
of breathing new life back into this lovely old house.
It may seem daunting, but the rewards can be immense.
Across the country are some spectacular homes crumbling slowly into ruins.
Two years ago, Julie Levack and husband Alastair stumbled across one such place just outside Tunbridge
Wells, and saw their chance to preserve a piece of heritage whilst creating an incredible home.
When I first viewed the house, you have to appreciate it was in a terrible state.
But you just had this huge emotional feeling that this could be home.
Built in 1720, Holden House was once home to Jane Austen's uncle.
But by the time Julie discovered it, it had been lying empty for six years.
It was obvious in its day it had been this fabulous, wonderful house, and had just been left.
I could see right through the dirt, the mess,
everything that was broken, and just for a moment, just one moment, you could just imagine it finished.
Just that tiny glimpse of what the house could be was enough,
and Julie took on a massive year-long renovation project.
We had several surveyors look at this property, and every single one came back with the same thing, that there
was no way that this property would have survived more than two years.
The whole structure of the property was just falling apart.
And it wouldn't be here today if we hadn't bought it.
We purchased it for £1.3 million, and have spent about a million pounds renovating it.
We recently had the property valued at £4 million, so over £1.5 million for a year's work.
It's worth a few grey hairs and split nails, I would say!
It is hard work, and it is stressful, but it is something special, not just
for yourself, for your family, but for the future.
It is a piece of history that you have kept, and you have restored, and that is something special.
Properties like Holden House are part of the nation's heritage,
and stopping them from falling into rack and ruin is a constant battle against the rigours of time.
Fortunately, every abandoned home in the country, large or small, has a champion in the shape of the Empty
Property Officers, whose job it is to investigate abandoned buildings and get them occupied again.
Paul Palmer's beat is the most expensive
piece of real estate in Britain, the eight square miles of Westminster.
Here we are in the heart of glamorous Mayfair.
This is really the home of London's most expensive properties.
It's a very glamorous area, not just in London, but worldwide.
Everybody's heard of it. And yet here we still have the problem of empty properties.
Today he's investigating a block of derelict properties that have
been left to fall into a tragic state of disrepair.
These are four beautiful, period mews properties in the heart of Pimlico.
They were bought about 12 years ago by a very large property developer,
but about ten years ago they became vacant.
Over that ten-year period there's been a whole mixture of stopping and starting.
There's been squatters in the properties.
Planning permission's been put in place but then not acted upon.
The latest complaint is to do with rubbish.
The site is being used as an illegal dump, which can attract vermin, so Paul has issued an official warning
to make the owners clean it up, and is now heading off to make sure they've complied.
As you can see, there's still rubbish lying around, which is
symptomatic of empty properties, a shame.
About three years ago, they came along and absolutely ruined these properties.
They came in, they stripped out everything inside.
All the internal walls, partitions, the roofs have gone.
They're literally just shells, almost ready to fall down. It's tragic, what they've done.
It really is awful and it's a real eyesore, and it's such a shame for the neighbours.
I moved in ten years ago and the mews had just been purchased and
we were all excited it was going to be restored for people to live in.
We're ten years on, it's deteriorated to this condition.
About three years ago, they ripped off the roofs.
They angled the corrugated roof so all the water comes down onto the
wall and my conservatory, water leaks into my study.
And as Paul slips into his role of detective,
he spots someone else who might shed new light on his investigation.
Hi. I'm the empty property officer for Westminster.
I've just come down to have a look at these properties because there's been fly-tipping of rubbish.
-Have you seen anybody round here lately?
-No, not at all.
-I haven't seen anybody working on it for I don't know how long.
And people are going to come here and fling stuff over the side there and everything, you know.
-Which is what's happened.
-A lot of the neighbours
have complained to us and we are now looking to take compulsory purchase action.
Something's got to be done.
It's disgusting, it really is.
It sounds like the absent owners may have ignored Paul's official
warning, but there's only one way he can find out for sure.
It's fairly well secure.
They've put this boarding up all the way around, which makes it difficult to see in.
The only way to get access to see if they complied with the notice
and got rid of the rubbish is by talking to a neighbour,
see if I can gain access and have a look over their balcony.
That's what I'm going to do now.
Good news is the rubbish has gone. They've complied with our notice, which is fantastic news.
For the residents at least.
The problem of the empty buildings still remains, so we're still pursuing a compulsory purchase,
so there will be a happy conclusion. When these properties get brought back to their former glory
and are occupied, that will be a fantastically happy day for everybody.
Paul's ultimate goal is to free lovely old properties like these from their cycle of neglect,
so they can be matched with new owners willing to breathe new life into them.
So if you think there's a property lying empty near you, why not contact your local council, who in
turn can notify the empty property officer, who can look into it.
Martin and Louise and their dog Meg want to escape from London and into the country.
They're looking for a period property
with plenty of space and within an hour's commute from London.
They've got a total budget of £600,000
and I'm hoping to convince them that a vacant property will give them much more bang for their buck.
The first house I showed them had a price tag of £300,000 and it's certainly whetted their appetite.
Definitely potential here.
But I have another gem up my sleeve just begging for new owners to come along and fall in love with it.
This three-bedroom semi-detached cottage is right in the heart of the Hampshire countryside.
It's six miles from a station and handy for Martin's commute to London.
It's only been empty for a month, since the previous owner relocated
for work, so it's in a far better condition than the first property.
It's also well within their 600 grand total budget.
This is on the market for £475,000.
-The setting is stunning. Right in the middle of the woods.
And unlike our earlier property, this one you could actually kind of move into.
-And you do get an awful lot with it. Come with me.
Larger neighbouring properties can sell for well over £700,000,
so at 475, this one is a bit of a bargain.
Built in 1850, then extended in the 1950s, this semi-detached cottage is
a little on the small side, but I think there's plenty more room here for expansion.
It's very airy. It's very light.
Lots of bright light coming in, which is great, and once again, the ceilings are surprisingly tall.
What we're standing in now is effectively a 1950s extension, hence the greater proportions.
As we go through, the old bit, well, it's all there too. Come and have a look at this.
So, you can see by the height of the ceilings that this is the old cottagey bit.
Here's your diner bit and in there,
not a badly appointed galley kitchen.
Certainly, you could walk in and just get on with it if you wanted to.
It's a nice, once again, airy space.
I like the idea that we can just walk straight out into the garden, having the little back door there.
Upstairs, there's a new bathroom,
three reasonable-size bedrooms,
and a shower room, all of which are perfectly liveable,
but it's the garden that's the real jewel in this property's crown.
So, as you can see, it is technically a semi-detached.
Right? Your bit is the white bit and the neighbours are the cream bit.
But you also get an acre with it.
Of that woodland, OK?
So you've got a garden with quite an interesting topology to it and geography. So it's not all flat.
You do get an acre of fun for Meg, a bit of garden for you and a very, very quiet spot.
And with so much land, the great thing about this house is there's plenty of room to extend.
Our local architect came to measure up and give us an idea of exactly how far and for how much.
Now, in terms of size, you can extend this again.
You see that gable there, projecting out?
Imagine that alongside what you're looking at.
That's would you could get away with in terms of extending it.
Does it already have permission?
It's subject to the relevant planning permissions,
but I wouldn't think it would be a problem.
-And the estimated cost for that, somewhere in the region of about 75,000.
So for 550,
you would end up with a very substantial house in an acre within an hour of London.
Absolutely amazing. Especially the acre of woodland put on to this is just huge.
And very exciting with such a great garden.
Potential for the planning permission for extra space within the building. Very exciting.
It's a difficult fit, getting people that want to be so close to
the capital for obvious reasons, because we're up against commuter-belt territory.
But because it's empty, because it needs a bit doing to it,
-yours, well within budget and all this land.
-And the woodland.
Martin and Louise seem just as enthusiastic about this property as
the first, so are they convinced an empty property is for them?
We'll find out later. In the meantime, back in the borough of Westminster, our empty
property officer Paul Palmer is on his tireless mission to turn empty properties back into homes again.
He's heading off to an upmarket mews in Belgravia, after residents' reports of a property
that appears to be unoccupied and is starting to deteriorate.
So, first impressions, it's a lovely little mews, but unfortunately this
property, well, it looks very sorry for itself.
Neglected, probably hasn't been maintained for quite some time.
Very untidy, very much empty and very much unloved.
First, despite what they look like, you always have to give it a knock just in case.
You never know, we have had a few incidents where
properties much worse than this had somebody in them, so you have to be careful.
But that sounded hollow, so I don't think there's anybody in.
There's quite a build-up of post,
which I shall push through, because it's a security issue if nothing else.
It doesn't look like they do much maintenance judging by the peeling paint here.
The lead is coming away from the top of the bay there, which is obviously
going to have an impact on the property.
Paint's peeling away off
what look like the original windows, which isn't very attractive.
It's just jammed full inside here of plastic chairs and boxes and all sorts of junk.
So, clearly not used for living in.
Nice little garden growing at the front here.
All in all, it's a bit of a mess.
As I suspected, clearly empty for a while, not very nice, not very well-maintained.
And if I was a neighbour, I wouldn't be too happy.
Satisfied that the property is unoccupied, Paul takes some
-up-to-date photos for the file.
-That's a nice one.
Keep looking at this one next door.
But as he does so, he notices something suspicious.
I've got a funny feeling about this.
It's got the same alarm company as next door.
It looks a bit rough. I think what I ought to do is
put a call in back to the office, see if somebody can have a look for me.
I'm just down in that mews in Belgravia I was going to.
But I'm a bit suspicious about 32 next door.
Would you do me a huge favour and just quickly look on Land Registry for me, see who owns it?
Yes. That's the same owner.
Oh, right, OK. Well I thought as much.
Well, as he's got the two properties, would you do me another huge favour?
Just quickly check on planning for me, see if there's anything there, if he's got any plans for the property?
Yes, he has got planning and it also includes number 28.
So, this guy now actually owns three properties down this mews and they all appear to be empty.
-Yes, it appears so.
Brilliant. Lucy, thanks very much.
That's useful information.
I came here expecting to find one.
I've now got three. These must be a million pounds each. It's just a criminal waste.
So that changes everything.
It escalates the whole situation for me, and whilst I wouldn't normally do
it, as I know he lives locally, I'm going to go and knock on his door.
Shocked by his discovery and armed with the owner's home address,
Paul heads round the corner for a showdown.
Sadly, all he finds is another empty house, as there's no one at home.
Not deterred, obviously. Straight back to the office, get the file going on all three properties now.
Nice, stiff letter to him straight away, possibly trying to arrange
a meeting because of the scale.
I want answers as to why he's got three properties like that empty.
It's really made me angry. I'm going to prioritise it for action.
I owe it to the neighbours.
They're not happy, neither am I. I'm going to do something about it.
With nearly a million vacant homes, empty property officers like Paul
have a constant battle on their hands to keep the numbers down.
But occasionally, they do get a break.
When Jane Peck was searching for her dream home in Somerset,
she ended up taking on not one restoration project, but two.
I bought the property 17 years ago with the house and the barn together.
I renovated the house next door, but then ran out of money because it was such a huge renovation.
And then Simon met me and the first time he came round here, he was, I think, more impressed with the barn.
-And the potential of the building plot.
And Simon sure had some vision because at the time, the barn looked like this.
I thought, ooh, this would be a nice project to work on.
So we kind of put our heads together and made some models,
did some drawings and nine months down the line, it was finished.
Determined not to go down the traditional barn conversion route, Jane and Simon worked hard
to maintain the building's original feel, whilst adding a modern twist.
We wanted to keep an agricultural feel, because it was an agriculture building.
And keep it very, very raw and simple. So we've used rough
sawn timber, galvanised metal, concrete for the work surfaces.
We got some local guys to knock up a mould.
-We did think the units might collapse under the weight but they haven't so far.
The end result is a stunningly modern, yet thoroughly complementary
renovation that's given them exactly the home they wanted at a price they could afford.
When I bought the property 17 years ago, the barn was valued at £5,000.
We thought we'd spend about 100,000 but we ended up spending 87.
And now I reckon we could get about 390 for it.
So that's a pretty good profit margin.
Had they just gone out and bought a finished barn conversion,
instead of £5,000, it would have cost them more like 250,000, and it would not have looked like this.
We definitely feel that if we tried to buy this
on the open market, it would have been a very difficult act to find.
Somewhere out there is an empty property just waiting to become your next home.
So here is how you might find it.
Your local estate agent can let you know the moment these
gems come to their attention, as they often go to auction.
If a property is on the local council's list of empties and the owner is known to them, they may
be willing to approach them on your behalf to see if they want to sell.
Martin and Louise have been looking for a decent-size period home that's commutable from London.
Love the bath.
I've shown them two very different properties both with bags of potential.
The question is, have I convinced them that a vacant house is for them?
So, can you cast your minds back to our first property in the village?
Lots of open-planned areas that you could work with.
Loved the walls, period features.
Garden had a lot of stuff to do with it, but at the same time, definitely
something that you could make your own.
You know, good price. £300,000.
But for an extra 150 or so, you'd have got somewhere to work.
I thought it was an interesting proposition.
I really liked it. The period features, equally, was my
real big selling feature on it, so definite, a possibility.
OK, and our final property. Very different setting.
Much more rural.
Not as much character in it, in fairness.
But on the other hand, not as dilapidated either. What did you think of that one?
Great to have so much green space around.
The woods, the garden, absolutely amazing.
The house had some character in it from the old cottage that had been extended on.
But the potential of extending further was something I'd not thought of.
-You're painting a very plausible picture. It sounds like you've moved in!
-to really consider, but just loved the setting.
-So what happens now?
-We have a big discussion.
I think you're armed with a very good budget.
£600,000 is going to allow you to buy something that is in itself
substantial, with plenty left over to, as you say, make it your own.
So maybe you will rescue an empty property.
So, there are bargains out there waiting to be found,
though tracking them down might not be quite so easy.
That's the thing about trying to find your dream
house amongst what's available, in terms of the empty property market.
It can be frustrating but the good news is that if you do keep looking, they are out there somewhere.
You just have to know where to look.
And while this woodland idyll didn't tick all of Martin and Louise's
boxes, it certainly did for another buyer, as the house sold shortly after our visit.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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There are nearly a million properties lying empty in the UK waiting for someone to come along to turn them into homes again. Jules Hudson reveals the great potential vacant places can offer in terms of budget and lifestyle. We follow the work of the nation's empty property officers whose job it is to get buildings sitting abandoned and neglected back into use as homes again. And we'll see how rescued wrecks have been transformed into beautiful homes again.
Martin Worsley and Louise Allhusen currently rent a two-bed flat and are looking to buy their first place together somewhere within an hour's commute of London. With a budget of 600 thousand pounds, presenter Jules Hudson thinks he can show them how to really make their money go far if they were to consider an empty property in need of work.