Claire and Michael Woodhouse Britain's Empty Homes


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Claire and Michael Woodhouse

Property series. Claire and Michael Woodhouse have a budget of 475 thousand pounds, and are hoping to buy a four bedroom home commutable to both Leicester and London.


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There are nearly a million homes abandoned in the UK just waiting for someone

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to come along and breathe life back into them.

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Whether it's a tired semi or a rambling mansion, we're on the search for Britain's Empty Homes.

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Right now, there are houses lying empty and forlorn

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all over the country, just crying out for somebody to love them.

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We're going to show you just how easily that person could be you.

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On today's show, I'm out to convince these house-hunters

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that empty dwellings could be the doorway to their dream home.

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-Ah, it could be so nice.

-Couldn't it?

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We find out why some of these amazing abodes are lying

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abandoned, and meet the people on a mission to get them lived in again.

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He must have spent so much money on this, and he's just let it go.

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And we'll look at a couple of places that once stood desolate but now stand proud.

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Empty and neglected buildings may not always attract the uninitiated buyer.

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But for those who are prepared to see beyond the dust and decay,

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there are plenty of potential projects to be had.

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Clare and Michael Woodhouse and their two children

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have been renting a two-bed flat in south-east London for the last year.

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Living here, we don't have space for the children

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to have a playroom or a play area, so every room has become a playroom.

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Clare would love somewhere with a garden for the children.

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While Michael needs somewhere easily commutable

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to both Leicester and London where he splits his working week.

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The reason for the move would be more time I can spend at home.

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-Better quality of life as a family unit.

-There is only one living room.

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And with all of them in the flat, it's got to the stage where they've run out of space.

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We've got two children.

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One of them is in with us, and he's desperate for his own room.

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We're desperate for our own room.

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We are desperate for our own room back as well.

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But they're not put off by the prospect of a bit of hard graft.

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We are really looking forward to having a project, aren't we? Just make it our own,

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from a blank canvas, and then into something which is going to be our family home.

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I'm heading off to meet them, and hopefully convince them

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that an unloved house was locked up potential might be exactly what they're looking for.

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Now then. Empty properties.

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Are you really sure you want to take on a project?

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-Indeed. We are. We're ready.

-You are ready?

-We are.

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What are you exactly looking for in this new property?

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Size wise, we are looking at something which is

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three to four bedrooms, with a garden.

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Period property. And an easy commute for me,

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because I'm split between Leicester and London, so halfway, in between.

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A lot of people talk about period houses, Michael.

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But what do you need mean by that?

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Something no later than 1900s, Victorian and earlier.

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-So all those fireplaces?

-Yeah.

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With some original features. Just with character, really.

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The key thing is going to be money. Let's have a think about your budget. What's the top end?

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Top end would be 475, with everything in.

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So ideally between 450-475.

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OK. So with an initial spend, three to four-ish would give you enough left over to play with.

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-Yes.

-Depending on what needs doing.

-Yeah.

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OK. I'm pretty optimistic, actually. Let's see what we can find you.

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OK, so they want a spacious family home with period features, a garden

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for the children to play in, three or four bedrooms, and commutable to both London

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and Leicester for Michael's work, all for a total budget of £475,000.

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Michael's commute means the location poses quite a problem,

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but I think if they take on a disused home, we may the answer.

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Which is why I've brought them here.

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To a three-bed Victorian terrace in a popular conservation area in St Albans.

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With excellent road links to Leicester, this picturesque town

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with its cathedral and great shops has acres of green spaces.

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Plus, there's a station linking to London in under half an hour.

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The house has a smallish garden but, with some landscaping,

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could be perfect for Clare and the kids to play in safely.

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And it's also within their £475,000 budget.

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Here we are. Middle of St Albans.

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-There's the house.

-Very sweet.

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-It's really sweet, isn't it?

-Yes.

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But in terms of character and the feel that you're after,

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there's quite a lot of it still left in here that you can play with.

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Fireplaces and such like. Any ideas what it's on the market for?

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I'll tell you. £420,000.

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-Right, OK.

-How does that sound?

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It sounds fine. It depends how much work needs doing, I guess.

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-Well, you could just move into this if you wanted to.

-Right.

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But you can also do a lot more with it too.

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-Yeah, brilliant.

-Shall we have a look?

-Yep, let's have a look.

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With the owner's living in Australia, the house has been empty for months.

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But essentially it's in good condition.

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There are three bedrooms, a large reception room and a good-sized kitchen.

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But it could easily be extended and modernised to suit the lifestyle Clare and Michael are after.

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OK. Classic semi room, in the sense in that it's been knocked through.

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This would have been two rooms obviously.

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-But in terms of period features, that's a nice one.

-Fireplace.

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And the boards, some nice boards?

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-Well.

-Put a wooden floor down?

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-Oh right, yeah.

-There we are.

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There they are.

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-OK, let's look at the kitchen.

-It's bigger than I thought it would be

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-Yeah.

-Now, as you can see, it's sort of all there.

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In a way.

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My thought would be to go out with this, and back out into the garden a bit more.

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Have a look, come on, I'll show you what's out here.

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So.

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Come round here.

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Can you see what's happening next door?

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That big green canvas is covering a brand new extension which is really

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coming out, making the best use of this yard space here.

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Yeah.

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Up the path is the rest of the garden.

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It isn't huge but there is scope to landscape it.

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Back inside, and upstairs there are three bedrooms.

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And then in here, this would be your room, effectively.

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-Aha.

-It's a nice size, isn't it?

-Again, period features.

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That's quite nice, and I would suggest is original to the building.

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But this storage here, this is great. This does soak up quite a lot of space.

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But there are other options in terms of space as well.

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And that is up in the roof. 'Where there is potential for that fourth bedroom they're after,

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'subject to planning permission.'

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You know, worth thinking about. Because it's just part of the scope that this place offers you.

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-Yeah.

-So now they've seen the house, time to get some costings.

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Before taking on a project like this, it's imperative you consult an architect to draw up plans.

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So we asked a local one to come round and measure up for everything.

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Extending out the back to create a large kitchen diner opening on to the garden, and going up

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into the roof for a fourth bedroom.

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He's saying about £30,000 to get you the extension here at the back the kitchen.

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In terms of the loft space, another £20,000.

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So, 50 grand on top of the 420, gets you to 470.

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With five grand left over. So, potentially up 475, you could get this to how you want it.

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-What do you think?

-It sounds good.

-Yeah.

-Yeah, it does.

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I think definitely adding on the extension would be something

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we'd be interested in, just giving more living space downstairs.

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That was one of the concerns, whether it was

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a bit tight. But I think offering that would be good.

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-Worth thinking about?

-Yeah, definitely.

-Brilliant. Come on.

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'I'm glad Clare and Michael aren't put off by the prospect of taking on a renovation project.

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'It may seem daunting, but the rewards of breathing life back into an old house can be immense.

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'Something which persuaded Roy and Maureen Hathaway

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'to embark on a life changing project in Kent whilst visiting.'

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When we arrived here, we saw this derelict building.

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But as soon as I saw it, I thought, something could be done with this.

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But at first, Maureen wasn't exactly bowled over by what she saw.

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I was horrified.

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I didn't see the potential that Roy saw.

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It was very wet, very muddy.

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And I wanted to go home. But then we talked about it.

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He did have his heart set on it.

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And decided to give it a go.

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They paid £70,000 for the derelict building in 1997.

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And then started what turned out to be an eight-year renovation project.

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It took a lot longer than we thought it would, but we've got an amazing home now.

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And we just want to live in it and enjoy it now.

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Retired Roy and Maureen took on the challenge of turning the barn

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into a home, tackling virtually all the work themselves.

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I just had a plasterer in to do the plastering.

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And a tiler to do the roof.

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But the rest of it, we've done ourselves.

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Roy put his heart and soul into this place.

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And everybody that walks through the door is just awestruck by it.

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Having the courage and nerve to buy a run-down farm building

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and transform it into a breathtaking home has paid dividends for them.

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We bought the property for £70,000.

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We spent approximately £150,000 on the building materials.

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And the property is now worth about £900,000.

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And they could only have achieved this by rescuing a forgotten building.

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You can sit back on this settee, look up at the timbers, and you

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can appreciate that this building has been here since the 1700s.

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And hopefully it will still be here another 200 or 300 years.

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The tell-tale signs of abandonment are sometimes only apparent to the trained eye.

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And those trained eyes belong to a growing band of men and women

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who make up the nation's empty property officers.

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In Enfield, north London, empty property officer Dave Carter

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is on his beat working to get the 200 empty homes he's currently dealing with occupied again.

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He's had a call from a resident concerned about

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a run-down house which is a blight on the neighbourhood.

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He mentioned it being empty for two to five years, and suggests

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that there's accumulations of rubbish and an overgrown garden. So I'm going to go down there to see what's what.

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Dave makes a quick site survey to establish if the property is being lived in.

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Right, so there's about 30, 40 black bags full of God knows what.

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It's difficult to see. But there's a few windows broken.

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Possibly attempted break-in, could be just kids messing around.

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Can't see a lot. Fencing's very high.

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I might have to nip back to the car to get a step ladder.

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Abandoned homes can be magnets for vandals, but that's not Dave's only concern here.

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I'm almost certain there will be pests involved.

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So I think I'll call one of my colleagues in the enviro crime unit

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and I'll see if I can get them down here.

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After putting in a call to environmental health,

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Dave records evidence should he need to serve an enforcement notice on the house owner.

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I didn't expect to see that.

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I knew there was a swimming pool here, but this is more than a swimming pool.

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Amazing. Such a shame as well.

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He must have spent so much money doing this up, and he's just let it go.

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I think I've got as much information as I'm going to get, so I'll nip round and speak to the gentleman

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who made the initial complaint and see what information he can give me about the owner.

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-Nice to meet you.

-What problems has the property caused you lately?

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My concern is because of youngsters coming along here at night,

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and also the fact, as it's empty, there could be access to my property, it's very vulnerable.

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And obviously I'm concerned I could get broken into from the empty property.

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-Obviously I'm going to need to speak to him.

-I do understand that.

-Have you got any idea where he is?

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No. He did actually tell me that he'd moved to Kingsbury.

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But I have no other contact with him at all, no, I'm afraid not.

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It's not much for Dave to go on, but the neighbour who first reported

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his concerns is clear what he wants to happen next.

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I will be happy if somebody, if a family or respectable people came here.

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It's a beautiful house, it just needs putting back to the order it was when I first moved in here.

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A colleague from the council's environmental health department

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arrives to assess the pest control issues.

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Look at that rubbish there, Dave, there's almost certainly a rodent problem.

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There's loads of harbourage there, you can see all the bags.

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They'll be nestling amongst that.

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-There's a load of fruit trees up there, so they're probably feeding of those as well.

-Oh right, yeah.

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There's definitely an established vermin problem there.

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It's going to cause a public health problem in the surrounding areas.

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I think we're going to have to get on to the landlords

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to get this property treated and cleaned as a matter of priority.

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If there is a major vermin problem, notice will be served on the owner by the council to sort this out.

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But there's still a lot left for Dave to do.

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It's not going to be hard getting hold of the owner's name.

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What is difficult is the contact details of the owner

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cos he's not going to register his new address with the Land Registry.

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So it's all down to me really to try and see what I can find out.

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If you think you've spotted an empty property near you that's deserted

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and in need of rescue, then why not contact your empty property officer who can check it out?

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Vacant homes can offer amazing value for money.

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Something which has piqued the interest of Clare and Michael Woodhouse who need something bigger

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than the rented two-bedroom flat they currently live in.

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They're looking for a spacious home with period features.

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Three or four bedrooms, a large garden for their

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children to play in, and within commuting distance of both Leicester and London for Michael's work.

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They have £475,000 to spend, and I think an empty place will

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give them the house they want on a budget they have.

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The first one I showed them was on the market for £420,000.

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And, despite the fact it needed another 50 grand spending on it, they definitely saw its potential.

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The extension would be something we'd be interested in.

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Now I'm going to show them a place a little closer to London which should cut down Michael's commute.

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This house is on a quiet street in Harpenden in Hertfordshire, and no one has lived in it for two years.

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Right then. Our second property for you. What do you think of this one?

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A bit more work. It looks very good.

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The clue is in the fact we've issued you with these which we are going to need in there.

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The great thing about this is that it's enormous.

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It's absolutely enormous.

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And where we are in Harpenden, this kind of thing is highly sought-after.

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So the way to tackle this is to think of it as a longer term plan.

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This hasn't been touched since the day it was built.

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-Fantastic.

-All the detailing is in here.

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-What you get here is an Edwardian house as it was designed to be lived in.

-Lovely.

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If this is going to be of interest to you, so is the price.

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Offers in the region of £400,000.

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OK.

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-It's interesting.

-Yeah?

-Yeah.

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-Not off-putting?

-Not off-putting, no.

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Good, right. Let's get on with it. Put your hats on.

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Let's see if it's worth it.

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It's going to take some vision to see this as a comfortable family home.

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There are four bedrooms and original Edwardian features.

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The owner inherited the house and is now selling it on.

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Come on in here then.

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This room I think is fabulous.

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-Oh, lovely.

-Yeah, it's gorgeous!

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The space is good, isn't it?

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-Isn't it? But look at the features.

-Look!

-They are original.

-The doors.

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A few holes in the ceiling.

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The flooring. The fireplaces.

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-And even all these sorts of things.

-Even the cupboards.

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Yeah, I love the fact you love it.

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That's what it's about. These houses have to cry out to you, really.

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If this one is screaming to you, then that's all good.

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The wheels are turning, I can see by your face.

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I'm just wondering how much it would take to do.

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Let's do the tour, then we'll think how much it might cost.

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And now, through to the kitchen. What there is of it.

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-What do you reckon?

-Wow.

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I mean, it is a period space.

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Nothing's happened in here since the day it was put together.

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Clearly, you could knock this out and create a really interesting space, with views to the garden.

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-You are stepping into Edwardian life here. This is how things work.

-Yeah.

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-Oh, it could be so nice.

-Couldn't it?

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OK. Let's get upstairs. There's so much to show you.

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Upstairs, there are three bedrooms and a bathroom.

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Now come in here, have a look at that.

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That's potentially a bathroom.

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-It would be a good space.

-It's great.

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This is a fantastic size.

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-Yeah? Look at the bath, look at the feet on the bath, it's an original iron bath.

-Oh my God.

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-It's an old ball and claw, isn't it?

-Yeah.

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You see, what I'm thinking, guys, you know, a bit of paint, some nice pictures...!?

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Yeah, right(!) Come on.

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OK, this is the first bedroom that we've seen.

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Tell me?

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-Another great room.

-We love it.

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It's sort of like being in a doll's house

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that's been really well played with, and scruffy, but really nice.

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I love that idea. A doll's house that's been well used.

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Yeah. And it's still lovely, and it feels a bit like that.

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Also on the first floor are two further bedrooms, both of which look very well used.

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And then it's up to the attic. Come on then.

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-What!

-Wow.

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-What happened?

-Well, indeed!

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It's open air.

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Yeah, it's alfresco.

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As you can see, the previous residents were pigeons. Not people.

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Um...

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You get a real idea of the amount of work that's got to be done here.

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The water's been through.

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You can see, the plaster's been coming off here.

0:18:540:18:58

Look, that's all absolutely coming off.

0:18:580:19:01

You can see the roof space behind.

0:19:010:19:03

-So all that needs to come off.

-The lot.

0:19:030:19:06

The roof. You're talking everything.

0:19:060:19:08

It's just tragic, actually.

0:19:080:19:11

I think it is a beautiful building.

0:19:110:19:14

-And it's being wasted.

-Yeah, it's crying out for some love, isn't it?

0:19:140:19:18

And some. This would make a great play room.

0:19:180:19:22

-It would be brilliant.

-Stroke bedroom.

-Secret little room at the top of the house.

0:19:220:19:27

Which is classic Edwardian stuff, isn't it? Let's have a look at the garden, because it does have one.

0:19:270:19:31

And I know that is important. And we can think about what it might cost you.

0:19:310:19:35

And although it's a bit of wasteland, the large garden could easily be made child-friendly.

0:19:350:19:41

But it's the house itself which is the major project here and, as such, requires an expert eye.

0:19:410:19:46

So we gave a local architect quite a list to find out how much work

0:19:460:19:49

and money is needed to make this Clare and Michael's perfect family home.

0:19:490:19:54

As you might have guessed, the house needs a complete renovation,

0:19:540:19:57

from the ground up to the ridge of the roof.

0:19:570:20:00

What he's suggesting is basic £75,000.

0:20:000:20:04

If you could afford it, £100,000 would really see it off.

0:20:040:20:10

Talking to the agent, their view on this is that if it were done, it would be worth about £560,000.

0:20:100:20:18

So the point about it being value-for-money, yes, you may spend £100,000 on it.

0:20:180:20:23

You won't do this place up necessarily to make an immediate profit,

0:20:230:20:26

but the thing the point is you won't lose anything either, and it would give you a long-term family home.

0:20:260:20:32

I didn't want to like it as much as I do.

0:20:320:20:35

-I need to mother it.

-Exactly. Good. Lots to think about.

-Yeah.

-Good.

0:20:350:20:41

It's a mammoth undertaking, and we'll find out later

0:20:440:20:47

if Michael and Clare are brave enough to take on a run-down home.

0:20:470:20:51

Back in Enfield, north London, empty property officer

0:20:530:20:57

Dave Carter is returning to one of his successful cases.

0:20:570:21:02

This three-bed terrace has been in the same family for generations.

0:21:020:21:05

And, having lain empty for some years, Dave's been working with the owners to give it new life.

0:21:050:21:10

I have been dealing with Mrs Dawson and her husband for the last year.

0:21:100:21:14

So today hopefully, I am going to be seeing the final inspection.

0:21:140:21:19

Having grown up in the house with her mother and grandparents,

0:21:190:21:22

it holds a lot of special memories for Mrs Dawson.

0:21:220:21:25

It's the only house I remember. And when we got married,

0:21:250:21:28

my grandfather said, have the upstairs of the house.

0:21:280:21:31

But when her mother died, it stood empty for four years and fell into disrepair.

0:21:310:21:36

It was sad to see it as it is, and I suppose that's some of the reasons why I didn't go down there.

0:21:360:21:41

The refurbishment has been overseen by Dave's team.

0:21:410:21:45

And today, Mrs Dawson along with her husband is making an emotional

0:21:450:21:48

return to the house to see the work the council have helped with.

0:21:480:21:51

-God, isn't it different?

-Hi there, nice to see you.

0:21:510:21:55

Nice to see you too. At long last.

0:21:550:21:57

Oh wow, look at it. Doesn't it look different?

0:21:570:22:00

With many people in need of homes, Enfield council awards grants towards the cost of

0:22:000:22:06

renovating places like this, provided they are then let to tenants on their housing list.

0:22:060:22:10

So Mrs Dawson got in touch with Dave to get help with the work on her mother's house.

0:22:100:22:15

And the big table was there.

0:22:150:22:16

And the armchairs on either side of the fire.

0:22:160:22:20

Upstairs was converted into a flat when Mrs Dawson married her husband.

0:22:200:22:25

This was my mum's bedroom.

0:22:250:22:26

It's still got the old fireplace, I love this old fireplace.

0:22:260:22:31

And this was our bedroom when we got married.

0:22:310:22:33

Oh, wow!

0:22:350:22:36

Gosh, look at that. Now that is lovely.

0:22:360:22:40

-So now you've seen it, what do you think?

-It's great, isn't it?

0:22:400:22:45

I wish Mum and Nan and Granddad could see it now.

0:22:450:22:48

Because it was such a difference.

0:22:480:22:50

I've got a house that's got memories that I won't live in, but at least it's giving someone else a home.

0:22:500:22:57

-Good, well, I'm glad to have been of service.

-It's great.

0:22:570:23:00

So, Dave's final inspection is complete and he can leave

0:23:000:23:04

knowing he's played a pivotal role in taking this house from abandoned to occupied.

0:23:040:23:09

It was nice to meet Mrs Dawson. She's happy, the property's almost ready to let.

0:23:110:23:15

We'll be looking for tenants in the next week, and that will be another one off the council's books.

0:23:150:23:19

Taking on a desolate dwelling can be a huge commitment.

0:23:240:23:26

Something which Jim and Susan Sheer know all too well, as their search for a home ended when they bought

0:23:260:23:32

-his former stable block in Canterbury in Kent.

-We looked at 100 properties.

0:23:320:23:37

And when we drove into this village, we realised that the location was just what we were looking for.

0:23:370:23:44

The house was very tired. It had been empty for nearly three years.

0:23:440:23:49

There were lots of small rooms, and we knew if we could open up

0:23:490:23:52

those small rooms, we could have a large space that we could utilise exactly for what we wanted.

0:23:520:23:59

Even though it was a Grade 2 listed building, they were able

0:24:010:24:04

to configure the layout exactly how they wanted.

0:24:040:24:07

Working in conjunction with the builder and the architect,

0:24:070:24:10

we managed to overcome any objections or hurdles.

0:24:100:24:13

Susan and Jim took on a place that hadn't been lived in

0:24:130:24:16

for three years, and turned it into their perfect family home.

0:24:160:24:20

The room I like the most is the kitchen.

0:24:200:24:23

It's something that everyone enjoys when they come here.

0:24:230:24:26

And they did it all for £100,000 less than if they'd bought it already renovated.

0:24:260:24:31

We bought the property for just over £400,000.

0:24:310:24:35

We've spent about £95,000.

0:24:350:24:38

And we've had the property valued at about £600,000.

0:24:380:24:42

Now the pain of the original one has worn off, I could probably be tempted to do it again.

0:24:460:24:51

And if you're intrigued by the prospect of turning an empty house into your new home,

0:24:540:24:59

here's how to start your search.

0:24:590:25:01

Spotting an abandoned building is just the beginning.

0:25:010:25:04

Locating the owner may not be straightforward but you could enlist the help

0:25:040:25:08

of your local empty property officer who might be able to contact them to see if they want to sell.

0:25:080:25:14

And let estate agents know exactly what you're looking for,

0:25:140:25:17

and to tell you the moment they hear of a suitable property.

0:25:170:25:21

Today I'm showing Clare and Michael Woodhouse how an empty building could be a perfect family home.

0:25:240:25:30

They want four bedrooms, a garden for the children, and it needs to be close to London and Leicester

0:25:300:25:35

for Michael's work so he can spend more time at home.

0:25:350:25:37

I've shown them two houses both with plenty of untapped potential.

0:25:370:25:42

The question is, has either convinced Michael and Clare that a vacant house is for them.

0:25:420:25:47

Well now then, Clare and Michael, what did you think of the first one?

0:25:470:25:50

Lovely, really nice. It was something you could move into and do the work as and when we needed to.

0:25:500:25:58

Yeah, which might be a more practical solution for us.

0:25:580:26:01

Our second property, which clearly needed a lot more doing to it, but would offer you a much

0:26:010:26:08

longer term house in terms of you having somewhere to grow into.

0:26:080:26:13

Which was the attractive thing about the house.

0:26:130:26:15

The size, the rooms, the features in there.

0:26:150:26:19

The blank canvas, really.

0:26:190:26:22

-I'm dying to know which one you both prefer?

-I think the second one.

0:26:220:26:26

I actually think that the renovation costs haven't been as huge as I thought they were going to be.

0:26:260:26:31

-It's made me want to do it even more.

-So what happens next?

0:26:310:26:35

We're going to look into a couple more things,

0:26:350:26:38

and speak to a couple of builders, and get some more quotes.

0:26:380:26:41

You said it needed a bit of a hug, in a sense.

0:26:410:26:44

And I think you two would be the perfect people to give it the hug that it needs.

0:26:440:26:49

Our arms are open.

0:26:490:26:51

Tracking down a place that needs your love and attention can be a time-consuming business.

0:26:510:26:56

But, take it from me, it is well worth the wait.

0:26:560:26:59

Because once you've got it right, ultimately,

0:26:590:27:02

it could well prove to be the most rewarding thing you've ever done.

0:27:020:27:05

Clare and Michael put in an offer on the second house as they loved it so much.

0:27:050:27:09

But unfortunately, they were outbid. What we have shown, however, has whetted their appetite

0:27:090:27:14

to hunt down an empty house they can bring back to life.

0:27:140:27:18

There are nearly a million properties lying empty in the UK waiting for someone to come along to turn them into homes again. In this brand new series, 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.

Claire and Michael Woodhouse and their two children are bursting out of their rented two bedroom flat in South East London. With a budget of 475 thousand pounds they're hoping to buy a four bedroom home of their own somewhere easily commutable to both Leicester and London where Michael splits his working week. Jules Hudson wants to show them how they could pick up a bargain if they considered taking on a vacant property.