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There are nearly a million homes lying abandoned in the UK,
just waiting for someone to 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.
All across the country, properties are lying empty
with no-one to call them home.
But it doesn't have to be that way. And we are going to show you how.
'I'll be taking a couple of first-time buyers
'around two vacant houses in the hope of finding them the perfect family home.'
It's looking good so far,
and I'm just starting to picture knocking walls down.
We're finding out why some of these places are lying empty and meet the
people on a mission to change all that.
This probably wins the prize for being the worst I've been in.
And we'll be showing how once neglected houses have been turned into stunning homes.
Now, the idea of taking on an empty property, in fairness,
may not immediately appeal, but they are worth considering,
because you can get a lot more for your money
and it can be a fantastically rewarding experience.
Mike and Helen Turner have lived in several rental properties
since they met 20 years ago.
They're currently living in Sussex with their three daughters -
15-year-old Alice, 12-year-old Nancy and six-year-old Phoebe.
Although they love the area, Mike and Helen can't wait
to finally buy a house they can truly call their own.
Because we've been renting for a number of years,
we have had the letter come through the door where, with no notice,
we've got to vacate the property within four to six weeks.
And being a mother and having three children, that gives us
no security whatsoever and I want to do away with that once and for all.
Empty properties are often in need of some serious renovation, so is Mike up for the challenge?
Certainly I'm happy to start from scratch.
If it's a property that needs a lot of work, that's fine.
It really depends - each property on its own merit.
The two oldest girls are also keen to put their mark on a home of their own.
Yeah, I'm looking forward to changing it so it suits me and making it my own place.
We want to paint it and have furniture to actually fit it.
But the girls better be prepared to get their hands dirty.
We are, between us, very creative.
I think we'd really embrace the opportunity, and the girls
are usually in agreement with what we think and what we want to do.
They do a good job. They are very handy with a paintbrush.
Helen and Mike run a successful business from home,
teaching music to pre-school kids.
That, plus three kids of their own, means they need a lot of space.
They've got a budget of £500,000,
but in an expensive area like Sussex, that won't go far.
So a cheaper house in need of renovation could be perfect.
Helen and Mike, very nice to see you down here.
Quite an interesting endeavour that you're undertaking.
What are we looking for?
Ideally for us, our dream would be somewhere on the edge of a village
or more rural than that, that would be fantastic.
We're looking for a four-bedroom house and some good living space downstairs.
We do both actually need a good size office because we do work from home.
It's interesting that you are buying for the first time.
Quite unusual, I'd say, for a couple like you with such an established family.
When Helen and I first got together,
we rented a house and we fell in love with the place we were in and
we fell in love with the village, and the whole sort of country thing.
More recently, we've decided that we want
to have a property that we can call our own and put our own stamp on it.
That's the joy of an empty property - you can get a lot
more for your money and you do, of course, end up making it your own.
So the Turners are looking for a minimum of four bedrooms.
Lots of downstairs space, including ample office space for them both.
And the more rural, the better.
Even with £500,000 to spend,
Helen and Mike would be hard pushed to find a newly renovated house that fits their bill.
So, first up, we're at a vacant home right in the heart of the historical
Sussex village of Robertsbridge.
This cottage was originally a two-up,
two-down Victorian house which was extended around 20 years ago.
The village location isn't quite as rural as they wanted,
but it does tick all of Helen and Mike's other boxes.
There are two bedrooms on the ground floor,
as well as two bedrooms
upstairs and a separate outbuilding that could be used as office space.
And, better still, there is heaps of potential to extend further,
with planning permission already in place.
No one has been living here for eight months now, and it's
on the market for £430,000, so it's well within budget.
But will its potential win over our first-time buyers?
Now then. What do you think?
I like the character.
The fact that it's not just a square box of a room.
As you can see, this is essentially the Victorian heart of the building.
And that wall, in history, has been pushed out
and the whole thing extended again
to give you that area with a fireplace and so on and so forth.
But there is that stud wall in between that and the kitchen.
So, imagine the wall going.
That would be great, wouldn't it?
Well, one of the things we talked about was this whole idea
of having an open space, where we have a space
while we are cooking and eating, and the kids are all in one room.
Let's explore the kitchen, because you'll get an idea of how it's going to work.
There is currently a little downstairs WC in there,
but the whole thing could be really opened up.
I think that's the sort of thing we would want to do
straight away, really, is to start knocking it about.
I love your face, Mike. You can't wait to get into this, can you?
No, it's looking good so far,
and I'm just starting to picture knocking walls down.
Let's go through there.
'The original Victorian part of the house also has a dining room,
'which leads on to the start of the more recent extension.
'And now to those two downstairs bedrooms.'
Yes, it's not really ideal.
I really would like them all on one level upstairs.
We will have a fight, I think.
About having to go through one bedroom into the next.
That's the problem. That's the only access to this room here.
So in terms of what it offers you
potentially, is another big living room, if this wall here
were to go. Now, two bedrooms are upstairs.
However, you could potentially put it all on one level.
That's quite a big bit of work.
But it would free up all of this for whatever you want it to be.
Well, I think that would be ideal.
That would make sense, it really would. And this can be quite a big family area.
It would make a great family room.
After a whistle-stop tour of the two upstairs bedrooms and family
bathroom, we are off to see another great selling point of this house, the outbuilding.
This separate structure houses a double garage, flexible downstairs
space, and a 24 ft studio room
that could make an ideal office for Mike and Helen.
Well, I think this is our eldest daughter's house.
But what about you, as a kind of workshop in which to work?
-To have people round to do your courses?
-It would be fabulous.
I've never had my own area for my music classes.
-This would be fantastic.
-Yes, easily doable.
-Especially the big windows.
-This ticks lots of boxes.
-It gives us office space, storage space.
-It's fabulous. It's great.
We like this.
They are already approved plans to build on top of the current extension.
This would give Mike and Helen the four upstairs bedrooms they're
looking for, leaving them with a very large downstairs space to arrange however they want.
A four-bedroom renovated house in the same area could cost up to £600,000.
So we asked a local builder to give us an estimate for the proposed work
and see how much Mike and Helen could save by choosing a home lying empty.
And don't forget, whenever you're buying a house,
it's always advisable to have a survey done
to find out if there are any hidden problems.
So, cost wise, that's going to be the rub, isn't it?
Bearing in mind, £430,000 to buy it and you have £500,000 to spend.
Coincidentally, a very basic job on getting the structure as proposed in the plans - £70,000.
-So that comes in...
-That is bang on your 500 grand.
I thought you were going to say more, actually.
And I think you'd end up with a property that you would easily resell if you needed to.
Yes, I think it makes it a lot more attractive as a property, certainly.
These days, we don't tend to talk in terms of investment.
We tend to talk in terms of "can we move it on?"
We're not looking at it as an investment, we're looking at it as a family home.
And the difference that these plans made and the fact they're already approved,
makes it substantially better than it is currently in the state it's in.
I'm glad Mike and Helen seem keen on this house,
in spite of all the work it would take to make it their dream home.
It may seem like a huge mountain to climb, but restoring an old house
can be incredibly rewarding and cost-effective.
As we'll see from this north London home.
Just a few years ago, this double-fronted
three-storey Victorian villa housed 11 dilapidated bedsits.
They were in desperate need of care and attention.
But in spite of its poor state, its owner knew
the house was for her as soon as she walked through the door.
He just showed me two rooms, basically, but I could tell
it was an amazing house just from that, really.
And we said, "That's all right, that's fine. We'll buy it".
She'll never forget how she felt
when this run-down old building finally became her family home.
When we got the key, we thought, "Let's get on with this and make this how we want it to be."
So it was very exciting, yeah.
But as exciting as it was, the project was not all smooth sailing.
The worst thing was we had a bit of a fire.
It was quite dramatic, just here in the kitchen,
so that was quite hard because we had to start that corner again.
Now, instead of 11 bedsits,
she has created a successful and stylish five-bedroom family home.
And by being brave enough to resuscitate a neglected house,
she's also reaped the financial benefits.
She paid 30% less than she would have done if the house had been newly renovated.
It is the perfect family home now, really.
It's absolutely perfect. It's a really beautiful house.
We are all very settled here.
Turning unloved and uninhabitable buildings back into homes again
benefits more than just the owners.
As abandoned buildings deteriorate, they become unsafe
and can spoil the rest of the neighbourhood.
Luckily, most local authorities have an empty property officer, whose job
it is to get them lived in again. Sue Lee works for Amber Valley in Derbyshire.
'I love the fact that what I do has a direct impact on somebody's neighbourhood.'
Amber Valley covers about 100 square miles, and Sue has approximately
1,000 empty buildings under her watch at any one time.
I'm off to a property where I've been working with a couple,
trying to negotiate with the owner to persuade him to sell it to them.
The house Sue is visiting today has been slowly deteriorating since
the owner just upped sticks 24 years ago and never came back.
John and Elaine Burton own a rental home next door to the place in question.
It's really been a nightmare, because as we rent the property,
people are no longer wanting to rent it, because of the state of the property next door.
And also we couldn't possibly sell it.
Because, again, who would want to buy a property with a derelict next door?
As John has lived in the village all his life,
he knew the owner by sight,
but because he left without a trace, John had no idea of his whereabouts.
After spending years trying to find him, in January 2007, Elaine
got lucky after typing the owner's name into an internet search engine.
And lo and behold, he came up.
He lived in Austria.
She came running down, "I found him, I found him."
I said, "No, it can't be true".
Anyway, she printed a photo off, and I said, "That's him".
Be it 24 years on, that's him.
And so, the door's opened from there.
John gave the information to Sue Lee,
and although the process has been a slow one, now, two years on,
the Burtons have finally taken possession of the house next door.
I can't praise the council enough for helping to get this thing sorted out. We've got three parties happy.
We've got the council people happy, we've got the man who was selling it happy, and ourselves.
Sue has joined John on site today for an inspection.
Well, I must say, this probably wins the prize for being the worst I've been in.
-Damp, it's beginning to crack open.
It wouldn't be long before it started caving in.
The next step is for John to submit his plans to the council planning department.
And providing they are approved, this little cottage will finally
be given a new lease of life.
I'm only glad we were able to help negotiate with the previous owner for you.
But until the house is finished,
Sue will be keeping her watchful eye on it.
I'm really hoping that things are going to move forward now.
Obviously, what we don't want is for it now to sit with another owner remaining empty.
I don't think John would have pursued this if he weren't really interested
in doing something with this property. I'm just really keen to see what's going to happen.
So, if you think you've spotted an empty property lying unloved
and abandoned near you, why not call your local property officer who can investigate further?
After renting for 20 years in Sussex,
Helen and Mike have decided it's high time to have a family house they can call their own.
They're after four bedrooms in rural Sussex,
with lots of downstairs space, including an office.
Our first time buyers have got £500,000 to spend
and I think an empty home is their best bet
for finding the space they need within budget.
They really like the first house I show them, priced at £430,000.
Spend an extra 70,000 to give them the space they are looking for,
but this could add up to £170,000 to its value.
Well, this ticks lots of boxes.
It gives as office space, gives us storage space.
Now, I want to show Mike and Helen another home
that's just waiting for new, loving owners.
No one has lived in this place for over a year now.
It's a Victorian gatehouse, set in gardens of approximately three-quarters of an acre,
which gives it the rural setting on Helen and Mike's wish-list.
This quirky building is currently much smaller than Helen and Mike are looking for with only three bedrooms
and limited ground floor space, but the big plus is that the very
large plot means there is loads of potential to extend.
The downside of being a gatehouse, of course - it's by the road.
Which we can hear there.
That is, of course, however, reflected in the price.
It is currently on the market at £325,000.
So £175,000 under your proposed maximum spend. What do you reckon?
First impressions, if you were to knock the back end off here and maybe try and mirror what is on
the other side, it starts to make it look more attractive.
What's interesting about this is that it's not listed.
-So the sky's the limit.
Let's see our imagination go wild.
-Well, why not?
-Come and have a look inside, because it's unbelievable.
The whole interior of this unique house is in need of modernisation,
but our first stop is the triple-aspect sitting room.
What can I tell you about this?
1840, classic mid-Victorian, really.
As a result, it was built to kind of show off the estate to which it was attached.
It's all tall ceilings, as you would have expected at the time,
big windows looking out onto the drive.
So that the guys living here could keep an eye
on what was happening, who was coming and going and so forth.
But traditionally they would have been quite small families, so it's not a massive building.
It's light and airy.
As you say, lots of windows so lots of light coming in!
That's about the best you can say about it.
I can't see how you'd open the windows.
The only escape I can offer you is that,
for what its asking price is - 325 -
you have 175 grand to play with, so let's get creative. Let's see
what we can do.
Here on the ground floor are two bedrooms.
There's also a bathroom with a separate loo and a small kitchen.
Have a think and start teasing out some of the ideas about how we might extend it.
-How about going that way with the kitchen.
It's a lot of building work for this place to make it into a family
home, but, yeah, think of it going that way.
There's a little toilet there and a little utility thing, a boot room.
A door out to the back garden and all that could be opened up.
Down in the basement is a reasonable sized cellar.
And upstairs is a very quirky bedroom three.
I mean, it goes on, beyond that huge chimney breast which dominates
the central spine of the building.
So you've got all these weird angles and gables running off that central axis, hence these crazy roof lines.
So it's pretty difficult, to be fair, to see
this space as it currently is being in any way practical.
So, in many ways, it's about where it is, about the plot that it's in
and what you do outside.
Now, a four-bedroom place in this area on the same size plot
would cost in excess of £650,000.
As this house has so much extension potential, we asked a local
architect to estimate the cost of making it into a four-bedroom home.
Our architect is saying something in the region of about £150,000,
which, in the context of the spend on the building at £325,000,
plus the 175 left over, that is in the right realms of possibility.
It's a lot to take on.
-Yeah. There are some great things about it.
The view is just fantastic.
But it's spoiled by the road.
I'm glad you've seen it, because I think it is an interesting comparative example.
And it just goes to show what you can achieve for 325 in terms of plot size, but it's still within budget.
So Mike and Helen have seen two very different empty homes,
but will they be putting in any offers?
Find out later on.
Finding bargain homes that aren't being lived in can take a bit of effort.
Empty property officer Sue Lee, whose beat takes in Amber Valley in Derbyshire,
is continuing her mission to turn disused buildings back into homes again.
There's various reasons why properties are left empty.
You meet owners from all walks of life.
Some of them are really amicable and we sort things out straight away with them.
Others cause me a complete headache, but this one today is quite different.
We are hopefully here today to try and find a good solution.
This neglected four-bedroom detached house became run-down
as its owners were elderly and unable to look after it properly.
When they passed away, the family decided to sell it to a developer,
but complications with the sale meant the developer pulled out two years ago.
Since then, it has continued to go downhill,
and has attracted vandals and the neighbours have complained.
Today, Sue is meeting with an auctioneer to see whether he thinks he can sell it.
-So somewhere behind here there is a house.
I don't think we'll go that way.
I'm glad I put my old suit on. Invariably, in every auction I do
I have a property which is totally neglected.
It might be boarded up, it might be abandoned, gardens overgrown,
and it is very, very auctionable.
-That's rather nice, isn't it?
-It is, yeah.
The good news is that all the issues
that could have prevented a sale on the house have been resolved.
Planning permission has also been secured to develop it further.
Now that's good, because from an auction point of view, that adds another dimension to the sale.
So you may get your people who will want to renovate what's here and
make a fabulous garden out of it, but you'll also get developers and builders who'll say,
"I'll renovate the house and build something else in the grounds."
So, is there hope for this empty home?
It's a lovely old 1930s detached house.
It's a crying shame it's as it is, but it's going to do really, really well at auction.
Sue recently had a similar place in the same area sell at auction for £166,000.
So it looks like this could be another case closed very soon.
I'm really pleased. I think this will be a great solution and I hope the owner thinks so too.
Renovating an empty house is one thing. But when you've bought
a forgotten building that's barely got a roof, you really do need to use your imagination.
When Susie Askew bought this derelict outbuilding as part of her
North Devon farm, she knew she could turn it into something incredible.
It was potentially a very beautiful place.
Looking at the photographs, we must have had an enormous
amount of vision, but I think we've now achieved it.
As it was just a shell when they bought it, Susie and her husband
faced a mammoth task trying to turn it into the two-bedroom country cottage they'd imagined.
The structure was quite difficult, because we had to raise the roof.
None of the floor levels were straight.
All the walls had to be redone.
We were starting with virtually nothing.
11 years ago, this old barn was worth no more than £20,000.
Susie spent £100,000 transforming it into a cosy cottage, and now she's almost doubled her money.
It's much more satisfying to make good something that is old.
You've just got to have vision and guts, and go for it. I would do it every time.
So, if you'd like to buy an empty property, let your local estate agents know exactly what you're
looking for, and to inform you the moment one comes on to their books.
And if you spy a house near you which you think may be abandoned,
contact your council's empty property officer.
If the owner is known to them, they may be willing to
approach them on your behalf to see if they'd like to sell up.
Back in rural Sussex, I've been showing Mike and Helen some options that could be
transformed into a family home.
They want four bedrooms with office space, as they work from home,
and they also want to be in the countryside.
I've shown them two very different properties,
both with bags of potential to renovate and extend.
But have I convinced them a home lying empty might be for them?
-How have you found it?
-All in all, a very good day,
and we've really learnt a great deal from it.
If nothing else, we've learnt that you have to take your time
when you're looking at a property.
Rather than just rushing in and out with an agent,
because the more that we were at both properties,
the more inspired we became.
-Let's have a think about the first one.
-We did start off saying we
wanted rural, or on the end of the village, and the garden cottage is in a more central village location.
But I have to say that, as Mike said, the more time we spent there
and actually talked about it, it just had so much of what we need.
And obviously it was great to be able to see the plans
that have been approved, because then you can actually picture it.
And to know it's affordable, that's the interesting thing.
It's not a black hole. OK, so then we took you to something very different.
We talk about projects in this game, but, my goodness me, there was a project!
The old gate house.
What were your initial thoughts as you walked through the gate with me?
In a different location, it could have lots of potential.
Yes, the outlook, if you look across the fields,
the path there, that was lovely.
Pretty, nice and quiet, except for that very busy road.
Yes, a very busy road.
The girls aren't here, but what do you think they would say if you took them to that first house?
I think we would certainly have the children wanting to move into the annex!
I think if they would go outside,
go in the garden and see all the space, the lovely, pretty garden
-and the annex, that would just do it for them. They would love it.
But I'm dying to ask now, the half a million pound question
of your hard-earned cash - have we inspired you
to buy an empty property and have we found you the right property?
You've inspired us enormously.
I think we need to go away and have a really serious think
about the Robertsbridge house.
We just have to make sure that this is the right house for us,
in the right village, and that we could feel comfortable and set down some roots here.
I have to say, it's been a real pleasure showing you around some properties in Sussex.
Just do let us know how you get on.
We will do. It's been a lovely day. Thank you.
Exploring the potential of empty buildings like the two we have seen today can,
I think, with the right amount of vision, inspire buyers and encourage them
to take on these unloved properties
and hopefully turn one of them into their dream home.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
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.
Mike and Helen Turner have lived in several rental properties since they met 20 years ago. Now they've decided the time is right to finally buy a house they and their three daughters can truly call their own. They need a house big enough for all of them and a work annex for their music school business somewhere in Sussex. Presenter Jules Hudson thinks if they were to consider transforming a vacant property their budget of 500 thousand pounds could get them just what they're looking for.