Property series. Presenter Jules Hudson helps Clive Jones and his girlfriend Laura, who are looking for an empty house near the picturesque town of St Ives in Cambridgeshire.
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There are nearly a million homes lying lost and abandoned in the UK,
just waiting for someone to come along and breathe life back into them,
so whether it's a tired semi or a rambling mansion,
we're on a mission to rescue Britain's empty homes.
It's well known that moving house is one of the most stressful things
we can do in life,
but imagine how much more nerve-wracking it would be
if you took on something that was abandoned and is in a state of disrepair.
It takes a lot of courage to renovate an empty property
but when it comes to houses, fortune favours the brave.
Today I'm drawing on my renovation experience
to help a couple learn the ropes of the renovation game.
Take this wall down, somehow. I don't know how, yet!
We'll meet homeowners who've taken on vacant places,
in the hope that they'll be able to offer some valuable advice.
Although it's traditional, you can make it modern. It will appeal to people. Just be a bit brave!
And we'll also be joining an empty property officer,
battling to save deserted dwellings from decay.
Right, it looks like someone's broken in.
Old empty properties with their overgrown gardens,
rotten windows and crumbling roofs can be an eyesore for those who live around them.
But for those with a canny eye, these vacant properties can hold untold promise.
Bought cheaply and then transformed with the money saved, not only do buyers get their dream home
but they provide a welcome addition to the neighbourhood as well.
Clive Jones and his girlfriend Laura Carson have moved around a lot due to their jobs,
but are now setting their sights on finding a home of their own.
They're hoping to find what they're looking for close to the picturesque town of St Ives in Cambridgeshire.
I think, in this move, we're looking for a home of the right size,
that we can call a family home, make our base where we'd expect to be for at least five years.
With an estimated budget of £400,000,
they're hoping an empty house will provide them with the bare bones they need
to remodel it into the perfect family home.
The size of the renovation project we'd like to do
is anything ranging from fairly small DIY
to a fairly large-scale renovation in terms of extensions.
We've got some experience with smaller-scale renovations but we just need to scale up a little bit more.
-Hi, Laura, how are you?
-Nice to see you. Hi, Clive.
-Come on in, guys.
'I'm meeting up with them to find out just what level of renovation project they're after.'
Well, guys, this is all quite exciting, isn't it?
Now, what kind of property are you kind of dreaming about?
I think older.
We've definitely said we want something that is probably at least Victorian,
if not older, and I suppose take it back a little bit to what it was
but still keep areas modern.
Technically, how proficient are you? What kind of things have you undertaken?
We've renovated a one-bedroom flat -
we've done all the electrics, plumbing, new bathroom, kitchen, flooring.
We haven't done any building work, structural work, et cetera.
That's the thing we're a bit unsure of and we may need professional help for that.
Well, it sounds like you're in a pretty good position. You've got, I think, a realistic budget
and you've clearly developed some of the skills needed to actually fulfil this dream
and actually carry through a successful renovation.
I think the key thing is to, er,
-see if we can find you a property that might whet your appetite.
To help Laura and Clive stride confidently into the world of renovation,
I'll be introducing them to some homeowners who've already taken the plunge.
But first I'm setting them a challenge.
I want to see how Laura and Clive cope when they come face to face with a good example
of the sort of empty property they could buy,
to see if they've got the vision to spot the potential in the perfect renovation.
I'm sending Clive and Laura to look around this four-bedroom Victorian detached house
just a couple of miles from St Ives.
Oh, wow, that's really nice!
That looks very nice, actually, to be honest!
Formerly a rental property for farm workers,
it's now on the market having been empty for several months. It has three reception rooms,
a master bedroom with an en suite,
a family bathroom and three further good-size bedrooms.
Outside is a pretty wall garden and garage.
The house is on the market for £250,000, so it's well within Clive and Laura's budget
and would leave them plenty of cash left over for renovation work.
Now let's see if they can spot its potential.
-This must be the lounge, presumably.
-Quite nice size.
Yeah. It's got the old fireplace.
-That's marble, isn't it?
-It's very nice.
And the kitchen.
It's not a bad size, is it? You might want to reorganise it.
-Good size, lots of units.
-You've got a patio area out there,
so you could actually do sort of a dining opening out into the patio, couldn't you?
-Some big patio doors or something.
Planning permission allowing, this patio area could become an extension to the kitchen-diner.
Big glass roof coming straight down here like an indoor conservatory,
take this wall down, somehow. I don't know how, yet!
Take this wall down,
I think, and it all becomes completely open-plan.
And I suppose it's then what would these rooms become? Cos this is currently...
This would become a formal dining room.
-Rather than the kitchen, the large kitchen-diner that we'll have out there,
this'd become our entertaining room.
They've got clear ideas as to how they change the layout on the ground floor,
but what will they make of upstairs?
So this is a big room.
Again, fireplace again, all the features throughout...
with a bathroom as well.
And we've got a small walk-in wardrobe.
Awesome! I'm seeing all my clothes hanging in there.
I don't know where yours are going!
I think this is, then, probably the smallest room,
-but it's a decent size.
-It's still a fair size.
Still get a double bed and a wardrobe in. It's still a double room, isn't it? Or a study.
And sofa-bed, sort of thing.
And outside, Laura and Clive can see room for improvement in the garden, too.
A path all the way outside and extending round the front, preserving the original tiles.
-Maybe extend this wall to make it a little bit more secluded and a bit quiet.
-I think it'd finish off the place really well.
-Yeah. No, I think it's lovely.
I think it looks smashing!
'Now they've thoroughly examined the house, I'm meeting up with them to discuss their findings.'
Well, guys, a very interesting property. What are your thoughts?
What do you think? We, we really like the property 0-
you know, the sort of layout, the features that are there,
and also the sort of potential to expand as well.
I think what we have got the idea of doing is to use the patio, which is basically...
There's no sun that falls on it so use that, put a big, glass roof in, make a massive kitchen-diner.
How much do you think you'd have to spend to turn it around?
-I think we were saying maybe around £60,000, wasn't it?
-More than 60.
Well, we had a builder look at it and his ideas were very similar to yours, which is good news -
great minds think alike and all that. He reckoned you could do it for about £40,000,
which would mean 290 would be your overall spend, or thereabouts.
'But sadly, Laura and Clive weren't the only people to spot this gem.
'Since their viewing, an offer has been accepted on it.'
-If it came back on the market, would you make an offer?
-We'd definitely consider it.
We're doing a bit more market research and with what you said -
a builder had quoted 40, so 20 grand less than we thought - then definitely would consider it.
So, disappointing, but that's the way the market goes. But we're still trying to equip you with everything
you need to take on a major renovation.
We've got two properties to show you, one of which is halfway through its build, one of which is finished.
Grill the owners on what they've been through because they have done a lot of things
you haven't yet done - structural issues, major budgets, that sort of thing -
and hopefully we can fill in the gaps
and get you ready to go on your new project.
-And hopefully, that house will come back on the market.
Finding the ideal empty house to turn into your home can be a long journey.
But when it does finally appear, you'll know it's the one for you.
When Kevin and Sarah Sparks discovered this former coaching inn back in 2008,
they knew immediately that it had the promise to be a fantastic home.
It hadn't been lived in for a year and it was good,
because it meant to us we could just completely rip out everything that was in here.
Albeit we had to be careful cos it's a listed,
but we could just rip out everything in here and have it as we wanted it.
Buying it for £440,000 was just the beginning.
They then set about planning how to convert it to suit their needs,
whilst preserving the original features,
which required five months of liaison with the conservation authorities.
Anything interesting we decided to keep.
So, certainly as much of the timber as possible without being overbearing
and just make sure that the stuff that's nice is very much visible and part of the feature of the house.
Things like the kitchen floor - you know, the tiles aren't pristine,
they've got lots of cracks, but actually I quite like them and we thought, "We'll leave them -
"they're part of the house. We're not going to start ripping those up.
Once they got the go-ahead, Kevin quit his job to project manage the transformation,
something he and his workforce achieved in a remarkable 20 weeks,
and now they have a family home they love.
I do love the house. It has worked out really well. Everyone's got their own little space.
The kitchen has just ended up being the complete heart of the home.
I thought it was going to be the worst room cos it was so dark
and horrible when we first came round, but it is a lovely room.
They spent £260,000 achieving their dream
and recently had the place valued for an estimated £850,000.
So, I think, actually, the message really is,
"You can still make money if you're prepared to roll your sleeves up and put in the hard work."
-But we're not selling.
-We're not moving.
No, not for a while!
In some areas, the problem of empty buildings being left to decay
has become so acute that local councils have taken to policing their streets
with empty property officers, who are tasked with the job of tracking down errant owners
and, with any luck, getting their properties back into use again.
And in Bristol, that man is Henry Dawson.
His patch contains an estimated 1,500 empties.
And with around 900 active cases on his books at any one time,
Henry has a busy job - but it can be a very rewarding one.
There's not a lot of professions where you can go home at the end of the day and see, you know,
something that you drive past day in and day out has been brought back into use because of you.
Today, Henry has a new case to investigate.
This large detached house was brought to the council's attention by concerned neighbours,
who were worried about the state of the place and the possibility
that foxes and vermin might move into the overgrown garden.
I have arranged a meeting with pest control.
Quite often, we'll bring them in if we suspect that there might be
enough overgrowth there to start harbouring rats and mice.
Henry checks the house for any signs of occupancy while he awaits the pest controller.
Absolutely no sign of occupation at the moment.
Totally unfurnished. These cobwebs - all the way around the door.
It looks like it's been a while since someone's been through here.
Right, it looks like someone's broken in.
First thing would be to contact the owner and get them to secure it.
Having given the house the once-over, the garden is next -
and the pest controller knows exactly where to look for any potential rats' nests.
This is the place they're likely to be if they're anywhere -
under stuff like this corrugated metal.
For rats, they eat all these snails, as well. If you ever find a big pile of snail shells
with all the backs of them ripped out, rats will do that as well.
'He puts down some test bait in places where other animals won't eat it.'
Nice and safe.
If that lot of bait gets eaten, I'll know if it is rats by the way it's been eaten.
And if that goes, I will come back and put twice as much down next time and we'll keep coming back
until it's not been eaten any more, then I'll take all the bait away and leave it as we found it.
They'll find out pretty quickly if there is any evidence of rats at the property.
Meanwhile, Henry turns his attention back to the house.
The next step will be to make first contact with the owner and to try and
find out what exactly is stopping it from being brought back into use.
The owner has since been served a formal notice from the council to make the house secure.
Henry will continue to monitor the problems until they are resolved.
If you are interested in buying an empty property,
a little bit of detective work could put you ahead of the pack.
Drive around to the area of your choice, look for those tell-tale signs
of overgrown gardens and boarded-up windows, check the Land Registry,
knock on a few doors, talk to the neighbours, even chat to your local empty property officer.
And who knows? You may even track down the owner, who may be interested in selling.
Laura and Clive are looking for a house they can put their own stamp on and turn into a family home.
They've been inspired by the potential in a Victorian country house.
A big glass roof coming straight down here like an indoor conservatory.
They're enthusiastic, but relatively inexperienced, DIY-ers
so I'm going to introduce them to some homeowners
who've just started an ambitious renovation project on a large period property
that's not dissimilar to the house they looked at earlier.
There we go - that's what I want you to look at. Does the scale of that worry you at all?
It's intimidating, but it could be exciting.
It's really exciting. What that plastic hides is an extraordinary redevelopment.
Rebecca and Stephen Cripps had been searching for four years
to find an empty house to transform into their ideal home,
but they knew they had finally found it when this large Victorian semi
in Beckenham, Kent came on the market for £410,000 in July 2010.
It was exactly the size that we were looking for.
The property's period was ideal, the state of it was perfect
and it really needed to be injected with a personal touch and to be re-loved again.
Having sat empty for over three years, it was in a terrible state and needed completely gutting.
But having planned for years, Rebecca and Stephen knew exactly what they wanted.
So armed with their budget of £300,000, they set to work.
I feel so fortunate that we've come across it.
It's something we've waited a long time to get.
And to be able to both inject our own designs
and details and ideas into a property that we're both living in.
Now then, this is quite an ambitious project.
-To say the least!
-Yeah, it is!
This is very much the sort of thing, Clive, in terms of scale,
that you're looking for for your new family home.
I think, definitely. It's slightly intimidating on the structural side.
But this is the kind of project we're looking for.
Let's have a look inside.
Let's go in and see what these guys are up to.
So what's come down, so far?
Was that a wall?
No, that was already taken down. So this was just one big open space at the time.
This doorway was blocked in, so we kind of reopened that up
and blocked the one that was open, because we want to create a TV/living space over there.
We opened this one up because we're creating a study in there.
You've re-thought the whole ground plan.
Yeah. We've configured it to suit our needs and what we require.
Outside, Rebecca and Steve are planning to build a large kitchen extension.
On the first floor, their most ambitious plans are paying off.
This is the master bedroom.
Wow! So this is just the bedroom area?
-This is just the bedroom area.
-And through here?
This leads straight onto the dressing room,
which will be a walk-through wardrobe, dressing room.
Wow, a lot of clothes!
So what was this originally? Was this...bedrooms, or...
Yeah. There were three bedrooms up here, and we've kind of turned it into just...
-a master en-suite floor, basically.
-So this is just for you?
-Yes, just the two of us.
-The whole floor.
-Which is perfect.
-And then in here we've got this fabulous, fabulous bathroom.
-This is quite a bathtub!
It certainly is!
What's happening here? Is this a skylight?
Yes, so when you're actually lying the bath,
once it's all finished, you can look up straight into the blue sky,
see the stars, perfect!
-It's a nice design trick, isn't it?
-Very good! I really like the idea,
you've taken a whole floor and turned it into one living space,
basically, the bedrooms, massive rooms as well! It's fantastic.
Now, this is going to be your master floor.
You're going to go for two other bedrooms up there, where there is no roof.
I'm going to leave you to go and explore that,
in their capable hands, and I'll catch up with you later.
-Off you go!
-Go away and be inspired.
Steve and Rebecca's enthusiasm for this project is infectious.
They love it, and where people would have seen limitations,
they've just seen golden opportunities.
It's a wonderful example of how you can rescue an old property
that has been left to its own devices.
It's a really inspiring project.
Later on, they'll see a finished renovation
which I hope will show them that despite the journey,
it can be very worthwhile in the end.
But first, back in Bristol, Empty Property Officer, Henry Dawson,
is on his way to a case that's been on his books for some time.
It's a shop with a flat above that was bought at auction six years ago by a developer.
His intention was to refurbish the place fast, and rent it out,
but structural faults and problems with planning permission
resulted in the premises being left empty and in a bad state of repair.
We have been trying to persuade him and offer assistance
to get the property back into use for quite some time now.
That hasn't been too successful, and so we have had to resort to
pressing a compulsory purchase order to bring the property back into use because it looks so bad.
So with a bit of luck, that will have got him going on with the works again.
Compulsory Purchase Orders are no empty threat,
as they effectively allow a council to take control of a property.
And now to check on progress.
Henry is meeting with Asaf Ahmed,
who manages the premises on behalf of his father.
Wow! It looks like you've done a hell of a lot since I was last here!
-Yeah! We've obviously put in a new floor and all the foundations.
Also, as you can see, we've put in the steel frame,
we've put in all the joists and the flooring down for the first floor.
When you first got this property,
it was just going to be a refurbishment. What happened?
Well, how do we start! Basically, there were a lot of problems
with the structure of the property.
The whole place just effectively needed gutting,
-cos nothing would comply with building regs.
-It's a rebuild from scratch?
Yeah. We've obviously had to change it and do it all up
to Building Control, building regs and everything.
Is there any chance we can look on the upper floors?
-Yeah, no problem.
The structure for the flat above is in its initial stages.
But the plan is to create a two bedroom maisonette.
As you can see, we're just waiting for the roof to go on now, really, and we're just putting in
another planning application to make this into two bedrooms at the top.
There's has been delay in the work but it's all...
we're having the architects design it at the moment.
From where we're concerned, we're really pleased with what is happening here.
If you have any further struggles with planning or anything like that,
-do let us know if there is anything we can do.
But as is, we'll just take a step back.
-You seem to be getting on with it just smashing.
When we purchased the property, we didn't anticipate any of this.
It has dragged on for three or four years now. I would say
within five months, I would like to have tenants in, the case closed,
start actually earning some rent from it.
-Have a good day.
Definitely a successful visit.
It looks like the owners had quite a lot of trouble
bringing the property into a condition where it can be inhabited again,
but it looks like he's well on the way with that.
He sounds like he's planning to get it completed in a pretty sensible timeframe.
I'm feeling very good about this,
and it will also be a good one to tick off and put the case to bed.
Having moved from pillar to post because of their jobs,
Laura Carson and Clive Jones are now ready to settle down.
They've seen an empty home they thought had potential for transformation.
Take this wall down, and it all becomes completely open plan.
They're renovation novices, so I introduced them
to other homeowners with experience in the field.
We configured it to suit our needs and what we require for us.
I want them to see why all the hard graft can be worthwhile.
Now then, how about taking on something like that?
Hmm, OK! THEY LAUGH
Now, lots of Victorian terraces around here.
One thing many of them would have had, both in London and elsewhere,
-were mews...stables to you or me.
And what we've got here is an old stable block.
That's what it used to look like. This is what it looks like now.
-Oh, wow! That's a lot different!
It is a lot different!
When Dominic Wheel and Kirsten Jack spotted these dilapidated stables back in 2007,
they had been virtually untouched since they were built in 1870.
When we first saw the place, you could see all the boarding
from the old stables, the mezzanine where the stable boy had slept.
Upstairs was the hay loft, so you could really read the history of the place.
It seemed like a fantastically logical step for us to come in here
and make it a combination of a home and a studio space.
Having bought the stables for £180,000, they spent a further 160
turning them into an ultra-modern but sympathetic conversion.
We couldn't have found anything like this.
The site is unique, the final product is unique.
The only way that we could achieve this was by doing it ourselves.
Welcome to our house! Come into the kitchen.
In you go. Wow!
-This is interesting, isn't it? What do you reckon?
A really nice space.
They've got the mix of the...kind of old brickwork.
It's still got that feel of being a stable,
but it's got the mod cons and the modern feel as well.
Some things aren't finished, and some things are but don't look it!
We're keeping that, because
it's a nice way of recognising all the things that happened here.
But it's nice the way you've pushed through that doorway,
and given yourselves an extra metre or so with the doors there.
It was a very expensive piece of work to do actually, that extension.
It's not even that it adds space, it's that it completely changes the way this room works.
It's got a much stronger connection to the outside.
Throughout the house, the old mixes seamlessly with the new.
They have retained original features alongside smart architectural detail.
This is great, isn't it? Look at that, no hands!
The floor is gorgeous. Are these boards that you reclaimed from this building?
They are reclaimed, but they're from a mill.
-But they're absolutely perfect for this.
I love, again, the mix of the old. You've got some wood, wooden floor,
but very, very simple furnishings as well, and loads of light.
-I really like it.
-Laura, in terms of what you are going to create
in your final project,
is this approaching it?
Yeah, I think there's some excellent ideas that we could steal.
And I suppose it's, you know, when we find that property,
it's seeing what will fit as well.
Because some things apply to certain places and not quite so to others.
-There's some good ideas.
-Although it's a traditional building,
you can make it modern, and it will appeal to people.
Just be a bit brave about some things.
We've all enjoyed looking around this.
It really is a credit to the pair of you.
What would be your parting words of advice for Clive and Laura?
Take your time, as much as you possibly can.
If you have to live in the house, shut yourselves off in a bit,
make that bit nice enough that you can live there for as long as you have to.
In terms of money, make sure you have a contingency.
We split our roles and it worked very well in the sense that
Dominic made sure that he designed, the attention stayed there.
I kept an eye on the money.
So we had a couple of set-ups whereby Dom would come to me with these beautiful lights,
and go "I have the perfect lights!"
"You can have them if they cost half as much."
Yeah, you kind of argue a little bit, but not in a way that's unresolvable.
I hope that in their search for their perfect property,
we've inspired Laura and Clive with what we've shown them so far.
Well, Clive, when we started out on this,
you said you were confident with some aspects of DIY and renovation,
but you weren't sure about the structural side of things.
How do you feel now that we've shown you the two properties that we have?
I think a little bit less daunted, but still maybe apprehensive.
Looking at the half-renovated property,
it's not insurmountable, what they're doing, so I think
I'm a bit more confident, to be honest.
Good! Laura, what are your thoughts now on finding a suitable property to take forward?
Whereas before I suppose we were just looking for something
that was structurally sound, now probably
wouldn't be quite so nervous about taking it on.
What would be the key lessons that you'd take away from today?
The key lesson that I'll take away is about planning.
I think the amount of preparation that you need to do
before the build phase to maximise the use of the labourers, the costs etc.
I think the point is that it's all doable.
If you can, as you say, plan it properly,
and have the right sort of vision to create the home that you want.
Best of luck, guys. Keep looking.
Your dream property is out there, and buy some new tools!
Well, I am delighted that we've had the chance
to show Clive and Laura two fantastic renovations,
both of them different in terms of style and scope, but both of them
illustrating perfectly one of the key tools in successful renovation...planning.
Plan it once, plan it twice, plan it as much as you can
because then, you'll enjoy it.
After all, it is supposed to be fun.
You are trying to create your dream home.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Clive Jones and his girlfriend Laura Cuss have moved around a lot in their work in the past, and are now setting their sights on finding a permanent home somewhere within a couple of miles radius of the picturesque town of St Ives in Cambridgeshire.
Clive and Laura are renovation novices but they are hoping an empty house will provide them with the bare bones of a perfect family home and allow them to remodel it to suit their needs.
Presenter Jules Hudson steps in to assist them on their mission and introduces them to other homeowners who have taken on the empty home challenge, taking them to see a previously dilapidated 17th century London stable block which has been turned into an ultra-modern but sympathetic conversion.