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Across the United Kingdom,
there are nearly a million homes lying unloved and unlived in,
ready for someone to come along and give them a bright, new future.
So, whether it's a tired semi, or a rambling mansion,
we're on a mission to rescue Britain's Empty Homes.
Why buy somebody else's idea of a perfect home
when you could create your own?
You could, of course, build one from scratch
but how about taking on the bare bones of an existing property
and injecting it with your own sense of vision and style,
giving it a whole new identity and a brand-new lease of life?
Today, I'm passing on my own renovation knowledge
to help a couple who are searching for an old building
they can transform into their next home.
Gorgeous, isn't it? I'm excited now.
'I'll be getting them invaluable advice
'from experienced renovators who've done it all before.'
I tell you what, this is a cheap way of renovating things,
-paint them on.
-Who needs a door? Paint it on.
And we'll also be discovering
the challenges empty property officers face with neglected homes.
There's a hole in the eaves
and that's where the pigeons are getting in.
Rescuing a wreck requires real vision and grit.
Often, taking on a dilapidated building
can seem like a pretty overwhelming task at first.
But if you plan well and remain focused,
not only do you stand to get the home of your dreams,
but you'll also come away
with an enormous sense of satisfaction as well.
Tony and Michelle Kennedy recently sold their old, family house
and are currently renting whilst on the lookout for a major project
to turn into their perfect family pad.
I think the opportunity just to create our dream place, isn't it?
Something with a gorgeous view, good outside space for the kids.
-The opportunity to have open-plan living, a nice big kitchen.
Being a mum, I spend quite a lot of time in the kitchen. So...
With £800,000 to buy and a further £400,000 for any renovation work,
Tony and Michelle have a sizeable budget.
But where they're looking, within an hour's commute of London for Tony's work,
the detached properties they like do not come cheap,
especially as they want a place with land.
I think, probably, around an acre as a minimum
-would be a nice sort of space.
But if it was two, or ten,
-we'd, probably, think about it.
And while the couple have never taken on a large-scale project
of any kind before, their ambitions are big.
When I grew up, my parents took on a large renovation project.
Having seen it all once,
-I kind of feel that it's something...
-Get your hands dirty.
-..that I'd like to do.
Whilst Tony and Michelle are excited about the prospect of a big project,
they still need to work out the scale of renovation
they would be prepared to take on.
To help them make this decision,
I've decided to set our wannabe builders a test.
So, without me there to guide them, I'm sending Tony and Michelle off
to have a look at sort of empty property they could buy
to see if they've got the right attitude.
And who knows, it might even tickle their taste buds.
Set in three acres of Hampshire countryside
with uninterrupted views,
this former hop kiln is currently completely derelict.
-Oh, my gosh.
-It's a derelict house with a tin roof.
-It kind of looks like a shed.
Transforming a building like this into a home,
even for experienced renovators, would be a challenge.
But what will our amateurs, Tony and Michelle, make of it?
-Oh, my word.
-It's a total rebuild, isn't it?
On the market for £950,000,
while this place would stretch their budget to the limit,
the pay-off could be a stunningly unique family home.
-But will they see it?
-It's a big, square nothing with a tin roof.
It's a big, square opportunity
with a tin roof covering a sensational, wooden roof.
Tony's right, this place is a fantastic opportunity
because it also comes with detailed planning permission
to create a spacious four-floored home with two towers.
-You've got two garages, one in each kiln.
-I like that, his-and-hers.
That's really cool.
I've always wanted a house with a tower.
-Now you've got two.
-Two towers. Brilliant.
And the architect estimates the basic costs to be around £550,000.
It's gorgeous, isn't it? I'm excited now.
So, if they were to take on a project of this size,
just how would they tackle its transformation?
My immediate thoughts are that we would project manage it.
We would bring in all of the separate craftsmen and so on.
We wouldn't outsource that.
We wouldn't hand it over to someone to build the property.
I found it quite hard to visualise anything.
Once we were given some of the drawings, that really, really helped.
It got me excited about it, actually.
I felt really, you know, "Wow, this could be amazing."
You see a derelict building, you see fantastic plans and you go,
"How do you go from one to the other?"
The two ends of the journey is, you know, quite a daunting thing.
Large renovations needn't be intimidating
as long as they're well-planned.
But taking on an unconventional building does require
more preparation than most.
So, I want to allay any concerns that our couple have
by introducing them to other homeowners
with lots of renovation experience.
With Tony unable to join us,
it's up to Michelle to learn what she can.
Well, Michelle, now we've got the chance to show you, I think,
quite an interesting and very extensive renovation in progress.
But Tony can't be with us today so it's all down to you,
-you're the fact-finder.
-Yeah, I know.
It's a bit of pressure on me today to get everything ticked off
and find out all about it.
-Well, let's see what you make of it.
Miriam Maxim and Christopher Harris just knew
this 16th-century cottage was destined to become theirs
when it was put on the market back in 2003,
having been empty for a year.
I think the first thing I saw was the pond
which absolutely fascinated me.
And then, this amazing, chocolate-box house behind it.
It was quite stunning
and I never thought we could ever own a property like this.
It had the space, size
and an enormous amount of scope to doing exactly what we want.
They bought it for £670,000
and spent a further £350,000 renovating it.
We are in the fortunate position that I could stop work
and that meant that I could dedicate my time to helping the builders
when I could, getting my hands, actually, on the lime mortar
and working on it.
The build has taken five years, so far,
and it's still a work in progress.
I was describing to Michelle, on our way down here,
that, you know, it's a very big, extensive property, this.
It's had a lot added to it over the years and a bit taken away.
Give us the story, Christopher.
Originally, this is a 16th-century cottage, in the centre of the house.
Then we've got Georgian, Victorian pieces over this side,
a stable block that's joined to the house.
And then, the whole thing was knitted together in the '50s.
This was, originally, a two-storey cottage with its kitchen-garden.
But now, clearly, that conservatory arrangement isn't period, is it?
This is a work in progress.
Our intention is to remove this conservatory
which was erected as an emergency in the 1990s.
We hope to reveal the front elevation
as it would have been in Elizabethan, Victorian times.
Interesting. What do you think?
I'm amazed. I think it looks amazing.
I can't wait to see what it's like inside.
You know, just the whole complex of different periods of history
coming together as one, will be fascinating.
Let's go and have a look inside. Come on. After you.
Ah, now then, this is more like it, isn't it?
-This feels very period to me.
-This was one of the first rooms we did.
And there was a suspended ceiling here.
We had no idea these beams were underneath.
We had no idea about this fireplace.
You had no idea that that huge inglenook was there?
Can you imagine taking off a few bricks and tiles and then thinking,
"Oh, my goodness me, there's a void behind here."
It's fantastic, isn't it?
It's just so full of character which you wouldn't have got with, like you said,
that suspended ceiling and all of this. It's brilliant.
I think what we've tried to show here
is something that we're sympathetic to the rest of the building.
We raised the beams to create a feeling of light and space.
It's gorgeous, isn't it? It's fantastic.
So, this was a separate thing?
-This wasn't all...
-Just a garage.
-Just a garage, wow.
These flagstones are gorgeous.
-Were they here?
-No, we found those.
These were originally designed for St Paul's Cathedral.
They made a lot of extra tiles when St Paul's was redoing their crypt.
I think they add everything to this kitchen.
But you've also undertaken quite a lot of the work yourselves, haven't you?
I mean, one of the things I know that Michelle is keen to find out
is how much any of us can take on in a renovation.
-Give us an idea what you've done.
-It's been such wonderful fun.
But I've been taught how to use lime mortar
and I've learnt how to knap flints
and I'm actually building a flint wall.
It's not that difficult.
If you've iced a cake, you can ice a wall quite easily.
It's a nice analogy, though.
I mean, are you up to that kind of thing, you and Tony?
Definitely up for finding out how to do things.
Yeah, definitely want to get our hands muddy, as it were.
And get into doing stuff like that.
It's also wonderful to be adding our bit to this building
because it's, the original bit is 1580s.
Everyone, the Georgians, the Victorians
and now us in the 21st century have added our bit.
And we've had a lot of fun going around reclamation yards.
And finding and sourcing the right kind of material.
That door came from a skip down in Devon.
That's now a traditional larder.
-Yeah, I like that.
-Brilliant. So, everything just breathes inside.
We're now in the old part of the house again.
Oh, what do you think of this, Michelle?
That's just lovely, isn't it? It's really lovely.
This floor was supported below by luck,
that's what, according to our builder, it was. You can see the way it slopes.
But we've revealed these lovely boards which we wanted to retain.
And what's going on with this fake door?
-That's what's called a trompe l'oeil, I think.
And, under layers of wallpaper, we found the remains of that door
and we restored it to what we think it should have been
to reflect the door on the other side of the room.
It was make the house look bigger than it was
because that's the chimney brace
and that's where the house used to end.
I tell you want, this is a cheap way of renovating things,
-just paint them on.
-Who needs a door? Just paint it on.
I mean, Michelle, we've had a brief look at this piece of history.
What's your view now on starting from scratch
and going for a new-build or taking on an old building like this one?
It's just completely changed my mind about it all. It's just lovely.
I love the idea of getting something back, if you like, from history.
-I love that. It's just gorgeous.
-What do you think Tony would make of it?
I think he'd be sold on it.
-Yeah, I do. I'm really, really gutted he's not here with me.
But what, kind of, top tips can you leave Michelle with,
from your experience, the pair of you?
Get expert advice. Always try and find a builder,
we had a builder who came and saw the project beforehand,
spent half an hour before the meeting just getting to know the place,
so that he could give us sound advice from day one.
We've used an architect as well who has been able to do
all the tricky negotiations with the authorities
and that's saved us one hell of a headache.
-And whatever you do, don't project manage this yourself, OK?
-I really give you that piece of advice.
-You don't have the expertise or the knowledge.
-I will underline that so Tony can see that.
Well, look, we have just touched the surface.
I'm going to let you three explore this beautiful building
a little longer and I'll catch up with you outside.
You can't fail to be impressed
by Miriam and Christopher's passion for their home.
It truly is a heartfelt restoration
and I hope their enthusiasm has rubbed off on Michelle.
Later, I'll be taking Michelle to see a finished project
which I think will show her you don't need experience in big renovations
to turn a wreck into a wonderful home.
Wow. I love the open spaces.
Somewhere on a street near you, there is a house
that was once somebody's much-loved home,
but now, it's abandoned and alone.
It's the job of empty property officers all over the country
to track down these abandoned buildings
and do what they can to get them lived in again.
And in the London Borough of Southwark,
this challenge is down to officers Celia Esimaje
and Michelle Williams.
They've been responsible for bringing nearly 1,500 homes
back into use since 1996.
And this year, their target is to transform another 135.
Today, they're on their way to a Georgian townhouse
which, until recently, was in such a poor state
it was on the national Buildings At Risk Register.
It has taken a long time to get this property back into use.
I mean, we're talking 2004 to now.
Wow, but that's what happens sometimes.
You've just got to work with owners and help them keep their momentum.
But we got there in the end. So, let's go and have a look.
The building was rescued in 2004 by its current owner, Agi Stylianides.
With a small government loan of £45,000
and £300,000 of his own money,
he has not only returned the building to its former glory
but created three flats to rent solely to people
on the council's housing list.
Wow. Nice and bright. Wow, we've got here. Six years.
-Got the three flats in the end.
-Celia's been no end of help.
She's stood by me all the way.
Unfortunately, it's taken us two years to get it to the standard
that I wanted, which is so the house can last another 200 years.
And can be in the hands of the council for their tenants to enjoy.
To work with an owner, to see a property right through to the end,
and to know that, basically, this is going be somebody's home
and it's public funding that's helped to contribute to the schemes.
So, we want to make sure that we are, actually, getting quality work.
-Good stuff. Are you pleased?
-I'm pleased. I just hope you're happy?
No, we are. Thanks ever so much. All the best.
Yeah, that's great. Three two-bedroom flats.
These will be available for Southwark residents.
-It's a good result all round. Well done.
-That's three off the target.
So, this former wreck can now stand proud as someone's home once more.
Renovating a house doesn't need to be done all at once.
Transforming it in stages can be the best way to do it
on a limited budget.
Which is just what Sherina Agassi is doing
with her large, Victorian semi in Southeast London.
Sherina bought the house in 2005 for £320,000,
after it had been standing empty for two years.
Then, she set about gradually turning it into the ideal home
for her family.
Initially, when we walked up towards the house,
it looked really gloomy. It was red doors, red windows.
And we walked through the door and it was like,
"This is horrendous, what have I done?!"
But then there was calm
because I knew if we could really pull this off,
it would be an absolutely lovely home
that I couldn't possibly afford other than this way.
The first room that you walked into, it was a sort of brownish colour,
everything was brown and grey, and dark blue.
It was just not very inviting at all.
And then we went in through the second lounge and that was massive.
But, of course, totally neglected.
As money was tight, Sherina embarked on a renovation
which took two years and involved her getting stuck in,
doing as much work as possible herself.
The garden was completely overgrown.
There were lots of tips of rubbish and debris everywhere.
But it was, actually, the willow tree that sold me the house.
With the transformation costing £32,000,
Sherina's total outlay was just under £350,000.
She's created a wonderful family home, valued at 600 grand.
So, taking on an abandoned house has certainly paid off for her.
If you plan, and you're able to think of it on a creative level,
you can actually buy your dream,
but you will have to take a risk in doing so.
It's hard, don't get me wrong, and it's challenging,
but it's certainly possible.
It's 100% worth it.
Tony and Michelle have sold their four-bedroom house
and want to find a vacant building with land
to transform into their new family home.
They've seen an old hop kiln brimming with potential
and panoramic views.
Having seen what can be done with challenging restorations,
I now want to show Michelle a spectacular barn conversion
which may provide some inspiring solutions
as to what to do with the hop kiln.
Feast your eyes on that.
-Gosh, it's absolutely gorgeous.
-But would you have wanted it when it looked like this?
-It was a complete wreck.
Just a cow shed, never been anything other than that.
Now, of course, it's a wonderful family home.
But the journey from this to that
is what you could be letting yourselves in for.
That's exciting. That's scary. LAUGHTER
-What would Tony say?
-He'd probably go, "Yeah, brilliant.
"Brilliant, up for it, great."
-Well, let's go and figure out how you do it and meet the owners.
When Margo Alfrey and Douglas Gee took on
these 200-year-old dairy barns in East Sussex,
they knew they'd found somewhere to create a home in the country
where they could bring up a family.
When we started to think about having a family
and moving out of London,
that's when we saw the property and thought it had potential to be a home for us.
But it was quite a big vision because at that stage, when we saw the property,
it was completely run-down, completely dilapidated
and I think a lot of our friends and family thought
this was a bit too ambitious a project to go for.
We could turn it into our dream home.
With the budget that we had, we could end up with a property
that we felt would last many, many years.
And to create the space that we thought would be ideal
for us as a family.
Although the dairy barns hadn't been used for 60 years,
they still had to be reclassified for domestic use
which meant Margo and Douglas had to spend three years
getting planning permission.
This was the original hay barn.
So, here, you had where the carts came in with the hay
and then would go out through there.
And it just meant that we would be able to get doors
that would open right open so that, for instance, if we have parties
or with children, the space would feel open, light,
you can move through it all the time.
-What do you reckon?
-Wow. I love the open spaces.
I love the way the doors, sort of, mirror each other as well.
Just giving that sense of outdoorsiness to it, even further.
-That's kind of you.
One of the things we did do was meet with people that had done barn conversions.
Margo got upset with me going out and buying lots of books on barns.
But it was a good way of finding out who's done barn conversions before.
Is there a club? Did you have meetings?
The, sort of, yeah, The Barn Owl Club. No, no, we didn't.
But what we did do was we found out about
which architects had done what barns
Then we were able to go out and meet the owners and talk to them.
But the finish here. What would Tony think if he walked in here now?
Same as me, he'd love the windows.
I'm sure and the beams, they are just beautiful.
Have you seen the kitchen? Look at this, this is lovely.
This is terrific. Is this all locally-made?
We used a local carpenter
and working directly with someone who uses wood every day,
he gave us some great advice.
Do you know what I love about it?
It's very easy, in a barn conversion, to slot in extra floors.
Here you haven't had to do that.
You've been able to leave the bulk of the main barn itself entire,
if you like.
The pitch of this barn is steep.
We looked at putting another floor in and we realised
we were going to lose what we wanted. We wanted that open feel,
that wow factor when you come into your kitchen, living space.
We're lucky that the barn, the hay barn runs into an old cow byre
where we've been able to have all our bedrooms.
So, we've got our smaller spaces there.
We've kept our accommodation in there
without impacting and losing our open-plan living space.
Now then, we've alluded to your other accommodation,
bedrooms and so forth.
Because it is on one level. Effectively, it's a bungalow.
It is, exactly.
Basically, we live in a glorified bungalow.
I think this is an interesting idea to take away, Michelle.
You've got everything kind of zoned very much, in that,
you've got day-to-day living in the barn
which whilst imposing is still a very manageable, modest size here.
Then everything else in this series of outbuildings, all on one level.
-Is that something you'd take away?
I don't think we'd thought about it before.
But, yeah, it works, doesn't it?
What would be your parting thoughts for Michelle,
who's heading off to take on
this kind of project with her partner, Tony?
I suppose, we talked about it and the first one for us,
is understand the local planning law. It's important.
And hire someone to help you if you don't.
The second thing we talked about was take time
to find the right team to work with you, both the architect and then, in turn, builder.
The third thing was really create
a very detailed specification document
so that you're going down to almost the window fitting level
so that when you do go out for a tender,
you know you're tendering for the whole thing.
And it's almost a turn-key type project.
For us, in our stage in life with two small children,
-that was the right solution for us.
-Well, guys, congratulations.
-Sadly, it's not for sale, Michelle.
-If it was, you'd be in.
Meanwhile, back in the London Borough of Southwark,
empty property officers Celia Esimaje
and Michelle Williams are responding to a call about an empty house
that's been on their books for a while.
There was a complaint from a neighbour
saying there was an infestation of pigeons, basically,
getting into the empty property
and, also, causing problems with their property
and just wanted us to find out what was going on.
There it is.
Because of the diseases they carry,
pigeons are considered a public health hazard.
Once they've gained access to a building,
they cause damage with their droppings
that corrode floorboards and block drains and guttering.
-The hole in the roof is at the side.
And the house has been a cause of concern for the neighbours.
It's a worry that it's, structurally, falling down, for a start.
And the pigeons and the squirrels as well.
At one point the squirrels got into my loft
and I had to get vermin control to come and remove them
because they were keeping us awake.
Celia and Michelle are aware the house has been left empty
for approximately three years
as the owner intends to eventually renovate it.
They've blocked off the letter box.
Even the porch looks like it's coming away a bit.
-The garden's all overgrown.
-There's a hole in the side, in the eaves.
And that's where the pigeons are getting in.
The neighbours at the back have also complained,
so, they're getting in all over the roof.
Celia gathers evidence should she need to take further action
in forcing the owner to make repairs.
So what we'll do now, we'll get in touch with the owner
to find out if they have got some sort of timetable of works
and also see if they need any assistance, any guidance.
And since filming, she's successfully contacted the owner,
who has now repaired the gap in the roof.
I've taken wannabe renovator Michelle Kennedy
to see a couple of impressive former empty homes
to try and inspire her as to what can be achieved.
Now, then, Michelle, we've seen two quite interesting properties today
which have involved some very extensive renovations,
to say the least.
-Have they put you off this idea?
-No, not at all.
It's just they're very different in how they've approached things.
One being enormously historical,
another being, virtually, a complete a new-build.
It's really given a lot of food for thought.
What are you going to tell Tony?
What's going to be on the list of the do's and don'ts.
One, really be careful of planning.
Two, definitely get a project manager in.
And three, you know, I think I just feel really inspired
and encouraged by it.
So I think I'll take that enthusiasm home with me as well.
But can you cast your mind back to that empty property
that we showed you and Tony?
You were pretty daunted by it.
What about now that you've seen what can be done?
You're absolutely right. It terrified me when I first saw it.
But having just seen these two and having seen the plans,
I feel, actually, more excited by it.
Much less daunted.
Is it one that you would consider taking on
or is it just a useful example?
I think there's, I think it's definitely worth talking about
in much more detail.
Interesting. So, Tony might get more than he bargained for out of this.
It'll be the last time he sends you off looking at empty properties?
Well, having shown Michelle, I think,
two very interesting and extensive renovations,
I think she's firmly convinced that a renovation is the way to go.
Both of today's examples have taken at least five years to complete.
Where will Tony and Michelle be in five years' time, I wonder?
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