Series revealing the potential of vacant properties. Joe meets Karen and Jeremy, who bought a run-down 3-bedroom terraced house in Richmond to be close to their son's school.
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Across the country, empty buildings that could be homes
are just waiting to be brought back into use.
I'll be finding out why
and what you need to do to rescue a house for yourself.
Along the way, I'll be doing digging of my own to find out
more about our housing stock, our heritage and why we should
be both reinventing and preserving Britain's Empty Homes.
Rescuing an empty property can be incredibly worthwhile
and it doesn't just benefit the local community.
Now, whether you're moving for a job, for more space or to be nearer
to a school, renovating an empty property can be a great way of
creating a home in an area you might otherwise not be able to afford.
Today, I'll be meeting a couple who are feeling a little overwhelmed
by the project they've taken on.
A scary moment when we thought, "What have we done?"
You're good at geeing each other up?
We'll also meet people who've successfully transformed empty homes
when all the odds were against them.
We had all our friends round for dinner and they all thought
we were completely mad. They hated it.
We'll be following the property detectives who help breathe
new life into derelict dwellings.
When I see a new empty property, of course I'm interested to know
why it's empty, what position the owner's in
and what we can do to help them.
When Karen Dimmock and Jeremy Wilson bought
this run-down three-bed terrace house
in Hampton Hill, Richmond-Upon-Thames,
it had been lying empty for four months.
It's damp, it's old and needs an awful lot of tender loving care.
Their eldest son Luke had been offered a place at a local school.
We had to make the decision between having a much nicer house
and educating him, and in the end we decided that education
was more of a priority for us.
To afford a house in this affluent area,
their only choice was to take on a wreck.
So they bought their Victorian terrace for £369,000.
Renovation novices Karen and Jeremy had a build budget of £100,000,
but after they purchased the property, they uncovered
some serious structural problems.
We knew there were issues but not quite the scale of the issues.
Everything has to be done. Garden, every room in the house.
Every surface needs some kind of attention.
I'm slightly terrified that we'll run out of money, if I'm honest,
and not be able to get to the result.
Later, I'll be sending Karen and Jeremy
to meet a couple who had similar setbacks
but are now enjoying life in their state-of-the-art family home.
First, I'm meeting up with Karen
and Jeremy to find out more about their problem property.
Hi, guys, I'm Joe. Jeremy? Hello, Karen. How are you doing?
-Very well, thanks.
-Good. This is your new place.
First of all, why here? Why did you choose this house?
The location, really. We wanted to be close to our son's school
and we didn't want him to live a commuter lifestyle.
Although it was much cheaper than anywhere else we looked,
we'd have the budget to do what we wanted.
Very exciting plans, shall we have a look inside?
The structural problems here are so serious that Karen and Jeremy
haven't yet been able to move their family in.
Clearly, you've come in and decided to get started by stripping
-everything back, have you?
The wallpaper here was 1950s Anaglypta with a thin underlay
of polystyrene which actually was keeping damp in.
It was actually sweating the house and they had
replacement double-glazed windows and in a Victorian house
-it doesn't allow it to breathe.
-We brought the surveyor in
and he held his damp meter up on to this chimney breast and went,
"I've never seen my damp meter go off the scale before"
That was the scary moment when we thought,
-"What have we done here?"
-He could just tell it was almost saturated.
-It was much worse than the original survey.
-That's one surprise.
Anything else not come through on the survey?
We've got a 30mm drop from one corner of the room to the other.
You can see it, can't you? Standing here, it seems to slope down
-towards that corner.
-We were aware of that. It's obvious
when you walk in the door that there's subsidence but I think
we thought we'll be able to unpin, make this good relatively easily.
Karen and Jeremy have a dilemma on their hands.
Ideally, they'd like to build a loft extension but to do that,
they'll need to shore up all the subsiding walls with steel joists,
and that won't come cheap, and will impact
on all the finances for the rest of the renovation.
In order to get the loft in there, we'd have to put structural steels
in this wall and another steel across here.
-All of which adds hugely to the cost of any conversion.
We thought we had a healthy budget
which was why we took the house on in the first place.
It was far and away the cheapest properly we looked at
and we figured if we had enough money to spend, we could
make it good, but it increasingly looks as though the money
we've put aside isn't going to be enough.
-It comes back to budget again.
-It does. You look at a house like this
and think of course we can do a loft conversion.
There's loads of Victorian properties with loft conversions,
but this particular property with its structural issues,
-it's much more complex.
-You're good at geeing each other up?
We'll have to be.
I'm a perpetual optimist and Karen's a perpetual pessimist.
-Shall we head back downstairs?
On a positive note, the couple have already obtained
planning permission to extend the kitchen.
This is going to be the wow factor room.
We are going to take down these two walls
and extend out into the side-return.
We're also going to go four metres out into the back garden
and have a wall of conservatory-style windows.
Obviously, it's a classic use of space in a Victorian terrace.
Enlarging the footprint. You'll have
a great kitchen here and you're blessed with
all that light coming in being south-facing. That's brilliant.
It sounds like the kitchen could be an amazing addition to the house,
but I'm still concerned about all the structural issues.
Stay focused. There are big problems here but
they're not insurmountable if you do the right things.
We've arranged for you to see a family later on.
They've had a similar sized project which also had a few surprises,
so I think it's going to be crucial that you meet them
and they'll have some great advice for you.
Be honest, ask questions. There's a lot you can learn.
-Will we head back through?
Jeremy and Karen have moved here to secure
the right education for their children.
That's something many parents can relate to,
but in doing so, they've taken on a huge project.
So many challenges and they don't really have any experience of this,
so they're going to need a really clear vision to keep
their head above water, to make their budget go as far
as it possibly can, and in the end, turn this into their ideal home.
Across Britain, there are many houses like Karen
and Jeremy's, just waiting to be discovered and brought back to life.
Local council empty property officers are constantly carrying out
detective work on abandoned homes to bring them back into use.
In Derbyshire, Sue Lee is the local empty property officer
covering the area's 1,000 empty buildings.
When I see a new empty property,
of course I'm interested to know why it's empty,
what position the owner's in and what we can do to help them.
Her aim is to turn empty homes into affordable housing and help
members of the local community to find a place to live.
What I love about my job is it's more than the normal nine to five.
You can make a difference to communities by transforming
a derelict property into a home.
Today, Sue has received complaints from neighbours about
a vacant property and she's on her way to investigate.
Residents suspect the owner has abandoned the property.
One neighbour has complained of damp.
Others are concerned about the potential for vermin harbourage.
People are just concerned about it.
Neighbours suspect that the house has been abandoned.
If this is the case, it will be Sue's job
to track down the owner and make sure the building is made safe.
The reports that the owner's now abandoned the property
are probably quite correct.
It would be difficult to get to the front door here
and access the property.
Gosh, there's an incredible build-up of just mail.
Round the back, things get even worse.
Up there, we've got a window pane
where the frame's come away at the bottom.
I hope that doesn't actually slide down onto anybody.
I did wonder if they only used the rear door
but we've got quite a number of cobwebs down the door
which suggests it hasn't been opened in some time.
Neighbours have voiced concerns about rats
and although Sue can't see any obvious signs of vermin,
she's keen to prevent future problems.
What I could really do with is getting our landscape team in there.
Getting it cut back.
That would remove any harbourage for vermin anyway.
In the kitchen there's yet more evidence that
the house hasn't been lived in for some time.
I can see that there are lots of food items that have been left out.
Pots just dumped in the sink and on the draining board.
For the neighbours,
having an empty home on the street can be extremely worrying.
It's so sad to see a neglected house like that when it could be
made nice for a family to move into and be used again.
It's empty and if people know it's empty, anybody can go
and try and get in through windows and squat.
Who wants to live near a property like that?
I certainly don't and I'm sure nobody else does.
The next step for Sue is to get workmen into the building
to make sure it's stable
and prevent further damage to neighbouring houses.
Back at the office, her boss gives her permission
to track down the owner and make contact.
She's now done that, giving the owner a month to respond.
If they don't,
Sue will be issued with a warrant to gain access to the property.
What interests me in empty property work is seeing a derelict
property transformed into a home.
It's the end result that's the driver.
Bringing an empty property back to life can be
incredibly worthwhile but that doesn't mean it's ever easy.
However, if you do speak to the people who've been through it,
they'll assure you the hard slog, the long hours,
the late nights - they're all worth it in the end.
Robin and Isobel Edwards bought a grade two listed Georgian
farmhouse in Axbridge, Somerset,
in the hope of creating a cosy home with enough space to entertain
their expanding family and a large circle of friends.
I used to cycle past this house on my way to work every day.
We'd been looking for two years and this one came up on the market.
I recognised it as the house I cycled past and came to look around.
You had to climb up a ladder into this room that we're in now,
into the hayloft.
I turned round and looked at the view from out of these windows
which is to the Mendips and it just made me burst into tears.
I called Robin on my mobile and said, "I've found the house!
"You've got to buy this house!"
The couple paid £316,000 for the dilapidated building
which had been empty for four years and needed complete renovation.
There was a huge amount of work to do from top to bottom.
The rising damp was drowning the woodworm. It was that sort of house.
We devoted our life to doing this project.
We were virtually here every day.
We didn't go on holiday for 10 months, a year.
They knew they were taking on a massive challenge, but Robin
and Isobel were convinced they had found the right home for them.
We wanted a renovation that we could stamp our own identity on the house.
There was no point in buying a house that was all up together
and then ripping out a perfectly good kitchen.
We had a party when we first bought the house
and we had all our friends round for dinner.
They all thought we were completely mad. They hated it.
Most of them thought we'd made a big mistake.
We're having them back next week, the same people,
to show them that it's not horrible any more.
For Robin and Isobel, buying an empty house meant
they had a blank space into which they could incorporate some
of the important artefacts they'd collected throughout their life.
At the previous house, we found two stained glass windows
in the garden, and we used one in the house we had in Berkeley,
and we've kept this stained glass under a bed for 30 years.
We've incorporated it into the lounge door
and it really seems to fit there.
People say, "How nice that you've kept that old door."
That's great, because they think it's an old door and it's not.
-It's lovely stained glass, it's absolutely beautiful.
The couple spent £230,000 renovating the farmhouse
and they did a huge amount of research into
the traditional techniques and materials
to restore it to its former glory.
Ten months after the work began, the renovation was complete.
When finally they took down the scaffolding around the house,
so many people came up and said, "Excuse me, is this your house?
"We love it. We love the colour and what you've done with this house."
There is this feeling that we've restored what was once
a lovely house and the renovation's brought it back to life again.
This is perhaps something that we'll pass on to the next generation.
Here is a wonderful house and we had a part in saving it.
It's a good feeling.
When empty buildings are earmarked for development, red tape
and delays can mean that they're left vacant for years leading
to further deterioration and anti-social behaviour.
Turning empty properties into homes is an incredibly positive step.
It can really improve a local community.
I've come here to Oxford to find out how empty properties
can be used to great benefit even before people live in them.
This is The Old Boot Factory in Oxford built in 1933.
The factory was used to make boots for American GIs but closed in 1970.
The building has since had numerous uses but fell into dereliction
and has been squatted for the last five years.
A developer was granted planning permission
to convert the space into three homes
but work would not begin for 18 months. In the meantime,
local events organiser Ian Nolan has come up
with an interesting way of keeping this once-unloved building in use.
When you knew this was empty and you wanted to do something with it,
-what did you say to the developers?
-The developer was really keen
because he wanted someone to be here looking after the space.
We're a caretaker for the building. He's given us an 18 month lease.
In return, we had to make it good.
There's a bargain here - presumably, you don't pay much but
you make sure the building's looked after and take that responsibility.
Definitely. We pay the landlord a peppercorn rent.
We pay £1 for 18 months which is nothing at all. In return...
a very small peppercorn!
In return, we have had to spend a couple of thousand pounds
getting the building up to scratch.
Making it good and making it a safe space.
Over a five year period, the Boot Factory was squatted
and fell into serious disrepair.
But Ian rallied the local community to rescue it.
After several months they transformed the building
into a lively and affordable performing arts centre,
for local musicians, artists and charity fundraisers.
Sounded like it was very much the black sheep of the area
with squatters and potential drug use and that sort of stuff
and now it feels like it's come alive.
Instead of people worrying about what was there,
neighbours worrying about what's going on
and are their gardens safe and are kids safe playing outside, those sort of things,
we've tried to make it feel like a space people can come inside.
The amount of times we are here working and tidying up
and the gates are open and people come in and have a look around.
It doesn't matter who you are, you get to know each other.
I'm going to have a look around. Do you mind if I pop my head in?
No. Let me know what you think.
Many locals were involved in the renovation
and one of them was Sarah Mayhew.
Hello, Sarah. I'm Joe.
You came in here and painted a bit of the ceiling?
Everybody pitched in. There were about 30 people altogether. It felt good.
It's quite rare to see these places where somebody takes a lead and the community follows.
It's really lovely now. It's a really positive building as opposed to the negative space it was before.
So nice a space, in fact, that Sarah is now planning to have her engagement party here.
This is a great way of keeping a derelict building in use
before a developer turns it into much-needed housing.
This project seems to work so well.
It's positive for the community, for the developer
and for the building itself.
A win-win situation.
Let's hope there are other socially minded entrepreneurs out there
who can follow Ian's example
and release the potential of Britain's other empty properties.
'Earlier I met Karen and Jeremy who had bought this run-down terraced house.
'They took on an empty home to be able to afford to live close to their son's new school.
'They've uncovered some unexpected structural surprises.'
What we didn't realise was the true extent of the subsidence problem.
The poor foundations we've got in there.
'I'm sending them to meet a couple who've completed a very similar project
'just around the corner in nearby Twickenham.
'Guy and Tara Morgan-Harris
'bought this three-bedroom 1980's detached terrace house in 2008.'
We were both really happy as soon as we stepped in.
Even though it looked terrible, we were just happy.
'The couple dreamed of living in this cosy area near Twickenham Green
'but all the homes they looked at were out of their price range.'
My parents live very close by, on the green.
It had everything we were looking for.
And also it felt right in the sense of loads of open space for the family.
There's no way we could have done this if we hadn't bought it as it was.
We were very lucky to find this house.
'They spotted the dilapidated 1980's house and undeterred,
'instantly saw the potential others had missed and decided to bring it back to life.
'Guy and Tara are both architects
'so were prepared for what was in store,
'but even the professionals got flustered by the trials of renovation.'
You're expecting a baby, hormones flying everywhere,
all you want is your home finished.
'They now have a stunning family home with four bedrooms,
'a ground-floor extension and a separate office area in the garden.
'They feel all their hard work has been worthwhile.'
When you walked in, did you have a vision for what you could do with this place?
The front elevation was a complete facelift.
We wanted something that would bring as much light in as possible and not be too...
Out of keeping.
I'm surprised by how new the property was
because, walking down the street, I'd assumed it was another Victorian facade.
We've changed it a lot from what it was.
Did you uncover any surprises when you took a look at the fabric of the building underneath?
There were surprises,
there always are when you're working with an existing house.
For us, the main one was the joists upstairs on the first and second floors
weren't where we thought they'd be or hoped they'd be,
and you can never tell until you pull it apart and find out.
'Like Karen and Jeremy,
'Tara and Guy discovered that existing first floor joists weren't strong enough to take the extra load
'required for a loft extension.'
We're thinking about doing a loft conversion but it's the structural issues which are making us consider
whether it's going to be worthwhile doing the project,
because it is costing such a lot to add one extra room.
It's better to get the structure right.
You can do the nice things over the years ahead.
'Getting the structure right first, as Guy and Tara did, is vital.
'It can save you time and money later on.'
It's really good if you know a contractor
or have friends or family that have used someone and can recommend them.
That's always the ideal scenario.
If you can't, a lot of it is to do with your gut instinct.
'Guy and Tara extended the ground floor to enlarge the footprint
'and create a light and airy living space.'
One of the main design concepts was to open everything up
as much as we can and to achieve that, we put in these sliding doors.
They're quite straightforward, really.
Gosh. That's great, isn't it?
This is very similar to what we want to achieve with having a completely glass wall
on the back of the property.
Ours would be slightly more traditional
and more like a conservatory but I love the idea
that you've got inside, outside living
and you can have your dining room table out there, in there,
while you're having a barbecue here.
It's great. Really lovely.
-Would you like to come upstairs?
This is the floor we created from scratch.
This is all basically brand new.
The roof wasn't here before so this has given us
an extra two double bedrooms and a bathroom.
'Thanks to their remodelling,
'Guy and Tara have a total of five bedrooms,
'plenty of room for the whole family.'
Do you think it's worth it, taking off the roof, doing the rooms?
Do you think we should go with reinforcing the house
just so we can create one room?
Doing this part first, getting the main body of the house together, it's got to be worth it.
Finances aside, it will give you the house you need
and the house you're really looking forward to having. Absolutely.
'I'll be meeting up with Karen and Jeremy later
'to find their thoughts on Guy and Tara's impressive house
'and to see if it's helped them make decisions about their renovation.
In Derbyshire, empty property officer, Sue Lee, is continuing her mission
to rescue some of the 1,000 empty homes in her area.
Today she's meeting a couple who are playing for an interest-free loan
from the council to renovate a house.
We only have a small number of loans that we can offer each year.
These are to help owners who are struggling
with finances to bring the properties back into use.
In these tough economic times, an increasing number of people are rescuing empty homes
but finding themselves in financial difficulty.
In cases like this, the local council can step in to help
to avoid the building falling back into dereliction.
This is exactly the situation the couple Sue is meeting today have found themselves in.
The new owners, June and Mark, are over a year into re-modernising
this £165,000 house, but they've underestimated the extent of the work
and their home is still far from habitable.
Once I take you around and show you the rest,
you'll kind of see there's a lot more work involved than we initially thought.
The local council are close to approving a loan for June and Mark
but Sue wants to see exactly how the council funds will be used.
This is the kitchen.
We've got this far with it and this is one of the main areas we'd really like your help.
It will obviously speed the process up of getting us in here and living.
The council offers loans to help owners renovate empty properties
and get them in there a lot quicker than otherwise would have happened.
That's up to a maximum of 15,000. It won't just be the kitchen.
We'll have to look at the whole property and everything
that needs doing because we need it to meet a certain basic minimum standard all over.
These don't have to be repaid until the property is sold
or there's a change in ownership in the future.
Outside, there are structural problems which are potentially of more serious concern.
Right, Sue. This is the externals which, as you can see, we do need a little bit of help on this.
The gable end, that needs pointing up work doing.
That chimney stack up there needs a bit of work on it as well.
The gutterings need replacing.
They're probably original ones from when it was built
and basically it needs a good tidy up so it doesn't ruin the good work we've done inside.
That's something, again, that the loan would cover,
the externals to the property.
Making sure it's weatherproof
to protect the structure of it for the future.
Sue has to make sure she has all the information
so she can rubber-stamp this loan as approved.
I'm just making some notes now of the basic things we need
to see happen to make this property habitable.
I'm then able to process the loan application
so we don't hold them up any longer and they can get their finance
and move in the property as soon as possible.
-Thank you very much.
I really appreciate it.
It was lovely meeting Mark and June.
They are putting their heart and soul into this property.
I'm getting this loan processed as quickly as possible so we get them in for Christmas.
Back in Twickenham, Karen and Jeremy got some sound advice
from a couple who have overcome similar renovation challenges,
just like the ones they will be facing in their new home.
I'm meeting up with them to hear how they now feel about their building project.
I hope you've had a good afternoon.
Was it reassuring to meet a couple who have done what you've done,
bought an empty property to be able to afford to move into a certain area?
Looking at it now, you'd never believe it. It's a beautiful property.
When you're doing the structural work, my hunch is that it will make sense,
even if you don't do the attic, to make sure you to the wall and put the reinforcements in.
Were you inspired by their kitchen area?
It was great to see how you can have this seamless living
between indoors and outdoors, which is something we very much want to do.
You look at where we are now to where they are now and think, it can be done.
There is definitely a goal to be achieved.
Guys, it's great to see you so positive
and the very best of luck with your project.
What I really like about Karen and Jeremy's journey today
is they have discovered even architects come across problems they didn't expect.
That is the point here. You don't have to be a professional to take on an empty property,
as long as you do your research and bring in the best people,
the best advice available to you.
And with thousands of empty properties across the UK, who knows,
perhaps you could rescue one for yourself.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Joe meets Karen Dimmock and Jeremy Wilson, who bought a run-down 3-bedroom terraced house in Richmond to be close to their son's school. Unfortunately, once work started on the renovation, they discovered severe structural issues and their costs were beginning to spiral.
Joe takes them to meet an architect couple who are now enjoying life in their state-of-the-art family home after experiencing similar setbacks during their build, proving that even professionals get flustered by the trials of renovation!
Plus a look at how empty properties in Oxford are benefiting the local community before they are turned into homes, and one of the UK's empty property officers carries out detective work on abandoned houses to bring them back into use.