Friday, May 05, 2006

How to Find Empty Homes (part one)

A few months ago I was asked to write an article for the BBC's website on tracking down empty homes. In one paragraph I mentioned that most local authorities had a list of empty properties that you could ask to see. I went on to say that under the Freedom of Information Act you have the right to request the list; all completely true. What I hadn’t anticipated was the effect this was going to have. Hundreds of people who read the article went straight out and made written requests to their local authority. Most I have to say were given the cold shoulder. No doubt many have very good grounds of appeal, but I suspect that most people will have found this a rather dispiriting experience and are still left looking for an empty home to rescue. On the positive side the sheer number of requests is causing local authorities to reconsider their policies on releasing information and many are beginning to take a more positive view. But whatever the rights and wrongs, most people who requested information didn’t get what they want. So I thought this would be a good moment to look at some of the other ways of finding empty homes. There's a lot to say so I'm going to stick with this subject for the next three or four posts. Today I want to look at estate agents:

Estate agents are the first place most people think of when they are looking for a new home. But if you are looking for an empty house to rescue it will appear at first glance that they don’t have what you are looking for. This is not really surprising; estate agents are trying to promote new homes as desirable places to aspire to. A window display full of derelict old wrecks is hardly the image they are looking for.Estate agents will normally have many more properties for sale on their books than those in the window display, on their website or the newspaper advert. Their properties will often fall into three categories. Hot cakes: new on the market quick selling properties that are likely to appeal strongly to the market. Plodders; houses that will sell in the end, but may not be everybody’s cup of tea, and lemons; properties that will only appeal to a specific segment of the market (or nobody all) and take ages to sell. Estate agents want to be associated with hot cakes, they want to give the impression they are selling lots of properties very quickly that are very appealing to purchasers. So these are the properties they market strongly. If they can’t sell a potential purchaser a hot cake they may drag the odd plodder out of the filing cabinet. Empty homes usually fall into the lemons category, and so don’t get promoted much if at all by estate agents. You won’t know whether these properties are for sale unless you ask. Of course estate agents will be happy to sell you any property on their books but they won’t want to alienate you as a purchaser and try and sell you a lemon unless you make it clear that that a lemon is what you want.


  1. After reading this article I contatced eight west country authorities for their lists ( I aspire to retiring there one day). Most have simply ignored me, only one has provided a list, and this from a fellow empty homes officer using his work contact details! What chance do the public have?

  2. Dear Andrew,
    Having just returned from a blissful week in Cornwall I can quite understand your retirement plans. A lot of councils in the south west are doing a great job on empty homes, but like elsewhere it seems they could be doing better on this. Fellow EPO or not I'd appeal.