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Sorting Out The Empties

Tony Abel 1 sm

You probably saw the story in Monday’s EDP about the number of empty homes in Norfolk, and you may be among those who are asking why, if there are really so many homes not being used in the county, do we need to be building new homes at all, writes Tony Abel.

It’s a fair question: perfectly good homes not being used when there is an undisputed shortage of places to live goes against all logic.  Although I make my living from providing new homes, I absolutely agree that we should also do everything we can to make the most of the housing stock which already exists.

However, whilst the headline figure of over 10,000 empty homes may be eye-catching, it doesn’t tell the whole story.  There are many reasons why a home might be standing empty, and in most cases, they remain vacant only for a brief period of time.  Monday’s EDP story acknowledged that less than a third of that headline figure had been empty for a significant period.

There are all sorts of perfectly legitimate reasons why a home might be empty at any point in time.  In the rented sector, there will nearly always be a gap between tenants, either because the landlord is taking the opportunity to carry out maintenance or improvement work, or simply due to delays while new tenants are found, references taken, and so on.

Another reason could be that the occupier has passed on and their family are in the process of dealing with the estate; or a home is being sold following a divorce and one party is being obstructive; or the property is in a poor state of repair and is being renovated.

Then there are the situations caused by the owners themselves: vendors asking an unreasonable and unachievable price leading to the home stalling on the market; landlords seeking similarly unreasonable rents; or properties which have not been properly maintained and are therefore unmortgageable.

I don’t believe that many people deliberately leave a good, habitable home empty, nor would they want to.  There is no sense in this, it’s just dead money.  Most empty homes in the county are empty for a justifiable reason, although there are certainly some where it’s down to bad judgement or unfortunate circumstances – or both.

We should definitely be seeking to bring empty homes back into use.  But if you discount the temporarily empty properties, the numbers are actually quite small, despite the attention-grabbing headlines.  The housing shortage in our county is much more substantial, and repopulating empty homes can only ever be part of the solution.

Of course, one reason for temporarily empty properties is that old chestnut, the stalled chain - and as there is never an onward chain with a new home, we are, in a modest way, helping solve the empty homes issue every day!