Unlocking empty home: tips for investors

The Scottish Empty Homes Partnership is funded by the Scottish Government, and hosted by Shelter Scotland, with the core aim of bringing private sector empty homes back into use. We work in partnership with local authorities promoting the benefits of empty homes work, throughout Scotland. Our Advice Service is here to help anyone with an empty homes issue, including owners, neighbours and those looking to buy empty homes.

  • Have you seen a rundown property and thought about this as a renovation project?
  • As a landlord are you thinking about opportunities to develop homes that are unoccupied?
  • Is the deterioration of a home nearby affecting your property?

There are around 40,000 empty homes in Scotland. These are residential homes that have been registered empty on Council Tax records for 6 months or more. There is a housing emergency, where there is a considerable shortage of affordable housing; and lack of decent homes in the right places where people want to live. The answer to this problem may seem obvious: let’s bring more of these empty homes back into use. This is true and it’s why we exist, but it’s not quite that simple. Before you start out on your empty homes journey, there are important things to note about matching supply of private empty homes and demand from buyers. This post aims to share some of our insight and expertise with landlords and prospective investors, to help understand the challenges of empty homes, and provide some ideas of how you might acquire an empty home.

It is hoped that this blog post will debunk some common myths, answer some of our most frequently asked questions and share our insight into the world of empty homes. 

Do you have a list of empty homes? 

We are often asked if there is a publicly available list of empty homes. This does not exist. Information on empty homes is collected by local authorities through Council Tax records and can only be passed on to a third party with the permission of the owner. 

If Council Tax records aren’t updated by owners local authorities aren’t always aware that a home is empty until it is reported by someone in the community. 

If there are so many empty homes, why can’t I buy one? 

Often, we are approached by investors and individuals looking to make an empty homes purchase. Although there are thousands of empty homes, buying one is not that easy. 

Even if a property has been sitting empty for years, falling into a state of disrepair and causing an array of issues for neighbours, ultimately, there is no legal requirement to ensure that a property is occupied. In Scotland, the owner is responsible for their property. This is the reason why we can never force a property to be sold. As a private individual you need the consent of the owner to buy the property, as only local authorities, Scottish Government or utility companies can acquire a property without an owner’s consent using a Compulsory Purchase Order. 

An empty home is affecting my property. What can I do?

We are often contacted by neighbours and community members with concerns about an empty home nearby.

  • Perhaps your own property has been affected by damp, coming from the unoccupied house next door?
  • Maybe you need to arrange common works, but the flat above is empty?
  • or the disused home opposite has deteriorated, affecting the value of your home?

As a landlord you’ll take your responsibilities to maintain your property and ensure a good standard of repair for your tenants very seriously. We understand that landlords would be concerned about an empty property causing a barrier to meeting their obligations. With most empty homes issues, we advise that the first step is to trace, and attempt to engage with the owner. 

It’s important to note that for the purpose of completing essential common works, you don’t need the consent from all the owners. In these cases, majority agreement can allow the work to go ahead, however this may leave other owners out of pocket. It is possible to take action to recover costs retrospectively. however, in practice this could be more difficult if the absentee owner can’t be traced.

If you are unable to trace or contact the owner, or if the problem is more complex, please feel free to contact us or your local Empty Homes Officer for advice. 

I would love to buy an empty home. Where can I start my search? 

There are many different routes that you can begin your empty homes search. Aside from noticing an empty property and referring it on to us, you may like to consider:-

1. Following up an empty home
We are sometimes contacted by individuals who have seen an empty home and would like to ask the owner if they would be interested in selling. Even with the knowledge of an owner’s whereabouts, there are still challenges of identifying the owner and then attempting to make contact with them. It is important to bear in mind that even if contact with the owner is achieved, the owner may not be open to selling! 

If you spot an empty home and would like to follow this up yourself, you can begin by obtaining a copy of the Title Sheet from the Registers of Scotland, for a small fee plus VAT. This would show last owner and address. These details aren’t always updated so sometimes we see they just give the empty property address. If there have been no transactions associated with the property in some time, then it may still be on the older Register of Sasines, and ROS’ fee for this search is slightly greater. From here, you can contact the owner directly and ask them if they would be interested in selling. 

2. Auction and open market
We often advise people to keep an eye on property auctions alongside looking on the open market. Many empty home owners choose this route to sell their empty homes. 

3. Matchmaker schemes
Some local authorities in Scotland participate in a Matchmaker Scheme to help connect people wishing to sell an empty home with people who want to buy them. The matchmaker schemes are free to join, and register an interest here: https://emptyhomespartnership.scot/matchmaker/    

We tend to find that the matchmaker schemes are oversubscribed, with more potential buyers registered than empty home sellers. However, we have heard some success stories of individuals going on to buy empty homes marketed through the schemes.

Is there anything else I need to think about? 

Before taking on an empty home it is important to do some research about the local market as homes might not always be in areas people now want to live. You should consider the demand for housing in the area. Is a property empty just because it requires some work or will you struggle to find someone to occupy it after renovation because there are other factors at play? 

While this article aims to provide ideas, an understanding and myth-bust some popular misconceptions about empty homes, we do not want to discourage property professionals who would like to take on an empty home of their own! In fact, we hope that this post leaves readers more informed, and in a better position to begin their empty homes search. 

Do you have an ongoing empty homes project that you would like to share with us? Or perhaps you find yourself inspired, but with further questions on empty homes? If so, please don’t hesitate to contact our advice service on:- 

Tel: 0344 515 1941 

Email: emptyhomes@shelter.org.uk