Meet the men trying to solve London's empty home crisis

Shruti Tripathi Chopra

We speak to Ben Radstone and Nick Kalms, co-founders, YouSpotProperty.com

The stats on empty homes in England are mind-boggling.

There are over 610,000 empty homes in England, out of which 200,000 have been classified as long-term empty homes or homes empty over six months.

London has over 80,000 empty homes of which 25,000 have been empty long-term.

Two Londoners, Ben Radstone and Nick Kalms, have co-founded YouSpotProperty.com to deal with the capital’s empty property crisis.

Having purchased more than 100 homes in London over the past five years, the company rewards members of the public who spot and report empty or derelict homes in their neighbourhoods which can be bought, renovated, and put back into use. Successful leads to the company are rewarded with £20 vouchers and eventually 1% of the purchase price with donations of £500 going to a local community charity.

We caught up with them to talk about solving London’s empty homes crises:

Q. How big is London’s empty property crisis? Should we care?

With nearly 25,000 homes in London considered long-term empty, it makes the capital the UK’s empty homes hotspot in relation to people versus density to houses available. It’s no secret adequate housing is at a major premium for thousands of Londoners and its significance is that there’s never really been a general consensus to tackle the issue until now. 

Q. There is constant chatter about London not having enough homes – then why do we see so many empty properties?

The reasons why homes go unoccupied for long periods of time are mostly down to social issues. It’s often incredibly hard to track down the owners of these properties, and when you do, it’s hard to convince them to sell, or put them back into use. Many of these properties are from probate scenarios. Relatives that inherit these homes do not realise their value and are often not sure what to do with them (if they’re even in the country) – especially if the houses are in a state of disrepair, so it’s often easier to sit on the property. Councils can eventually get in touch and ultimately issue a compulsory purchase order, however this is an extreme situation. Owners of these properties also don’t like to be pestered or pressured, hence the sensitivities. The issue is that these properties do eventually fall into disrepair and end up blighting London’s neighbourhoods.

Q. How much do you think are rich foreign investors to blame for this?

It definitely doesn’t help that they occupy superb properties and rarely use them, however the wealthy investors do contribute by paying council tax and other maintenance costs and often ensure their properties are in good condition. The issue is more the older housing stock owned by individuals described in question two.

Q. Why did you decide to come up with a business that focuses on empty properties?

YouSpotProperty.com was borne out of a desire to do something about the increasing empty homes situation and moreover, a desire to finally share in the rewards of this property boom, which only really repays a few privileged individuals. Imagine if someone can earn £10,000 for simply spotting and reporting a property they’ve noticed in their area as derelict? It’s a win-win situation for all and we thought it was high time rewards were shared with the communities in which these empty homes can be found.

Q. Can the government help in any way?

On the premise that most of these properties need to be refurbished (which, by the way we feel a lot less intrusive compared to large-scale building projects on neighbourhoods) we would want Government to relax planning. Having a fastrack planning approval service will dramatically increase the likelihood of these properties being put back into use. We also know that councils are a culprit in this issue. While a number of London boroughs have reduced the number of empty homes in the capital, over the past year, local authorities still own the largest consignment of these properties and need robust action in putting them back into use.

Case study:

Matthew Philpott, 31, of South London, spotted house an empty looking house in his neighbourhood of Balham to YouSpotProperty.com

Matthew Philpott, 31, of South London, spotted house an empty looking house in his neighbourhood of Balham to YouSpotProperty.com. The company were able to acquire the derelict house and Matthew received 1 per cent of the purchase price which amounted to £8,800. A further £500 donation was made to local charity, Home Start in Wandsworth – which supports vulnerable families in the borough. http://www.homestartwandsworth.org.uk

 

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