· 781 homes in the East Hertfordshire area are empty, which represents 1 in 83 homes.
· 441 of those have been empty for more than six months and are worth £197million.
· Why are those properties standing empty and deteriorating and why could that become an issue for the whole of Sawbridgeworth and Bishop’s Stortford?
A couple of weeks ago was National Empty Homes Week, so I thought I would find out how many homes are empty in the Sawbridgeworth and Bishop’s Stortford area - the numbers surprised me, so I wanted to share my thoughts about them with you.
The latest Government statistics show that 441 properties in East Hertfordshire have been empty for more than six months.
Homes that are left empty for an extended period can affect our locality and occasionally invite anti-social behaviour.
With a shortage of housing in the Sawbridgeworth and Bishop’s Stortford area, these empty homes must be brought back into use to generate much-needed housing for local people.
As you can see in the first bullet point, some homes are only empty for a short period of time. Yet, those local properties that stand empty for more than six months and then deteriorate become a problem for our local community.
I appreciate there can be many genuine explanations why a property may be left empty for a long time. However, with council house waiting lists at high levels and the shortage of both properties to buy and rent in Sawbridgeworth and Bishop’s Stortford, we must ask what is being done about this at Government level and how this could affect the Sawbridgeworth and Bishop’s Stortford property market?
The collective value of these 441 long-term (6 months or more) empty houses in East Hertfordshire are worth £197million.
This impacts the Sawbridgeworth and Bishop’s Stortford housing market with a lack of properties coming onto the market for sale and rent. This results in house prices being pushed up, making it less affordable for first-time buyers to get on the first step of the housing ladder.
It’s a real shame that many local properties are empty for over six months when there is an increasing demand for accommodation, at a time when there’s such a competitive housing market.
So, one might ask if this issue of long-term empty properties is a new problem? Well, not really.
There were 587 homes long-term empty in East Hertfordshire
I know our local authority likes to work with property owners of empty homes to bring them back into housing stock as it helps with the housing shortage, even with the help of grants if improvement work is needed for the empty home. Yet, they could use enforcement action where a homeowner is incapable or unwilling to bring their property back into use.
So, what is the Government doing nationally? Homeowners are charged a 50% premium on top of their Council Tax if their home has been empty for two years or more. This can rise to a 300% premium if the property has been empty for ten years or more.
However, the bigger question is, why are all these homes in the Sawbridgeworth, Bishop’s Stortford and East Hertfordshire area being left empty?
The real answer is - they are not.
A handful of the properties belong to the local authority and are in poor condition because the tenant trashed the property.
Probate (where the person's estate is put in order and passed onto the beneficiaries of the will) takes between six and twelve months. Most of these long-term properties are being modernised and renovated, whilst other Sawbridgeworth and Bishop’s Stortford properties are part of a deceased estate. In other circumstances, some Sawbridgeworth and Bishop’s Stortford homes have been left empty after the owner has been placed into a care home, yet there is no Power of Attorney to put the home onto the market.
There is no 'one fix all' to the empty home syndrome in Sawbridgeworth and Bishop’s Stortford.
Empty properties in Sawbridgeworth and Bishop’s Stortford is not the issue that will sort the housing crisis we’re suffering from.
The simple fact is the population is growing faster than the number of houses being built. We need to build more homes.
Whether that means council properties, housing association homes, private landlords or even owner-occupation housing the masses - that's a massive question we could all talk about, day in day out until the cows come home.
So, tell me, what are your thoughts on the matter?