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According to the HM Land Registry, at the end of 2023 there were over 260,000 long-term empty houses in England. As you can see, there are quite a few and hopefully this can reassure you that you're not alone. 

There is no right or wrong way when selling an empty house, as there may be many different avenues for you to follow. This could be anything from a property auction, estate agents or a cash buyer (like us), and all of them will allow you to get different perks for the sale. 

Where property auctions lack in sale guarantee, they can make up for in selling price, where estate agents lack in speed of sale, they make up for in finding the best possible buyer, where cash buyers lack in selling price, they make up for in speed of sale and sale guarantee.

In this article we will cover all there is to know about empty houses, how you should prepare them for sale and the best way to sell them.

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What is an empty house?

An empty house is a privately owned property which has been empty for more than six months. It doesn’t matter if the property is furnished or not, if the house does not have anyone physically habituating it, then it is classed by insurers as an unoccupied house or empty house.

Standard home insurance policies will have a set criteria in which an empty property can only be unoccupied for 30 or 60 consecutive days.

What are the different types of empty properties?

There are actually two types of empty houses; transitional and non-transitional. Transitional vacant homes are ones that are brought back into use through either being let or via a sale. These types of empty houses are usually the least problematic and therefore the local council has no need to get in. 

Non-transitional empty houses can be problematic as they have stood empty for weeks, months or even years and often have no plans to be brought back. The local council tend to 

Are there any laws about empty houses?

Local Authorities can take out an Empty Dwelling Management Order (EDMO) under The Housing Act 2004, which means that any empty property is being used for housing. The local council can only take out an EDMO’s on properties which have been empty for at least 12 months. 

The Empty Dwelling Management Orders allow the local authority to step into the shoes of the legal owner of an empty property and make sure they are occupied and managed properly. They do this by bringing the property back into use but they do not own it. 

There are two different types of Empty Dwelling Management Orders; Interim which lasts 12 months, and a final EDMO which can last 7, 14, or 21 years. 

Should you report an empty house?

You should report an empty house if it is becoming problematic in your neighbourhood, for example if it is being used by squatters or is becoming a victim to vandalism and an area for crime. 

Alternatively, if one day you walk past the vacant home and you notice that a wall has collapsed or the property has flooded, then you should notify your local authorities as the property may have had significant structural damage and be at risk of collapse. 

Very often human and natural threats can work together to impact the integrity of a property and empty houses can become a target for arson. If you feel as if the property is attracting unwanted attention the local council will help secure the property.

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What happens to an unoccupied house when left?

An unoccupied house is far more vulnerable to natural and human risks than an occupied one, especially theft, vandalism, squatters, water damage and fire. 

When people leave properties unoccupied for long periods of time, the building can become a target for thieves as most empty houses still have furniture which can be stolen easily if noone is at home.

Furthermore, vandalism is a massive problem amongst unoccupied buildings, with people breaking windows, committing arson and graffiti. Vandalism is often associated with squatters which can lead to expensive eviction proceedings as squatters can become protected under Adverse Possession.

In terms of natural risks, unoccupied houses that aren’t maintained can be damaged by water or fire. 

A burst water pipe over winter for example, which causes internal flooding and dampness may go a long time without being repaired and cause extensive damage to the property. 

During the winter months, the water within the empty properties pipes will freeze and expand, causing the pipe to rupture. When the ice thaws, water will then escape.

Fire is another huge issue, and it can be a cause of faulty wiring, gas leaks or a poorly maintained heating system and can obviously cause serious damage to property. 

Who do you notify when leaving a house unoccupied?

When leaving a property unoccupied for longer than 30 days, you will need to notify your local council, home insurer, water company, gas and electricity suppliers, Royal Mail and TV Licensing firm.

When you leave a property unoccupied, you will likely still need to pay council tax on the empty house, but there should be a discount. So it’s important to notify  the council in order to benefit from the discount. 

Your local water company will help you disconnect the water from your property, or install a water metre, which will allow you to control how much water is being used within the property.

How do you secure an unoccupied house?

In order to secure an unoccupied house you will need to ensure that your property meets the security standards and requirements outlined in your insurance policy. 

Standard insurance policies will require you to have at least 5 lever mortice deadlocks or BS3621 locks and the property will need to be fully locked up - including garages, sheds, gates, gardens and windows,

In order to deter potential vandals and thieves from entering your unoccupied house, it may be worth installing motion sensor flights, burglar alarms and a video doorbell to message your phone when someone approaches the front door. Some Smart doorbell systems even allow you to talk through them. 

To help reduce the risk of a burst pipe in winter, you should ensure that the heating is put on at a low temperature like 14 degrees for a few hours in the morning and evening. This will mean that the pipes won’t freeze and burst. 

Alternatively, you could completely drain the hot water from the unoccupied houses’ heating system.

In order to minimise the risk of a fire, we would recommend that you do not leave any flammable materials like paper, old furniture or rubbish within an empty home. You should also turn off your electricity and gas supply in the hotter months. 

How do you deter thieves from an empty house?

The trick of the trade when dealing with empty houses, is to give the impression that they are still lived in. This could mean hiring a gardener or a cleaner to visit the property every week to ensure that the property is well maintained. 

We would recommend utilising Smart home technology like a NEST or Alexa to turn lights on periodically throughout the day. You can purchase Smart plugs on Amazon, which you can plug already existing lamps into, and these can all be switched on and off from your phone without you being within the property. Furthermore, you can also set these on timers.

Some other tricks to deter criminals from your empty home could include asking a neighbour to move your bins on bin day, getting your post redirected and making sure you don’t have an overflowing skip on your drive.

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How to sell an empty house in the UK?

There are many routes to sell a house, from auctions, estate agents or cash buyers. All of the avenues should be able to sell your empty house in the UK. 

Property auctions will naturally attract property investors who are looking for properties to flip, or use the BRRR (Buy, Refurbish, Rent, Refinance) strategy. Making unoccupied houses an attractive target as investors look to put their own stamp on the properties.

Estate agents will help you sell your empty home to other people looking on the open market, often trying to get a higher selling price for higher estate agent fees. Depending on the condition of the property, the estate agent should be able to sell your property in good time, as vacant homes that are in good condition are seen as ready to move in properties.

If however, your property is in poor condition or has been on the market for extended periods of time and hasn’t sold, cash house buyers (like us), can be very advantageous. Cash buyers can purchase empty properties within weeks and in cases like ours, days.

Cash buyers will purchase your house for cash, usually below market value, but this is usually because the cash buyers will either sell the properties on for profit, or are investors looking to flip the properties themselves.

Is it best to empty a house before selling it?

When looking to sell your property, deciding whether you should empty the house before selling it will often depend on which avenue you are following. 

Whatever route you are taking, the general rule of thumb is to remove all personal property and items for marketing photography and open days. Although you may feel it makes the house feel personable or more relatable, it actually has the opposite effect. 

Houses full of personal items on marketing photography can make property feel cluttered and small and may actually make it challenging for potential buyers to imagine themselves in the space.

However, there is a fine line between removing personal items and removing all items. Most houses will benefit from some form of property staging, and keeping any furniture within the property will help it from feeling empty. 

What’s the best way to stage an empty home for sale?

Usually when a property goes into the open market, it will have some furniture and fittings remaining, which can be useful for potential buyers to imagine themselves within the space. Empty properties however often lack those homely accessories and are usually just white walls. 

The number one rule when staging an empty house for sale is to make sure that the exterior of the property is well kept, clean and tidy. This could include cutting the grass, moving the bins out of sight, cutting any overgrown vegetation and making sure that the drive and windows are clean. You may want to hire a gardener for this.

The number two rule is making sure the house is clean, appealing and doesn’t smell. If you know you have a viewing, it may be worth airing out the property and ensuring that there is proper airflow within the property. 

In order to stage an empty house for sale, we would recommend that you paint the walls and make sure that they have a neutral pallet, remove any peeling wallpaper, treat any mould or damp and remove all carpets.

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What is the best way to sell an empty house?

The best way to sell an empty house that has been vacant for extended periods of time is to sell it to a fast house buyer. These quick cash buyers can come as individual investors or as cash house buying companies (like ourselves).

Selling an empty house through a cash buyer is seen as one of the best ways to sell a vacant home for multiple reasons. 

Firstly, cash transactions eliminate the time spent waiting for mortgage approvals as cash buyers have the cash at hand to purchase the property themselves, this as a result causes a far smoother conveyancing process. 

Secondly, vacant homes do not benefit from any council tax or mortgage repayment exemptions and so selling the property fast to a cash buyer can minimise the amount paid. Selling to a cash buyer will reduce the chance of a property sale falling through as there are less people, and less situations which may cause a chain to break. 

Most cash buyers will be more inclined to purchase an empty property as they will flip it themselves, sparing the seller from the need to invest in costly repairs or renovations before the sale. 

Do you need to pay Capital Gains Tax on empty and unfurnished homes?

In a normal house selling situation, when you sell a property you will not have to pay Capital Gains Tax on the sale of the house, as long as you qualify for Private Residence Relief and can show that the property in question has been your main residence.

However, this can become complicated when selling an empty house as you will need to prove that the unoccupied house had been your main residence at one point in the 3 years before selling.

If you cannot prove that the empty property was not your second home, then you will need to pay Capital Gains Tax on the profits.

How The Property Buying Company can help you sell an empty house

Here at The Property Buying Company, we are all about making the selling process as easy as possible, and if you use our streamlined service, we will do everything in our power to ensure you are satisfied at every step.

We have over 100 years of combined experience in the property industry and a very large cash fund in order to purchase empty houses just like yours. Unlike an estate agent, our process is completely free for you, as we will cover all aspects that are usually associated with selling an empty house — including solicitor fees.

Not only that, but we buy your house in as little as seven days, or on a timeline that suits you! Want to get involved?

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Tom Condon

Tom Condon, one of our content writers, has fascinating expertise in sustainability in the property industry. Tom thoroughly understands the market and has experience in both residential and commercial property. He enjoys attending conferences and staying current with the most recent property trends.