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Could a derelict property become your dream home? A Place In The Sun’s Lucy Alexander shares top tips

An abandoned or unloved property could be an opportunity to create the ‘forever home’ you’re searching for.

The TV property expert knows a thing or to about finding hidden gems
Lucy Alexander The TV property expert knows a thing or to about finding hidden gems (Alamy Stock Photo)

The housing market has had a tough time in recent months, with some would-be buyers waiting to see what the future holds.

But if your property search is proving tricky, it could be worth bearing in mind that your ‘forever home’ might be sitting right under your nose – perhaps on your daily walk or commute to work, even. It may just need a little bit of tender loving care to give it a new lease of life.

More than half (52%) of people pass by an abandoned building every week, according to research by Censuswide for property lender Together.

For some people, the idea of buying a property that isn’t turnkey ready may seem daunting. But it may be a chance to really put your own stamp on a property and totally transform it.

An old window (Alamy Stock Photo)

TV presenter Lucy Alexander, known for shows including BBC One’s Homes Under The Hammer and Channel 4’s A Place In the Sun, has teamed up with Together to offer some tips for those looking for a hidden gem.

The campaign aims to highlight the scope and scale of the UK’s abandoned and derelict buildings, and the opportunities out there for restoration and redevelopment.

If the property you’re interested in looks to have been abandoned, Alexander says: “Firstly, it’s important to work out who the owner of the property is.”

Local word-of-mouth can be key here.

Local word of mouth could be key when looking for a hidden gem
A village Local word of mouth could be key when looking for a hidden gem (Alamy Stock Photo)

“I would be chatting to all the neighbours, checking the deeds of the property, subscribing to auctioneers’ and estate agents’ details as well,” she says. “You can always pop next door to the abandoned building and maybe ask a neighbour, a shop owner in the road… Everybody knows everything on the street, usually it wouldn’t take long, if you’re going to the local pub, things like that.

“Once an owner is identified, the next step is to contact them to make a formal offer,” Alexander adds.

She says checking energy use is also key – and can help to avoid any nasty surprises further down the line.

She suggests: “Find out is it (the property) on mains gas, is it oil-fired? The energy usage would be part of your main homework.

“Confirming how much energy and running costs of an existing building before you purchase is critical. Set ample time aside to contact the supplier and check you are on the best energy tariff for the property.”

Do your research

Some buyers may encounter difficulties with their plans to make changes if the property turns out to be listed, so this is also something worth checking out thoroughly upfront.

And if you’re going down the auction route, Alexander says it’s crucial to have done your research.

Alexander recommends subscribing to estate agents’ details
People looking in an estate agent's window Alexander recommends subscribing to estate agents’ details (Alamy Stock Photo)

“Know what you’re bidding on, be very thorough, chat to the auction house beforehand,” she says. “Maybe take somebody with you, and read the legal pack before bidding at auction.”

It could also be worth thinking outside the box.

Alexander says former pubs, for example, can make “absolutely fantastic homes because they sit on really nice plots, they’re generally quite large, you can park, sometimes they’re by little streams in the centre of villages”.

Be clear with your budget

It’s also crucial to make sure you can actually afford to buy the property. Bridging loans can be a short-term solution to finding the cash for a property where money is needed quickly, to hep make sure you don’t miss out on opportunities.

Pubs can be turned into great homes
A pub window Pubs can be turned into great homes (Alamy Stock Photo)

They can help borrowers to bridge the gap while they wait for finance coming from elsewhere. The pros and cons should be weighed up carefully however, as there are risks involved, particularly if plans don’t go as expected. People may want to speak to a broker to weigh up the different loan options.

“A specialist lender may be what you need,” says Alexander, adding: “Not everyone’s lucky enough to be a cash buyer in this situation.”

Calculate renovation costs carefully

Another significant expense will be the budget for renovations, which may be extensive if a property has been unoccupied for some time. Make sure your budget really does cover all of the work. Compare quotes and if you can’t afford to do everything at once, decide what should take priority.

Alexander cautions: “Renovating an abandoned or derelict property can quickly run up high costs, unless you have careful budgeting and a strict finance plan in place early on. Depending on the structure of the site and scope of work needed, it can also be far more complex than doing the same for newer buildings.”

Engage with your local authority

Alexander also recommends engaging with your local authority. When contacting them, she suggests having a list of questions already prepared, joking: “It’s like when you go and see a doctor.”

She adds: “After purchasing an abandoned or derelict property, it is important to think about planning permission.”

Actively engaging with planners is crucial, she says, in order to ensure that permission goes smoothly. “This is especially true with larger scale refurbishments that may involve a change-of-use to the property,” she adds.

Ultimately, Alexander suggests: “If you’ve decided you want to purchase a hidden gem, I would say go for it. You can turn an ugly duckling into a swan.”