Scotland launches new matchmaker service for empty homes

Updated on 20 August 2012 | 5 Comments

Homes Again Project aims to introduce owners of vacant properties to potential buyers.

A new service in Scotland aims to match long-term empty properties with potential buyers.

The Homes Again Project is made up of five local authorities in southern Scotland (Dumfries & Galloway, East Lothian, Fife, Scottish Borders and West Lothian).

It aims to bring empty properties back into use via a sort of ‘dating agency’ process. Private property owners who want to sell are introduced to buyers who are looking for an investment or renovation opportunity in the hope that a perfect match is found.

Shelter Scotland estimates that there are 23,000 homes in Scotland that have been empty for more than six months, or ‘long-term empty’. But it is hoped the matchmaker service will be just one of the solutions in operation to help bring these back into use for families and individuals.

How it works

The matchmaker scheme is free to use. 

All you need to do is register your interest as either a buyer or seller using a form on one of the local authority's websites.

Sellers will provide information relating to the property type, approximate purchase price and, if needed, an advisory list of work that needs carrying out. Buyers will list their expectations and budget.

The Empty Homes Officer who holds the two lists the tries to to spot a 'match' between an empty home for sale and a buyer's requirements. Once this happens they will receive each other’s details to follow-up. 

The local authorities participating are not part of the negotiations or legal process, just a third party that facilitates the introduction.

The scheme also encourages neighbours in the areas to report a suspected empty home using the website This way the local authority can get in contact with the owner and let them know about the service.

A national problem

A recent documentary on Channel 4 called The Great British Property Scandal highlighted that there are nearly two million British families who don’t have adequate housing and nearly a million empty homes that could help.

In the UK there are around 930,000 empty homes, 350,000 of which are classed as ‘long-term empty’, where a private property has been vacant for six months or more.

These homes could be empty for any number of reasons. Owners may not have the money to complete their renovation plans or they just simply can’t find a buyer through the traditional routes because of the state of the property.

Clearly this abundance of empty homes is a wasted resource. They could be used to help meet our desperate housing needs, but are instead contributing to the UK’s housing shortage.

What’s being done about it?

Since 2010, the Government has been making moves to tackle the problem in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is now an empty homes strategy that has a £100 million fund. So far 5,600 homes have been brought back into use by local authorities and other registered housing providers using £70 million of the pot.

Scotland has a similar scheme. The Empty Homes Loan Fund has been developed as part of the Scottish Government’s commitment to tackling empty homes. Councils, housing associations, rural landowners, community groups and others are able to apply to the fund.  The interest-free loans will be used to contribute to financing any repair or renovation work that is needed.

This works alongside the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership, headed up by Shelter Scotland, which looks for solutions to the empty homes problem.

In most cases the one stipulation is that the homes must be kept as affordable housing for at least five years.

Good idea

I think the matchmaker service is a clever idea as it invites individuals and families to help their communities rather than just councils, big-time investors or housing associations. It also offers owners who have the burden of an empty property a way out.

The Empty Homes Agency in England has estimated that the cost of refurbishing an empty home is between £6,000 - £25,000.  The average cost of a new build home in Scotland is £100,000. So if you have the time, some know-how and dedication you could snap up a real bargain.

I would welcome a similar scheme in England to help those struggling to afford homes and wanting to improve a community by transforming an area.

In England there are 720,000 empty homes and 279,000 of these are classed as long-term empty. Yet we do not have a similar service to assist this process of matching buyers and sellers for free. Like Scotland we need a greater number of solutions operating at the same time to tackle the problem.

What do you think? Is this a good idea? Should a similar scheme be installed across the UK? Let us know your thoughts in the comment box below

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