Recently I’ve been revisiting the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership’s estimate of the cost of an empty private sector home – specifically this time focusing on the cost to the owner rather than trying to club together costs born across different people and organisations. We know there are wider costs. Anyone who has ever heard me speak at an event or training session will have heard me bang on about lost spend in the community and the costs of police and fire call outs to dangerous empty properties. Those aren’t the only community costs either, but they are at best nebulous. So I’m focusing on what we can get our heads around – that long term empty homes present a clear opportunity cost to empty home owners. It can be very hard to understand why they choose to bear this cost with all the help and options at their disposal from local empty homes services.
So what’s the breakdown? Well first of all of course you will be paying council tax on your empty home. We’ve taken an average of Band C council tax charges for Scotland and then we’ve subtracted 10% - as we are assuming you have been on the ball enough to claim your vacant dwellings council tax discount (we’re not even getting in to what happens if you are in a council where they are removing discounts and charging 100% extra after a year!). That gives us an estimated council tax bill of £910 a year. Alternative potential uses? Flights to Australia anyone?
What next? Okay, well there is buildings and contents cover. We found an estimate from the AA for 2012 of £227 per year (so a bit out of date but I’m assuming the direction of travel for such costs is not going to be in a downward direction so that’s what I’m using). What else could you do with £227? Well if you are looking to replicate some of the fear that the neighbours living next to your empty home feel it just so happens you can have a £15,000ft Ultimate Tandem Skydive Experience for only £230 (if you go mid-week that is).
Then there is the cost of securing your empty property. Here I am talking about basic boarding of windows, etc, not high-tech security alarms or guard dogs. Linstone Housing Association gave us an estimate some time back that this could cost anywhere from £500-£2,500 depending on the size and condition of the property. We’ve taken the bottom end of that scale, so £500. Potential alternatives? An iPad Air at £449? I still haven’t wrapped my head around what you use a tablet for that you can’t do on your phone or computer, but with an extra £500 lying around no harm finding out is there?
And finally, you could have been earning rent, couldn’t you? We’ve used the average LHA rate for a 2 bed house in Scotland in 2013/14 and come up with a potential earning figure of £5,676.75 per year. This is an average and depending where you are in the country this figure could be far higher or far lower. So here are a few options for what you could do with this money, if you were actually earning it. If you live somewhere a bit below the average rent you could buy a Honda Mimo robotic grass cutter – to cut your no doubt overgrown lawn…Price £1,999.99 (yes, really). Or you could buy two – one for the front lawn and one for the back?
Live somewhere closer to the average LHA rates? How about this very exciting looking ride-on lawn mower? After all in this scenario you actually have a tenant so maybe you could encourage them to take care of the garden with this?
So what does it all add up to? Well our estimate, rounded down ever so slightly comes to £7, 310 per year as the cost for an average empty home owner in Scotland to keep their property empty. And actually we think that estimate is a conservative one given the deterioration that can often occur to untended homes that will need reparative maintenance work in the future.
So you didn’t like any of my other suggestions for what do with your money? When you add it all up to that yearly cost of £7,310 like that you’ve got a few more options. For that you could buy a Kia Picanto? Or 9,253 loaves of brown bread?
Trouble is if you leave all these choices for too long, one year becomes two, and then three, etc. By the time you know it you have a home that’s been sitting empty for 5 years. Total potential cost £36,550. If you don’t mind me asking a personal question, what is your yearly salary? Would that cover it? Fancy a year off?
To find the number for your local Empty Homes Officer go to: http://scotland.shelter.org.uk/housing_policy/empty_homes/concerned_about_empty_homes