Derelict, Abandoned and Empty Properties In The UK

The UK is full of derelict and abandoned properties and in recent years, mainly due to the rise of TV shows such as Grand Designs from Channel 4 television, there has been a massive increase of interest in derelict property for sale by the general public.

Not so long ago many people would have been reluctant to take on a major renovation project, but now the confidence of buyers has increased dramatically. In this article we shall explore the recent trend of purchasing a derelict property for sale and how this affects both the UK housing market and the individual home owner.

In addition, we shall also find out:

  • Why buying a derelict property has become so popular
  • The advantages of purchasing an abandoned building
  • Pitfalls and unexpected events when buying empty property
  • Planning permission and legal issues surrounding renovation
  • Costs and budgets for renovating a derelict building
  • How to get started on your property renovation journey

Why purchase a derelict property?

As you may have guessed, there are many answers to this question. It may be because of the building itself, such as visual appeal, or it may be to acquire a plot of land for a new build. Some people purchase abandoned buildings in order to circumvent local planning laws while others love the idea of taking on a renovation project and turning an unused or empty property into their dream home. If you were to ask 100 people who have taken on such a project it’s very likely you would hear a different answer from each of them, but what is most important is your own reasons for embarking on what could become a life-changing journey.

To answer the question above purely from a logical point of view, there are many good reasons why purchasing a derelict property, such as an old barn or a disused church, may be a wonderful step for many buyers to take.

Image showing a derelict stone barn for sale

From abandoned building to dream home

This is a dream shared by many potential property owners – to take a beautiful building, such as an old farm building like a barn, windmill or even an empty church, gatehouse or cottage and turn it into a stunning dream home for your family. Usually the examples of these we see on TV involve huge budgets, long time-frames and much work and as you will have seen, a stunning end result. However, in the real world of property renovation, things rarely go so smoothly and the end result is not always as financially viable as you may imagine.

In one recent example, a couple purchased a stone barn for sale in Scotland with a view to converting their abandoned building into a beautiful family home. Indeed, in the end that is what they achieved, but the journey was far from smooth. The renovation ran into multiple problems, from planning permission issues right through to delays with builders and contractors. In fact, the property turned into somewhat of a money pit, akin to the movie, with their renovation budget of £150,000 (over and above the original £170K purchase price) essentially doubling and more, with the final bill for the project topping £330,000.

This may be an extreme example, but situations like these are more common that you may think. On the other hand, careful planning and realistic expectations can eliminate many hurdles and with careful management of the building project things can also go according to plan. Don’t be intimidated by the thought of buying a derelict property for sale, simply be honest with yourself. Turning a derelict or abandoned building into a dream home is a lot of work and requires multiple skill levels – if you need help then get professionals to assist you.

Popular Property Resources:
Insurance for empty property
Unoccupied commercial property insurance
Find an empty barn for conversion

The advantages of buying a derelict property

Probably the main reason for purchasing a derelict property, at least in the mind of many buyers, is the building itself. In our example above, our couple purchased a beautiful Victorian U-shaped barn, complete with courtyard in the middle and with a substantial amount of land around. The building was sandstone, with impressive lintels, stonework decoration and frankly speaking, they just don’t build things like that any more.

When viewing derelict properties for sale it is very important to see past the hurdles, such as fallen roofs, missing sections and overgrown surroundings and imagine the beautiful home it could become. It is also very important to be realistic and not “bite off more than you can chew”. This is essentially what happened to our couple. The stone barn they purchased was actually too big, with two floors and very large spaces. In fact, this was the reason their renovation project and budget spiraled out of control. Remember to keep this in mind during your search for the perfect potential home.

Pitfalls when buying a derelict or run-down building

When it comes to pitfalls in a major renovation project the list of things that can go wrong never ends. In summary, it can include but is not limited to:

  • Serious structural problems with the building
  • Access problems – see our article on property access issues
  • Financial problems – budgeting for your property renovation project
  • Planning permission problems and your legal obligations when renovating
  • Management of the renovation project and trades people

Planning permission for renovating a derelict property

You need to seriously consider planning permission issues when renovating an empty property as, without planning permission, your project is dead in the water, even if you have already purchased the property. Many would-be renovations and conversions have been stopped in their tracks by the planning department of the local council. It may be due to a listed building status which can dictate what you are allowed to do to the building and even how it should look, materials used during construction and sometimes even whether it can be used as a home at all.

Useful planning permission sources

Planning permission for England and Wales
Planning permission for Scotland and Northern Ireland

Before you reach for your wallet or attempt to obtain a self-build or renovation based mortgage, talk to the local planning department. Explain what your intentions are and ask if there are any planning issues relating to the building before you make your purchase. Sometimes planning regulation issues can come to light at the last minute and perhaps buying that beautiful abandoned building or derelict property for sale isn’t such a good idea at all. Simply having the money to purchase an abandoned or empty property isn’t enough – you need to find out where you stand with the local planning department establish if your property renovation is viable or not.

Remember that Scotland and England have different laws, including many laws governing purchases and renovation of derelict and empty properties. Obtain legal advice from the area in which your property is located and talk to the local council planning department. Local advice can prove invaluable.

Chart showing UK derelict property sales
Chart showing UK derelict property sales

Building renovation costs, budgets and project management

It may seem obvious but it is essential that you not only plan your renovation budget carefully and that all aspects of the property renovation are managed properly. If you don’t feel confident doing this yourself then you can either allow your main contractor to control the project or employ a professional project management company to take care of the build and renovation on your behalf. There is also a wide variety of software available which could make managing your building, conversion or renovation a lot easier.

* Finding a property to renovate in the UK

For property renovation budgets and costs see our dedicated page on how to plan your renovation finances properly. Budgets can spiral out of control, especially when renovating a derelict property or abandoned building, so never assume anything and take advice when needed – it will save you a lot of headaches and heartaches in the future. Finding a derelict property for sale and turning it into a beautiful home is a wonderful and rewarding experience but you do need to protect yourself, your investment and your savings.

Find derelict properties for sale at UK property auctions

One very popular method for finding derelict properties for sale in the UK is to visit a property auction. In the UK there are basically two types of property auction. there are live or ‘real’ actions, where you go along to the auction house and physically bid in person, then there are online property auctions which function in the same way but the bidding and selling is conducted on the auction house website.

One resource we would highly recommend is this excellent and in-depth guide to UK auction properties. It may be a long read, but it’s worth the time and effort to bring yourself up to date about every aspect of buying a property at auction. These property auctions are fantastic places to source derelict and abandoned houses, flats and commercial properties around the UK. Most produce an auction catalogue and it is often a very good idea to attend an auction without bidding, just to view how the process works and all that is involved.

Five good reasons to consider buying a derelict property

1. You can save a lot of money buying a derelict property

One of the major benefits a purchasing a property in a derelict condition is the possibility to acquire the property at a greatly reduced price. Depending on the type of property and the status of the building, such as with a listed or protected status, it is possible to grab yourself a real bargain in terms of the price paid for the property.

2. It’s not just the building, it’s the plot too

With some derelict properties, particularly those that are not protected, you are also purchasing a plot as well as the ruined building itself. This means that as long as you are allowed to demolish the existing building you could be left with an ideal plot that is easier to get planning permission for due to the fact that the building already exists on the site.

3. You can restore and renovate a beautiful building

One of the main reasons people seek derelict properties is to find a building that has some kind of character or features which are not normally found in modern buildings. For example, imagine finding a derelict Victorian stone barn which you could convert or a disused church that could be turned into a beautiful home. These kind of derelict properties present unlimited possibilities.

4. An abandoned or empty building is better to be used then left as a ruin

We are all familiar with seeing ruined cottages with only two walls standing or other derelict buildings that have sat in that condition for years on end. It can be argued that bringing these type of derelict buildings back into use is the right thing to do. A beautifully renovated derelict building is often better for the local area and the building itself.

5. You can build your home where you may not otherwise be allowed to

In some cases, buying a derelict property allows for the possibility of creating a family home in an area where you may not normally be able to get planning permission to build a new house. This is often the case on country estates, national parks and other parts of the UK where they have restricted new builds. Many country estates like to see derelict cottages and empty stone barns brought back to life rather than staying in their present ruined condition.

These are just some of the reasons the buying a derelict property can be a great idea, however is not for the faint-hearted. Renovating a derelict property is a major undertaking and can involve a lot of paperwork, money, time and more often than not a great deal of frustration.

Taking on a project like this really is a labour of love but if you persevere and follow all the rules while at the same time respecting the building itself, you can end up with a stunning family home full of character and with the kind of visual appeal that simply doesn’t exist in modern buildings.