Monday, February 24, 2014

Europe's 11 million empty homes

While every country worries about the shortage of available housing, recent research shows that there are 11 million empty homes across Europe, enough to accommodate the number of homeless twice over.

Sadly it is not as simple as that, and many experts point out that properties lie empty for many reasons - searching for a buyer, put on hold until property values rise, awaiting planning permission for works, waiting to start works, unable to trace owners, costs of re-possession conversion and so on. Some local authorities (such as in Birmingham) have pioneered schemes to identify and locate empty properties  and persaude their owners to negotiate financial aid from the Council to enable the property to be renovated and offered for rental. It is often through neighbours living next to or near empty properties (which can bring down the value of other properties in the area) that such properties are located and their owners traced.

The figures are nonetheless alarming and include. United Kingdom 700 000; Ireland 14 000**; France 2.4 million; Spain 3.4 million; Portugal 735 000; Italy 2 - 2.7 million; Germany 1.8 million.

As the The Guardian* article reports, many empty homes were built in the housing boom up to 2007-8 and designed to be let. Many half-completed properties have been bulldozed to prevent the property market being even further eroded. Spanish government estimâtes talk of a further 500 000 partly built properties abandonned by constructors, a relic of the days when 800 000 new dwellings were being built every year. Some Spanish régions are taking steps to reduce the number of re-possessions by banks and/or forcing them to re-let seized properties or face heavy fines if they remain empty for more than 24 months. The Irish government is taking even more drastic measures and demolishing some 40 unoccupied housing estates.

Within France, many of these empty homes are 'located in the wrong place' for those seeking work - including the additional 2 million French holiday homes that are occupied on average for just six weeks every year either by their owners or rented to holidaymakers. In some Holiday régions, second homes can comprise up to 75% of the local housing stock.

* Rupert Neate, The Guardian, 23 February 2014.
** The figure given in the Guardian article is 400 000 but this has been challenged as incorrect. An earlier article on the Irish situation speaks of 14 000 poissibly rising to 26 000 by the end of 2014.