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Meet The Property Entrepreneurs Solving The Dilemma Of Derelict Homes

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Meet The Property Entrepreneurs Solving The Dilemma Of Derelict Homes

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Just over a decade ago, TV property expert George Clarke presented The Great British Property Scandal, a series highlighting the scourge of hundreds of thousands of long-term, empty, crumbling and decrepit houses across the U.K.’s towns and cities.

Government data shows the UK currently has 238,306 homes in England classed as ‘long-term empty,’ meaning they have been uninhabited for more than six months. An estimated 600,000 homes are now vacant, compounding Britain’s ongoing housing crisis.

The TV program shocked viewers but piqued the interest of property entrepreneurs Nick Kalms and Ben Radstone. Genuinely concerned at the absence of a national strategy for dealing with the problem, they set out to do something different. After career stints in the property development and finance sectors, they spotted an opportunity to switch careers and launch YouSpotProperty, the consumer-facing division of their company Hyjan.

Kalms had started his career working in a couple of property agencies before calling on his vast network of industry connections to go it alone. In 2008 he started his own property business Hyjan, which developed individual houses on a small scale. His initial team included Radstone, and in 2010 the pair became business partners.

In 2013 they came up with an innovative way of identifying, acquiring and returning to use empty, derelict and forgotten homes across the U.K. They launched YouSpotProperty, which rewards members of the public for tip-offs of eligible houses falling into this state. Much like a hole in the road, a derelict building can also be a pain for those living nearby, so the model also benefits local communities by cleaning up neighborhoods blighted by these properties.

A business dealing with empty homes is inevitably fraught with stories of family dramas, death, probate and mental health, which Kalms and Radstone soon realized was often why they fell into this state. This forced them to upskill as property entrepreneurs.

“The reason homes become derelict or stand empty is complex,” says Kalms. “It can be the result of delayed probate, which can go on for years, but in most instances, it has to do with the poor mental health of the owners. We’ve had to acquire genealogy skills to track down hard-to-find family members, the sensitivity and care of social workers in navigating the psychology of the owners, and the know-how of quantitative surveyors in identifying if a property can survive a renovation.”

Their initial database of empty and derelict properties was compiled from addresses they recorded when driving past the properties while they were out and about. Although their database was growing, it was at nowhere near the rate they needed.

“We needed a way of being notified about properties that hadn’t seen ourselves,” says Radstone. “We were aware of a website called ‘FixMyStreet’ where a private company relied on the public to report issues on the streets where they lived that were sent to the council to be repaired. It gave us the idea of encouraging the public to report derelict buildings on the street to us.”

To date, the company has given away 6,857 £20 vouchers to people who have reported a property, while 128 individuals have earned the ‘1% of the purchase price’ reward for a successful property purchase.

Since launching YouSpotProperty, the company has had more than 60,000 properties reported directly to them, with their purchasing rate increasing yearly. The model is being rolled out to numerous towns and cities across the U.K., with the potential for replication in cities worldwide facing a housing shortage crisis. This year Hyjan and YouSpotProperty anticipate a combined turnover of £21 million.

The entrepreneurs are stepping in where local councils have failed to deal with houses that should be homes once again. Traditional agents generally steer clear of marketing such dwellings because of the challenges of tracking down owners, identifying why the properties are in such a neglected state and the fact that members of the public struggle to gain mortgages for properties requiring extensive renovation.

With the U.K. continuing to miss its housing delivery target of 300,000 new homes per year, Kalms and Radstone have instead focused on the estimated 600,000 long-term empty and derelict properties.

Kalms adds: “We have had interest from overseas for our model, particularly from the U.S. Every major city has its own unique set of housing challenges and nuanced ways of dealing with their empty properties, but the fact remains they need a discerning eye to help solve the issues of why they fall into this state. We have the track record and expertise to make a difference.”

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