Empty and second homes are not the answer to Scottish housing shortages according to a leading property firm.
DJ Alexander Ltd, which is the largest lettings and estate agency in Scotland, said that recent research by Admiral Home Insurance revealed that almost 7,000 homes in Edinburgh were empty and that there were tens of thousands of vacant properties across the country.
These figures were contrasted with the recent housing emergency announced in the capital and the news that 23,000 tenants are on waiting lists with 200 bids for each socially rented home.
Further figures published by the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership (SEHP) echo these numbers stating that in 2022 there were 6,904 homes in Edinburgh which were vacant for more than six months.
However, the data then goes on to reveal that this figure drops to 2,349 for properties empty for more than 12 months.
Interestingly the number of deaths in Edinburgh in 2022 was 4,761 which almost exactly matches the fall in vacant homes from six months to more than 12 months indicating that many of the vacant homes were probably part of someone’s estate.
According to SEHP the main reason for homes remaining vacant are difficulty contacting the owner (25.9%); ongoing repairs (19.8%); owners unsure of end use (12.8%); unwilling to sell or rent (10.3%); property inherited (8.1%); repairs stalled for financial reasons (6.1%); with the remaining reasons due to delays in the handling estates, entering a care home, legal issues, and others.
SEHP’s latest report shows that it helped bring 1152 homes back into use with 69% of these vacant for more than two years and including some that had been empty for more than ten years.
A further argument is often made that second home ownership is part of the housing problem, but the latest Scottish Government figures show that between 2005 and 2022 the number of these fell from 39,842 to 24,287 which is a drop of 39.0%.
In Edinburgh there has been an even greater fall over the same period declining from 3,031 to 1,660 over the 17-year period which is a reduction of 45.2%.
David Alexander, the chief executive officer of DJ Alexander Scotland, commented:
“There is little doubt that regenerating and reviving homes which have been empty for a substantial period of time can be beneficial for an area.
A property that is an eyesore in a village, town or city can only be improved by renovation.
The concern is that by conflating the issue of a housing shortage in Edinburgh with almost 7,000 empty homes misses the point that these houses will do little to alleviate the accumulated problems the capital, and many other parts of Scotland, are currently experiencing.
In addition, a property being vacant for six months means almost nothing as this can be for multiple reasons as stated by SEHP.”
“Estates can take a long time to be satisfied and few would be completed within six months so many vacant properties will be linked to these circumstances.
People may be working abroad, they may be in hospital, in a care home, travelling, retired, and living elsewhere with relatives or a whole host of reasons which result in a property being left empty for a long period of time.
The concern is whether focusing on empty and second homes is a distraction from the larger issue of the need to build more houses in the social and private sectors.”
“The answer is to increase the volume of new home building which would resolve our current housing issues long before reducing the number of empty and second homes and holiday lets would make a small dent in the overall shortages.
These are sticking plaster solutions to a gaping wound problem.
The crucial factor in this is that reducing the number of empty and second homes, and holiday lets gives the appearance of doing something without costing very much to implement.
These are policies which look as if they are the answer to housing needs, but the reality is that only by resolving our current low housebuilding levels will we start to see a reduction in the high number of people seeking to buy or rent a home in the future.”