Thursday, 23 June 2016

1,025 Tunbridge Wells Properties lie empty– An injustice for the 1,103 people on the Tunbridge Wells Council House Waiting List?

Easy problems should have easy solutions  - shouldn’t they?

Problems like Royal Tunbridge Wells’s housing crisis, where we have a rudimentary numerical problem of too few homes for too many people ...the answer is clearly to build more property in Royal Tunbridge Wells - but that, unfortunately for those desperately seeking to purchase or let a property, takes a lot of time and huge amounts of money. So what of other solutions?

Whilst at a dinner with friends recently, the subject of property was mentioned (as I am sure it does at most dinner parties up and down the country). Normally someone always mentions empty properties as the solution to the problem. On the face of it, it seems so obvious. Now quite interestingly, I had recently done some research on this topic, which I want to share with you (as I did with those at the dinner table).

The most recent set of figures from 2015 state there are 1,025 empty homes in the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council area. So it begs the question ... why not put them back onto the system and help ease the Royal Tunbridge Wells housing crisis? Whilst they stand empty, 1,103 Tunbridge Wells households (not people – households) are on the Council House Waiting List for council houses. Surely, we can undoubtedly all agree that property left empty for years and years isn’t morally right with the burgeoning Council House Waiting List, not to also mention the issue of homelessness.

But a different story emerges when you look deeper into the numbers. Of those 1,025 homes lying empty, only 276 properties were empty for more than six months. The local authority has to report a property being empty, even if it’s for a week. So many of the Royal Tunbridge Wells properties are either awaiting new homeowners or, in the case of rental properties, new tenants. Also most certainly, some properties are being refurbished and renovated, while others properties have homeowners who are anxious to sell but cannot find a buyer.

And this is where its gets even more interesting. Of the 276 long-term vacant properties (those empty more than six months), only 2 belong to the council, whereas in most other areas that number is considerably higher. However, anecdotal evidence suggests these empty council houses are habitually in need of so much restoration anyway that it’s not worth the Council’s while to do and are in the roughest parts of the council estates, they are properties that even the Council find difficult to fill.

The fact is that the number of genuinely long term empty properties is only a tiny drop in the ocean of the 47,174 properties in the area covered by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and, even if every one of those empty homes were filled with happy cheerful tenants tomorrow, it would only meet a small fraction of Royal Tunbridge Wells housing needs.

So what does this mean for all the homeowners and landlords of Royal Tunbridge Wells? Well it means with demand being so high, especially for rental properties, the certainty of the rental market growing is an inevitability because young people cannot buy and councils don’t have the money to build new council houses. This in turn bolsters property prices as landlords continue to buy at the lower end of the market (starter homes, etc), which in turn sustains the rest of the market as those sellers move up the property ladder, releasing others in turn to buy on again.

These are interesting times in the Royal Tunbridge Wells property market!

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