Estate Gazette blog January 2013
I made a number of new friends when I was chairing the Empty Homes Agency Conference back in November (see blog, 26 November 2012
), it really was very rewarding. And I am glad to say my NBFs are sticking with me. One such is the impressive (largely female) team from Guardians of London
, which is a “property guardian organisation”. Now I didn’t know much about property guardians before, but these girls have been giving me an education. And I have to say it seems like a cracking idea. You do wonder why it isn’t taken up more.
We are all familiar with the usual methods used by landlords to secure a vacant property in the hope of protecting it against the multifarious risks you face by leaving it empty. But employing a 24-hour security firm or boarding up the building can prove to be mighty expensive on a long-term basis, sometimes prohibitively so, when you consider the second whammy of the empty rates bill on top. Now, I understand that this is where property guardian organisations could be the most economical and effective way to protect an empty building.
Property guardian companies place carefully vetted guardians into empty properties to live in and look after them, removing the need for shuttering and security guards. The “guardians” are usually young professionals and key workers and they are attracted to this type of affordable housing as it is a low-cost monthly expenditure. Key workers and professionals, such as doctors, nurses and office workers, are fully vetted (including employment references and CRB checks if required by the property owner). I understand that guardians usually operate varied shift patterns and, as a result, there will be people in and out of the house through the day, making it very obvious that the property is occupied.Now, there will be some start-up costs associated with a guardian, depending on the state of a vacant property. For example, there has to be running water and electricity. And the property must, of course, be safe. But guardians do not need the care and attention that a tenant would normally need. For example, if one of the rooms is thought to be unsafe, then this room can just be sealed shut and not used. And, as the property is technically occupied (by license rather than AST), any squatters would be removed by the police. Insurance premiums may also be reduced as the property is no longer vacant, reducing not only the threat of theft and vandalism, but also of any serious damage to the property from leaks: these would be reported instantly and can then be dealt with.
So… a property occupied by guardians will be kept aired and heated and will ensure that the property does not deteriorate further. What’s not to like? And property guardians will be happy for agents to conduct viewings at any reasonable time. But the main benefit of property guardians, rather than other forms of property security, is the income that can be generated from them. Guardians do not pay rent, they pay for a licence, and they are subject to short notice periods should you want them to vacate: the usual notice is two weeks. Council tax is usually exempt when guardians occupy a property, but bills such as water and electricity must be paid and meter readings will be provided by the guardians on a regular basis.
Seems like a brilliant solution to me (and has the rather wondrous by-product of getting folk into much needed homes, albeit temporarily). Apparently, it is high-value properties, large properties and vulnerable properties, in particular, that most benefit from using the services of a property guardian company. But I have to say I will be looking hard at these services for (rather low value, rather marginal in fact) UKR stock when the time comes.