Sam Dunn: 'The house next door is a derelict eyesore – what can we do?'

House Doctor
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The Independent Online

Question: Our mid-terrace Victorian house is on a pleasant residential road but our neighbouring property, with countless tenants over the years, has now been boarded up and its front garden is crammed with old furniture, spoiling the neighbourhood's general appearance. Will our house be less attractive to buyers should we want to sell it, and can we do anything about this? James Nurton, via email



Answer: Cavernous conservatories, misshapen extensions or garish paintwork might all count as neighbourly eyesores, but they pale in comparison to living next door to a real wreck.

Derelict or rundown properties are public enemy No 1 for any home-seller stuck with such a building on their street, according to research by Haart estate agents.

Their capacity to depress prices has no rival, even outranking proximity to an airport flight path or a bar with a late licence. They can wipe up to 12 per cent off the prices of nearby properties.

"It's widely known that derelict houses can drag prices down, but many homeowners don't realise the extent to which prices can be affected," says Russell Jervis of Haart. "Thousands can be loppedoff your home's value."

It's not clear why this next-door property has apparently been abandoned – it may well be up for repossession, as roughly 125 homes are being taken back daily by lenders, according to the Council for Mortgage Lenders – but you don't have to suffer in silence.

Most councils now employ an "empty property" officer who will liaise with the owners to resolve problems that vacant homes can cause, such as spoiling the appearance of a street.

Contact your local authority and ask for what's called the "building control" department to visit the site. If the property is derelict and open to trespassers, your council should immediately issue a notice to the legal owner of the property giving them 48 hours to safely secure the building.

However, if the owner cannot be located within a reasonable amount of time, then the same building control staff will lock the property to prevent squatters gaining access.

And if the house then remains vacant for more than half a year, the council may make an Empty Dwelling Management Order that allows it to take over the home and to let it out to tenants.

Question: Viewers of our flat for sale have asked us about a water meter, and we don't have one (we live in an old conversion). I've since tried to get one fitted, but our water utility, Thames, won't do it as, I quote, "it's too complex". Do I have any other options? EJ, London



Answer: A water meter is usually fitted free of charge unless your home is sited in such a tricky or difficult location, such as a block of flats with shared pipework or header tank, that it's too expensive or impractical.

Sadly, this sounds like your predicament. But there is a possible solution: ask Thames Water instead to work out a new bill for you based on what's called an "assessed charge". This will typically take into account the number of occupants, the property type and the number of bedrooms.

However, don't immediately jump at this new charge. Ask them first to calculate the assessed charge for your flat, and then compare it to your current bill; only if it is cheaper should you go for it. And you should explain what you've done to any potential buyers.

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