How we work with LB Brent to turn empty flats into inexpensive homes in Queen’s Park

March 22, 2022

The regeneration of South Kilburn in Queen’s Park is a 15-year project aiming to deliver over 2,400 new homes as part of a sustainable and mixed neighbourhood. Flats are vacated in phases to prepare blocks for demolition. However, leaving them empty can risk them becoming the target of anti-social behaviour or can mean maintenance issues that could affect existing residents aren’t spotted.

Life for local residents can become worse just when timelines are most critical and when housing teams are most stretched. For Dot Dot Dot, this can be an opportunity to add most value. With a depth of experience in regeneration projects, and a commitment to delivering positive social impact, we work with housing teams to manage voids in a way that maintains flexibility and positivity in the decant process.

Assessing if a property can be used for guardianship

Dot Dot Dot and LB Brent worked together to establish a process whereby properties could be identified as potentially suitable for guardianship and handed over – or returned if unsuitable – in an efficient, transparent manner:

  1. Property in pipeline: LB Brent allocates a property as available for potential guardian use, and invites Dot Dot Dot for a pre-assessment site visit. LB Brent and Dot Dot Dot agree properties which appear suitable for guardian occupation, and LB Brent undertakes any necessary work to ensure that the units pass their EICR and gas safety inspections, are weathertight and have secure windows and doors.
  2. Property ready for triage: LB Brent notifies Dot Dot Dot when they’re satisfied the property is at the handover standard, and sends over gas and electricity safety certs and asbestos documentation.
  3. Key collection and triage authorisation: Both parties agree a timeline for Dot Dot Dot to put the property through triage i.e. assess its suitability for guardianship. LB Brent signs a Triage Authorisation Form and hands over keys. Dot Dot Dot inputs the property and its accompanying authorisation is into a property tracker visible to both parties.
  4. Triage: Over a maximum two-week period, Dot Dot Dot will assess the suitability of the property for guardianship e.g. the amount / cost of work needed to make it viable for occupation in line with our minimum property standards.

Either the property will be accepted by Dot Dot Dot, in which case LB Brent will give authorisation for set up to be finalised and guardians to be housed. Or, Dot Dot Dot will determine that the property can’t be used for guardian occupation, provide the reason for rejection, return the keys and a Property Handback Form to LB Brent, and designate the property on the tracker as being handed back.

Housing guardians to keep properties safe

Once authorised to house guardians, Dot Dot Dot will take on the Council Tax and utilities accounts, add safety certs to our online folder that’s shared with LB Brent, and obtain a selective licence for each property.

Prospective guardians will be vetted, with key considerations being their financial security, ability to move out if given 28 days’ notice, and their desire to volunteer.

Councillor Eleanor Southwood, Cabinet member for housing and welfare reform at LB Brent, explains: “The first temporary guardian was housed in South Kilburn in April 2021, and there are now 19 guardians across four different blocks. They will be joined by dozens more over this year as the regeneration progresses. They have already volunteered over 1,500 hours to good causes, including at local community kitchens, Covid-19 vaccination centres and the Compass network which represents the LGBT+ community within the armed forces.”

The final stage – vacant possession and handback

Using guardians means property owners are able to ask for their buildings back at any time and for any reason – all they need to do is give 32 days’ notice. In turn, Dot Dot Dot will give its guardians the 28 days’ notice required by law.

Once notice has been served, guardians will begin to activate their move on plans, and Dot Dot Dot will offer rehousing options when available and appropriate. The properties are returned to LB Brent in a clean and clear condition, and after inspecting the property, LB Brent will sign a Property Handback Schedule to confirm its return. Dot Dot Dot will close the Council Tax and utilities accounts and transfer them back to LB Brent.

This entire process can occur over a period of a few months to several years, and can flex with the timelines of the council’s regeneration plans. In choosing to work in partnership, Dot Dot Dot is able to provide its guardians with inexpensive homes in a desirable, diverse and dynamic part of the capital, and LB Brent can keep its buildings safe, support its communities and generate positive social impact through volunteering.

Then and now: our partnership with Red Kite Community Housing

December 16, 2021

We have built a relationship with Red Kite Community Housing, a not-for-profit, tenant-led housing association, since 2015. Since then, we have housed over 300 guardians in properties that would otherwise be empty, and we continue to work together to secure properties across High Wycombe.

We caught up with Richard Mulcahy from Red Kite to talk about how working with Dot Dot Dot has enabled them to keep projects running on time and afforded them the flexibility to work around some of the challenges posed by Covid-19.

“Our big development project is in an area called Castlefield in High Wycombe, which is made up of large blocks of flats in three areas: Pettifer Way, Longland Way and Chairborough Road. Before we started working with Dot Dot Dot, we had already decanted all of our tenants, so the buildings at Pettifer Way were completely empty. We originally used Sitex as security measures for the blocks, but it was a very expensive option. We looked at our finances and it was costing us a lot of money. Not only that, but buildings with Sitex and steel sheets all over them don’t look good, and it welcomes antisocial behaviour to the area too. We had to find an alternative, and that’s how we came across Dot Dot Dot.

“From a development perspective, Covid-19 has really changed the landscape that we work in. Firstly, the costs involved in construction have gone up, for example material costs, construction costs and labour. Secondly, there were a lot of hold ups to our timelines where sites had to close down for a period of time during the worst of the pandemic. And thirdly, it means that our buildings have remained guardian-occupied for longer than we would have predicted. 

“Previously, we would’ve asked for vacant possession much earlier on in the project’s timeline, but Covid-19 has changed that. So we changed the way we work, for example we worked out a way to conduct internal asbestos surveys without moving guardians out unnecessarily. The flexibility of guardianship means we can work with Dot Dot Dot, the guardians and our contractors to carry out essential works whilst keeping guardians in-situ right up until we hand the site over to our building contractors. We have continued to work in this way and we find this works for everybody.

“The most important thing about our partnership for me is the relationship I have with the relationship coordinators at Dot Dot Dot. I’ve been really lucky because every single one of them has been superb, and I’ve been able to build great relationships with them. There was also a time when, pre-Covid, there was a social function at a pub where I got to meet some of the guardians in a social setting – they could see who I was and talk to me about any reservations or problems they might have had. Guardians are also required to carry out volunteer work in their local community, this positive contribution really appeals to us as an organisation.

“The flexibility that guardianship allows us is also so important. There are times where, at short notice, we need access to guardian flats and one of the Dot Dot Dot team needs to come up from London and let our contractors in, and that’s never been a problem. Yesterday is a good example of this – one of the team was there to grant access so our contractor could carry out gas checks for a report that was key to the project moving forwards. If he wasn’t able to do it yesterday, it would’ve had a knock-on effect. It’s imperative for us because it keeps our projects on programme. 

“It helps us stay informed on health and safety issues too. For instance, if things are left in corridors, one of our departments will report back to Dot Dot Dot and they can liaise with the guardians to ensure items are removed. It’s never been too much trouble and problems are resolved quickly. 

“All in all, it’s been a good collaboration, a good relationship, and a good service – it just seems to work for us.”

If you’d like to find out more about how we partner with our clients, you can contact us at partnerships@dotdotdotproperty.com or sign up to our newsletter.

All handbacks great and small: achieving vacant possession

September 27, 2021

When the time comes for us to wrap up a project and hand the building back to its owner, we build on a huge amount of work that happens throughout a project’s lifespan. 

In this month’s blog, we take a look at some of our most recent handbacks in Shoreham-by-Sea, Lewisham and Whitechapel. Although the buildings may be diverse in size and type, the process we follow to mitigate risks, review our processes and achieve vacant possession is the same, and each project is awarded the same care and attention to detail that we demonstrate throughout our work.

Mitigating handback risks from the start

Planning for vacant possession isn’t just something we do when a property owner gives us 30 days’ notice – it’s considered right from the start of a project. To mitigate potential risks we set clear expectations with the client and ensure that we house only the most responsible guardians.

Housing responsible guardians

In Shoreham-by-Sea in Sussex, for example, we agreed on a small, short-term project with Southern Housing Group to help protect residents in an emptying estate. 

We knew from the start that our services would be needed for six months during the estate’s decant period. Like all of our guardians, the four that were placed in Shoreham-by-Sea were aware of the temporary nature of their housing with us and had appropriate move out plans for the end of their guardianship. As a result, we provided an efficient, successful handback within the agreed timeframe. Southern Housing Group commented that “there was clear communication and expectations set, which meant it [the handback] all went smoothly.” 

A flexible approach to notice periods

Whether in a development or community project context, timelines for a property’s next steps can be hard to pin down, and unforeseen circumstances can often result in plans being pushed back. Covid-19 has proved to be an obstacle to many in the housing sector and beyond.

In Lewisham, we partnered with London Borough of Lewisham and Grove Park Youth Club Building Preservation Trust (BPT) to take care of a decommissioned youth club. The newly renovated youth club reopened its doors on 26th July 2021, thanks to the work of Grove Park Youth Club BPT and the voluntary hours contributed by our Grove Park guardians.

The flexibility of our 30 day notice period allowed us to accommodate changes to the proposed timeline when reopening was pushed back due to Covid-19. Despite plans being delayed, our partners had the reassurance, through clear communication and regular review meetings, that our team could return the newly-renovated building on time. 

The handback process: how we achieve vacant possession

When we are given notice and the time comes to hand a property back, there are several strands to take care of: 

i) guardian management

ii) security management, and 

iii) account management

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Guardian management

Our team of relationship coordinators, who are in charge of guardian and property management throughout a project’s lifespan, play a key part in property handbacks.  

Before our guardians receive their formal notice via email, our relationship coordinators call them to discuss move out plans and provide support where appropriate. We always give at least 28 days’ notice before a guardian’s move out date and, where possible, rehouse suitable guardians in our other available properties. Some of our guardians from our Whitechapel property in east London, for example, were rehoused in self-contained flats in the London Docklands area which meant they were close to their previous neighbourhood, and were able to continue their volunteering nearby.

As move out day approaches, we keep in regular contact with our guardians to make sure they are preparing for their move and to assess any potential overstay risks. We also increase our presence on site and increase the regularity of our property inspections to address operational issues and get a general sense of the security of the area. The safety of both the guardians and the emptying buildings are our top priority and we aim to mitigate any risks early. 

On the day of handback, the relevant relationship coordinator and members of our field team will be on site to support guardians with moving out and ensure the property is clear and in good condition. 

  2. Security management

At some of the properties we protect, additional security measures may have been  employed alongside the housing of property guardians. In this case, during the handback, measures such as Sitex or alarms will either be removed by Dot Dot Dot or, if hard security is still needed, transferred to the responsibility of the client. 

At a housing estate we occupied in Shoreham-by-Sea, there was increasing concern about anti-social behaviour in the area and so extra security measures were employed to protect the estate after handback. We transferred the properties to Vigilance, an ethical security company who provide hard security services, who would continue to protect the estate.

  3. Account management

We settle any existing bills as agreed in the service agreement up to the date of handback, and close down any council tax or utilities accounts for which we have had responsibility.

Reviewing our processes

Finally, once vacant possession is achieved and the building is handed safely over to its owner, we send an in-depth end of project review and client evaluation form. We are committed to achieving a consistently high level of service, total compliance with regulation and safety requirements, and a tangible social impact. 

Project reviews include an overview of our activities and provide our clients with transparency around our work. In particular, we are able to share the good news about our guardians’, and by extension our client’s, contribution to social impact in their communities.

If you want to find out how we can cater to your empty property needs, sign up to our newsletter, Meanwhile Thoughts, or contact us at partnerships@dotdotdotproperty.com.

Social impact worth millions

August 24, 2021

Volunteering has always been at the core of what Dot Dot Dot does – our mission is to provide housing that makes it easier for people to do more good, and we do that by housing people who want to give time to good causes as property guardians.  So as we celebrate 10 years since we launched, we have counted up how much volunteering we have enabled during our first decade – and it’s a lot.  

The value of Dot Dot Dot guardians’ volunteering

Collectively, our guardians have given time worth £4.3m to good causes since 2011 – the equivalent of one person working full-time for more than 200 years.  But a good deal of that volunteering happens because our guardians are kind people who want to make a difference, and would do so whether or not they were housed by Dot Dot Dot.  

So how much more volunteering have we caused to happen, beyond what would have happened anyway? We have dug into the numbers and worked out that £1.8m of the value of the time guardians have given to charity is directly due to our efforts.

How we worked it out

We took two steps to arrive at this value.  First, we discounted the amount of volunteering our residents were doing before they joined us – so if, for example, someone went from volunteering 12 hours a month to 16 hours a month we only counted four hours for that person.  We found that, on average, 67% of our guardians’ volunteering was additional to what they had been doing before we housed them.

Then second we accounted for other factors which caused residents to volunteer more after they joined us – for instance, some people joined us because they knew they were going to start volunteering more as they went through a career change, so in these cases their extra volunteering wasn’t due to our work, and we didn’t count it as a difference we had made.  Overall, we found that 62% of the increase in our guardians’ volunteering was due to being housed by us.  You can read more about the data and calculations we used to arrive at these numbers here.

We’re glad that not all of our guardians’ volunteering is due to our work

These results tally with the way we see our role.  It would be worrying if all the volunteering our guardians did was due to us – we work hard to house people who actively want to volunteer, rather than to convert people who would rather not do it.  This is because if we were compelling unwilling people to give time to charity they probably wouldn’t give their best effort.  

By contrast, people who find a cause they care about and work that is intrinsically motivating will naturally try harder and be more committed.  The volunteers will benefit from it more themselves, too, through learning, friendships and increased wellbeing.  And our jobs at Dot Dot Dot are more enjoyable when we are supporting and encouraging people to do volunteering they believe in, rather than nagging them to do something they don’t really care about.  

So it is reassuring that 58% of our guardians’ volunteering is happening for reasons other than our work – it means that our recruitment process is working, and that people who would like to be property guardians but who would prefer not to volunteer are choosing to be housed by our competitors.

But we’re also glad to be moving the needle

But it would also be worrying if our work made no difference.  Our vision is of a society where people have the time and energy to give back to causes they care about, and we believe that providing our guardians with well-managed, inexpensive housing frees up both their time and their energy to get involved.  

It gives them more time because not having to pay high rent can enable them to work fewer hours, or they can live closer to their jobs and therefore cut down on commuting time.  It gives them more energy because it reduces anxieties linked to financial hardship and unsafe or unsuitable housing, and means that people are in a better place emotionally to think about contributing to a cause.  So we are glad to see that our work is making a meaningful difference to guardians’ volunteering.

The bigger picture

Supporting volunteering is only one of the ways in which we make a difference as a social enterprise.  We also have a positive impact by creating inexpensive, well-managed housing at a time of housing crisis, by preventing empty buildings from blighting neighbourhoods and by being active contributors to the growth of social enterprise as a sector.  

But since we have had volunteering in our DNA since day one, it’s great to know that our guardians have given such a lot of value to good causes over the past ten years, and we’re very glad that we were able to enable them to do even more.  We look forward to housing and supporting even more generous, motivated people in our next decade.

Read more about our social impact and contributions to the charity sector.

Never knowingly underhoused

July 20, 2021

From Dot Dot Dot founder, Katharine Hibbert

At Dot Dot Dot, we know from our own experience and from our guardians that finding a home to rent in the private rented sector is a gamble.  Some landlords are considerate and diligent, and some homes are well maintained and in good condition, but many aren’t.  Creating an alternative to this uncertainty by providing well-managed, inexpensive homes is part of our reason for existence.

New entrants into rentals market

So it’s good to see household names entering the market for private rented homes on a large scale, with an intention to provide a consistently good quality experience for residents and a long-term commitment to the sector.  John Lewis has announced that it will build around 10,000 homes for private rent, and Lloyds Banking Group plans to become a large private landlord too, through its new brand, Citra Living, which it launched this month.  Citra is making 45 flats in Peterborough available over the coming weeks, with 400 more to follow this year and 800 expected in 2022.  

The homes will provide the businesses with a reliable rental income, making up for earnings both are seeing disappear elsewhere as John Lewis stores lose out to online shopping and Lloyds’ profit margins on lending are hit by low interest rates. 

Given the size of both businesses – and the value of their brands as signifiers of reliability – they can’t afford to provide a poor service through these new offshoots, since to do so would tarnish their reputation as a whole.  Also, because they will be planning to own and manage their buildings for the long haul, they may be able to offer greater security of tenure to their tenants, giving confidence that residents can stay in one place for as long as they like, unlike many private sector tenants who have to relocate every year or two.

The growth of “Built to Rent”

It is likely that they will be followed by more well-known businesses into this ‘Built to Rent’ (B2R) market.  Research by Savills suggests that there is huge scope for growth here.  It estimated that there were already 30,000 completed B2R homes in 2019, with 37,500 under construction and 72,200 in planning.  While these are large numbers, the completed homes so far make up only 1% of the total value of privately rented housing in the UK, dwarfed by the millions owned by individual landlords.  

Savills predicts that the proportion of homes rented out by large businesses will rise to 35% of the private rental market, worth £544bn, when the B2R sector reaches maturity, though this will take decades.  Even at the predicted scale, the B2R sector in the UK would be smaller than that in the US, where 47% of rented homes are managed by institutional investors.

At Dot Dot Dot we welcome this shift, not because it is a perfect solution but because it should incrementally improve the experience of private tenants.  This should occur directly, through B2R landlords offering a better service, but also because high-street estate agents and small landlords will need to up their game in terms of quality and reliability to compete.   

Pushing up standards

In the same way, we want to make sure that property guardianship is a reliable option for people who want flexible housing that is also great value.  That means all property guardian companies need to reliably meet basic standards, so that would-be guardians can choose the company whose approach and properties they like best without worrying about safety or professionalism.  We work towards this by delivering our own work to high standards so that others have to improve to remain competitive, and also by publicising the legal minimum standards all guardians are entitled to.

Improvements for tenants and guardians are particularly important since the government’s current focus on supporting homeownership alone isn’t a complete remedy for Britain’s housing problems.  Given the levels house prices have reached, many people – including many of our residents – believe they will never be able to afford to buy even with help from government schemes, which in any case often only serve to push up prices even higher.  Large numbers of people will be renting in the private rented sector – or living as property guardians – for the foreseeable future, so pushing up standards here has got to be part of the solution.

 

Five simple steps to re-styling your home

July 14, 2021

Once you’ve secured your new home, you’ll probably be thinking – how can I start decorating? One of the benefits of being a Dot Dot Dot guardian is that in a lot of our properties you have the creative freedom to paint and refresh your space so you can really feel at home.

As we recently created a show flat in Queen’s Park, we’ve got plenty of top decorating tips to share – with one key thing in mind – how to decorate affordably. 

1. Stripping wallpaper

Time to ditch that tired wallpaper to give your walls a fresh start? Thankfully this one-day DIY job can be done fairly painlessly. First, make sure your floors are covered with old sheets or newspaper to protect them from debris. Next, test how easily the paper peels off the walls with a putty knife – if it comes away easily, then you’re dealing with an easy task. If it doesn’t budge then you’ll need to use water and a chemical stripper. We’ve got the method for both below:

Peelable wallpaper

You’ll need:

  • Putty knife or an old bank card cut into the shape you need 
  • Soap
  • Water
  • A cloth

This simple method entails loosening the edge of the paper with the putty knife, and tearing carefully. Repeat all around the room until the walls are free of wallpaper, and voila – all that’s needed now is a thorough clean with soapy water. Make sure the walls are completely dry before you begin painting.

Traditional hard-to-remove wallpaper

  • Water
  • Wallpaper stripper like this one from B&Q
  • Spray bottle
  • Putty knife or an old bank card cut into the shape you need 
  • Soap
  • Water
  • A cloth
  • Rubber gloves

Mix your wallpaper stripper with water as per the instructions on the bottle, then pour into a spray bottle. Spray the mixture onto a small section of the walls and leave to absorb for a few minutes. Then, as with the peelable wallpaper, use the putty knife to loosen the edges of the paper and scrape off, repeating the spray, absorb, peel method all around the room. Lastly, go over the walls thoroughly with soap and water to remove any residue left behind!

2. A fresh coat of paint

A good place to start is to consider what you want the finished look to be. Don’t forget that you don’t have to paint all four walls the same colour – do you want an accent wall? Could the door frames be a standout colour? Make sure to consider your approach carefully before you begin. 

Once you have an idea of the style you want, pick up some samples and get testing your colour palette out. This will give you the chance to see what the colours look like at different times of the day and in different rooms. We recommend painting your samples onto paper and tacking the paper to the wall – just in case the light colour you might choose doesn’t cover up the dark sample you started with!

must haves for painting your walls:

  • Paint
  • Paint roller
  • Paint tray 
  • Drop cloths
  • Paintbrushes
  • Masking tape (for neat edges)
  • Damp cloth

Before getting stuck into the main event, ensure that all of your furniture is either out of the room, or completely covered with old sheets or newspaper for protection. Next, grab your masking tape and firmly cover where the wall meets the floor or skirting board, and the ceiling, to ensure clean paint lines.

Next, with your roller brush at the ready, work from the ceiling down, moving your way methodically around the room. Roller brushes are good for covering large areas quickly but you will find it easier to use a paint brush when it comes to painting closer to the ceiling and floor/skirting board. 

You’ll want good ventilation to keep the air flowing through your property at this stage – make sure to keep windows open and consider having a fan on to encourage air movement (plus, the fans will help speed up the drying process). 

If you’re covering up dark walls, don’t forget that you’ll probably need to apply several coats to ensure complete coverage, or first use a primer. 

Once you’re done with the fun part, you’ll want to clean your brushes and rollers to keep them in good condition for next time. For latex and water-based paints, all that’s needed is a thorough rinse through with soap and water. For oil-based paint, you’ll need some mineral spirits to really wash the residue away. 

Top tip: people will often give away free paint that they no longer need or want on Freecycle and Facebook Marketplace. Check out these options if you’re looking to source paint on the cheap!

3. Easy to lay flooring

For a cheap and effective option to cover up any worn out flooring, you’re in pretty safe hands with a roll of lino, or stick on vinyl tiles. As the simplest and most cost-effective way of sprucing up your floor, peel and stick tiles can look more professional than you might think. B&Q does a great range of simple colours from just £8 per M2. 

If you’re after something soft under foot, you might consider opting for carpet tiles. Most of them will come with sticky backs making application simple and straightforward. Check out Screwfix’s range of shades and hues for prices from £39.99 for a pack of 16 tiles. 

A third low-maintenance option is a good coat of paint. This oft-overlooked method of sprucing up a floor can add a sumptuous accent to your new room – plus, it’s a great way to use up any leftover paint you might have from refreshing the walls! 

4. “Upcycling” second-hand furniture 

Tired and dated furniture might not be on the top of your list to collect via Freecycle or a charity shop – but what if you were to give it a revamp? Instead of buying new and often badly made pieces, restyling a second-hand table means you’ll be  creating a unique item for your home. 

Check out car boot sales, charity shops, Freecycle and Facebook Marketplace for inspiration. If the item is wooden, consider how you might give it a spruce – does it just need sanding and re-varnishing? Or would it benefit from a coat of paint? Remember that chalk-based paint works best on wood, and you’ll need to add a top varnish or wax layer to protect your piece and give it a finished sheen. 

If you have a chair with grubby material on it but have never re-upholstered before, don’t worry. YouTube is a great resource for simple how-to videos to make the most out of your new item. Plus, a simple search on Ebay will throw up a wide range of fabric offcuts for low prices to give your piece a brand new style. 

5. Deep clean

Top tip: if you’re looking for an economically and environmentally friendly cleaning solution for your home, a solution of bicarb, vinegar and lemon can actually clean just as well as many commercial cleaning products! The Guardian’s handy guide provides a run down of how the experts give their homes a going over with these three simple ingredients. 

Start with cleaning the bathroom. Spray your shower, bath, toilet and sink down with your chosen bathroom cleaner and leave to soak for a few minutes. Using the rough side of a cleaning sponge, get to work scrubbing down the bath or shower, focusing on areas that need special attention. 

You’ll then want to give the kitchen some attention. Starting with the fridge, use an antibacterial spray and go over all exterior surfaces. Remove shelves and trays from the fridge and clean thoroughly with soapy water.  Repeat this step with any other white goods you have in your kitchen. Then wipe down drawers and cabinet faces, and clean your sink with bleach making sure to rinse thoroughly afterwards to avoid staining. 

Next using glass cleaner and a microfibre cloth, go through the property to remove marks and stains on all of the windows and mirrors. 

Lastly, using a hoover or a dustpan and brush, make your way through each room to clear up any dust and debris left behind after your wall-painting and floor-laying. A damp cloth can be handy to really get into the corners of your rooms to ensure a polished finish. 

Discover more about Dot Dot Dot guardianship and how to apply to become a property guardian. Stay posted for part two, where we’ll be revealing six tips for sourcing furniture on a budget. 

Property guardianship isn’t just for Londoners: Letchworth Garden City

June 25, 2021

In 2019, we brought our mission to provide safe, inexpensive housing for those who want to do more good to Letchworth Garden City, the world’s first garden city, in North Hertfordshire. We have partnered with Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation (LGCHF), a self-funded charitable organisation, to secure a block of flats in the town centre, housing 36 guardians in 19 1- and 2-bed flats across the three years.

Letchworth still upholds its original vision, set out by Ebeneezer Howard before its conception in 1903, that income generated by managing local assets will be reinvested back into the community. LGCHF continues this work today, working to invest in initiatives with its community in mind. 

We are proud to support the foundation not only in securing their empty assets, but in their placemaking objectives, assisting them to ‘support, fund and deliver activities to meet [their] charitable commitments for the benefit of our local communities’. Since the project began in 2019, our Letchworth guardians have contributed 4,147 hours of voluntary work to local charitable causes such as Letchworth Foodbank and Love Letchworth.

Not just for Londoners

Property guardianship has typically been associated with cities, and particularly London, and if you asked someone to describe a ‘typical’ guardianship property, they will probably describe an unusual building, likely a pub or a bank, in a desirable location in the heart of the city. In reality, the need for property guardianship is widespread, and there is no such thing as a typical property or a typical guardian. We have taken on a huge variety of residential and commercial properties, and myriad projects in areas beyond the M25, from Shoreham, to Manchester, to Henley-on-Thames. 

Empty properties are not just a problem for London’s housing circles; all over the UK, long-term vacant dwellings are a security risk, a nuisance to the communities that surround them, and a financial burden for their owners. In 2020, there were 268,385 empty buildings in the UK, with 30,548 of those in London. Outside of London, it is a similar story: there were 26,275 empty buildings in the East of England last year, which is almost the population of Letchworth. Our experience has shown that towns are not exempt from the predicament of empty buildings; there is just as much of a need for property guardianship in Letchworth or High Wycombe as there is in London. 

Setting up outside of the city

The age of the Letchworth’s original buildings and its additions in the 60s and 70s has inspired LGCHF’s plans to regenerate several of its assets. The long-term nature of the regeneration has left some buildings empty with an uncertain purpose, leaving them vulnerable to potential security risks. With our broad experience of delivering property guardianship outside of London, we were able to mobilise a management plan quickly, allowing LGCHF the time and space to solidify their plans whilst we secured the building. 

Filling voids in non-traditional property guardianship areas requires a tailored approach. With a different target audience in our smaller, town-based projects, we have to think differently when marketing our properties. Motivations for moving and priorities may differ from those looking to live in a city, people might use different channels to look for their housing, or they may not have heard of property guardianship before.

One thing that all Dot Dot Dot guardians do have in common, however, is that they are interested in giving back to their community. One tactic we employ is to build a base of interest through contacting voluntary organisations, in order to reach volunteers who are looking for housing. This also helps us to establish a network of organisations, to which we can direct our guardians’ voluntary efforts. This was important in Letchworth, where the foundation’s mission is focused on funding charitable initiatives in the area. In a survey we conducted in 2020, 67% of Letchworth Garden City respondents volunteered in the borough. 

Taking care of everything

As property owners well know, there can be a huge number of moving parts to consider when managing empty assets, particularly assets that are empty for unknown lengths of time. In Letchworth Garden City, we took on all of the facilities management for the block, allowing LGCHF to allocate their time and resources elsewhere. As we take each project on a case by case basis, we can build in different levels of management where required.

Property guardianship is not only for property owners in London – wherever they are, we give our clients the time and space to support their future plans whilst we take care of everything in the meantime.

If you’d like to find out more about how we collaborate with our clients, you can contact us at partnerships@dotdotdotproperty.com or sign up to our newsletter.

Counting the costs of empty properties

May 21, 2021

Many property owners focus on the lost rental revenue when calculating the cost of an empty building, but, says Dot Dot Dot chief executive Peter Brown, there are many more savings to be had when using property guardians.

When a mainstream use of a property comes to an end e.g. because an occupier has left, or the building needs to be redeveloped, the focus on the financial loss to the property owner is usually on lost rental revenue. This is understandable, because those figures usually quickly add up, but there are also significant costs involved with managing and stewarding empty buildings which can hit the property owner’s bottom line. 

In my experience, most organisations will underestimate these costs as they aren’t used to holding property empty. And in larger buildings that have had a commercial tenant, the property owner won’t have been responsible for the building’s day to day costs and so may not even have a sense of the running costs of the building, so won’t have been able to make an assessment for how much the building may cost to keep empty. Every month when we run through our budgets, I never cease to be surprised by how quickly the savings of using guardians, rather than leaving buildings empty, can add up. 

For example, we took responsibility for around 165 Council Tax accounts in the last financial year, saving 14 of our clients more than £220k in Council Tax payments alone. Single accounts ranged from individual studio flats up to our largest 90-person property, and, there were plenty – hundreds – more accounts where the guardians paid Council Tax directly, thereby contributing even more savings. We’re also working up the savings on utilities, maintenance and alternative security options for each of our projects, so we can give our clients a more complete understanding of all the money they’re saving by choosing to work with us.

The costs of empty property that we typically see fall into two categories – direct and indirect. 

Direct costs are things that clients would have had to pay for themselves if the building lay empty – for example:

  • Council tax: discounts and exemptions for empty property have not been available for a number of years, and in some areas policies to incentivise owners to use property means that Council Tax bills can double for longer-term empty property
  • Energy and utilities: even when equipment is switched off, there are often standing charges to pay for
  • Hard security products: many of our clients have historically used third party security products such as metal screens to secure their empty properties. These products are either rented or purchased, and so using guardians removes the need to pay for them
  • Repairs and maintenance: we will often be able to take on some of the routine repairs and maintenance, depending on the building
  • Health and safety, and compliance: even an empty building needs to be managed and kept safe, for visitors and to avoid it becoming a hazard.
  • Depreciation: though it’s hard to measure, an empty building will most likely lose value over time as it becomes more dilapidated. There’s a value in a building that is cared-for and looked after.

But there are also other costs – indirect ones – that only become relevant once a property is empty:

  • Insurance – many insurers have clauses requiring property to be occupied without long void periods, and some insurers will charge more for empty property given the risks of vandalism or damage going unnoticed and unchecked
  • Theft or vandalism – these costs can be high in terms of both the cleanup and securing the building again. Unfortunately, we’ve seen even the smallest property being the target of metal thieves.
  • Squatters or unauthorised access – the court and bailiff costs associated with removing squatters can easily run into five figures.

So, when faced with an empty building, my advice would be to consider and make provision for a wider set of these costs and not just rent loss.

If you want to get an idea of how much property guardianship could save you, get in touch with us at partnerships@dotdotdotproperty.com.

What does property guardianship free you up to do?

April 16, 2021

Choosing to use property guardianship in buildings that would otherwise lie empty brings a range of benefits to property owners.

Each of our clients usually focus on one or two benefits that particularly appeal to them, whether that’s confidence and managing risks better, security of buildings, or creating social value to communicate to stakeholders through Dot Dot Dot’s social impact model. Saving on costs continues to be an important benefit too.

Our Chief Executive, Peter Brown, explores another benefit that is less obvious but nonetheless important: freeing up our clients to spend their time and attention on priorities other than managing empty properties.

Too much to do, too little time to do it?

We are all busy people, usually with more things on our to-do lists that we’d ideally like. For some of our clients, austerity and cutbacks have also added to pressures on their organisations. And of course, the difficulties and uncertainties of managing assets through Covid-19 have brought a new dimension to work and challenged our focus. Being able to hand over empty buildings and knowing that those assets will be taken care of, and used to house good people on a meanwhile basis and for as long as it’s required, can be a liberating feeling if there’s a high quality service and a trusted relationship in place.

All of the Dot Dot Dot team work hard at creating and sustaining great working relationships and partnerships. We want to enable our clients to specialise in their work whilst we specialise in ours, and find ways to complement and support our clients’ goals.

Bringing in experts so you can focus on other priorities

For example, one of our clients was a national environmental charity which had a surplus office building. The charity was restructuring its operations and wanted a period of time to evaluate its future property needs. It chose to use Dot Dot Dot to manage the building, where we installed 14 guardians for around 18 months. During that time, the charity was able to focus on developing its strategy, rather than diverting resources and costs to managing the building itself. It eventually chose to sell the building, and we moved guardians out to enable them to do so.

Often it’s the case that housing associations and local authorities don’t have a team or individual with specific  responsibility for empty property. When properties are scheduled for demolition or wholesale refurbishment, responsibility for them can fall between different teams. In these scenarios Dot Dot Dot can act as the internal team they wish they had, by providing specialist expertise and experience that can be brought in to manage empty assets.

Several of our long-standing housing association clients have given us feedback that working with a Dot Dot Dot means that they can focus on other complex aspects of regeneration: managing the project and the development, resident engagement and consultation, liaising with residents and negotiating leaseholder buy-backs. They have commented that having Dot Dot Dot involved in the properties that are empty and awaiting redevelopment means that their housing and regeneration teams are freed up to focus on these activities, confident that properties allocated to Dot Dot Dot are being well managed and will be handed back when theie project requires vacant possession.

If you’re finding that empty property is a distraction and you’d like to find out how we could free up some of your time, please get in touch at partnerships@dotdotdotproperty.com.

 

Supporting long-term placemaking with Poplar HARCA in east London

April 15, 2021

Poplar HARCA is an award-winning Housing and Regeneration Community Association leading a long-term regeneration and placemaking project in east London. 

Since our foundation in 2011, we have built a long-standing partnership with Poplar HARCA to house guardians in empty properties awaiting redevelopment. We have housed over 350 guardians in a total of 111 guardianship properties in the nine years that we have worked together, and those guardians have contributed 32,663 voluntary hours to worthwhile causes.

Responding to Poplar HARCA’s needs

As part of our bespoke service, we wanted to better understand Poplar HARCA’s placemaking needs and how we could contribute to their vision ‘to create a place where people, communities and businesses can grow and thrive’. In order to do this, we commissioned a survey of our Poplar guardians and relayed their responses to the client, to help inform multiple placemaking projects and gain insight into guardian attitudes towards living in Poplar. We also wanted to steer guardian volunteering towards Poplar HARCA’s community regeneration aims, and three quarters of guardians were interested to find out more about their online Covid-19 volunteering opportunities.

Keeping it local

We currently house 35 guardians in Poplar across 21 guardianship properties. 89% of guardians responded to the survey, which was conducted online and on the phone. Of those we surveyed, nine were already living in east London before their guardianship, and two were living in Poplar itself. We’re proud to be able to house local people in safe, affordable homes and give them the opportunity to give back to their local community. 

A third of participants volunteered in Poplar itself, and 55% of Poplar guardians (from our guardian-wide survey conducted in 2020) volunteered locally in their borough. Guardians have taken part in a wide range of volunteering, such as dance classes at Poplar HARCA’s Brownfield Community Cabin, the Chrisp Street Maker’s Exchange, hosting befriending sessions over Zoom, tackling isolation in the older local population and delivering food parcels.

New business

Property guardianship can be a great way of bringing new people to an area and boosting economic activity. Two thirds of those surveyed were new to Poplar, and 98% of all participants like living there. 29% of Poplar guardians run their own businesses or are self-employed, running businesses such as music production, a youth charity, construction, documentary filmmaking, singing and mental health support for LGBTQ+ people. This was significant to Poplar HARCA not only because it gives insight into the economic contribution of our guardians, but it also gave them an opportunity to gauge interest in a new Poplar Business Directory. The directory was set up by Poplar HARCA and lists small businesses in Poplar, to support local residents and businesses and boost economic growth in the community. Of those with their own businesses, six wanted to find out more about the directory and one guardian was already included in it.  

Together with Poplar HARCA we also wanted to explore interest in continuing to live in Poplar after guardianship. We found 48% of guardians would consider living in Poplar long term, and 61% indicated that long term they were interested in buying a home or settling down. 

Through our tailored approach to property guardianship, we have been able to support Poplar HARCA to achieve both their short and long term placemaking aims, working together to help the Poplar community thrive and bring social value to the area.

If you’d like to find out more about how we collaborate with our clients, you can sign up to our newsletter, Meanwhile Thoughts, or get in touch with us at partnerships@dotdotdotproperty.com.

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