Vacant Property Tips & Advice
If you have an empty residential or commercial property, how can you secure it. What must you do to ensure your insurance will cover you? What are the tips and tricks in this industry?
Hear property consultant Alex Goldstein interview Nick Bye from Vacant Property Solutions (VPS) during this in-depth talk on his StrayFM radio show
Vacant Property Tips from the Expert
Interviewer: Talking about vacant property specialists. Just talk everyone through exactly what you do because I think it’s a really hot area at the moment, especially if you’ve got a commercial premises. Just talk in just general terms the services that you guys offer.
Nick: So my role and responsibility is to work with a broad range of clients in and around the Yorkshire Northeast region. Our organization, VPS, is national however, and it’s to look at the risks that vacant properties incur on a day-to-day basis, so that can be from a vandalism perspective, theft, or the most important one in and around these areas is the insurance aspect of that as well.
Interviewer: Yeah. I know you’ve also got this sort of specialist Guardian type service, which you hear bits and pieces of, but I don’t think anyone’s really got any idea as to what that actually entails, and obviously I suppose the financial benefits of doing that as well, if you have an empty, I don’t know, hotel, or bed and breakfast, or something like that.
Nick: Absolutely, yes. So the Guardian piece started off in central London and the idea behind the Guardian piece is that we can move so far on from the original security, which is just going to a commercial property, putting steels on it, and putting alarms on it. At the end of the day, that’s a cost to a commercial client. So the idea behind the Guardian piece is VPS go and source, vet, and CBRE check tenants that can actually live in these properties. So if you can imagine, you’ve got a large property, let’s say in the center of London, you’ve got a vacant hotel that may cost you upwards of £2,000 to secure on a weekly basis. VPS can provide guardians, which would actually generate a revenue based on the fact that we will charge them a weekly rental for the property, and the most important thing, which is why the Guardian piece is becoming so popular across the UK, is that actually because there are living people, specialist Guardians that we provide, that would reduce business rates down to council tax.
Interviewer: Yeah. That’s a bit of a key point at the moment. Certainly, business rates keep on creeping up and up and up. Who are these tenants? How do you find them? Who are these sort of individuals that sort of come in and say, “Well, I’ll live in a couple of rooms in the hotel.” How do you find them and how do they find you?
Nick: Well, a lot of people seem to think that we go to the local music festivals and hold a board up saying that we’ve got some cheap rooms for rent in Leeds, York, or Sheffield, but we actually have a specific Guardian application system, where we have got a portal where we store all the Guardian’s details. Now, these are professional people. These are doctors, or nurses, or people that work in the professions that are looking to stay in a certain city, due to placements, for six to nine months. We have to do two years’ background check in. They have to earn a certain amount of money, and we actually go in and check the properties on a week and week basis to see that they are working in line with our mitigation.
Interviewer: So, I mean, it’s literally not Fred off the street. I mean, as you said these are very professional individuals, and it may be that they’ve got to be based up in Yorkshire during the week because of their job, but their family and their base happens to be, I don’t know, back down south in London. It’s that type of individual…
Nick: Yeah, exactly. And the great thing about the Guardian services, VPS’s, it’s not a case of we will find the person then go, “There you go,” or like, “You need to go sort the property out.” We will actually make the property Guardian-worthy for you. So with that is putting partition walls in, putting toilet facilities in because there are certain regulations that you’ve got to abide by. There is, but we actually do all those services in-house. So we can actually take a property and say, “Right. That is perfectly suitable for Guardians.” And then in an ideal world, we would come back to it a couple of months later, and say, “Right. This is your saving from business rates to council tax, and we actually, we’ve made your property Guardian-worthy.”
Interviewer: And what happens on the reverse side, if it’s not a livable type of property? I don’t know, it’s a warehouse, or it’s a dilapidated apartment, you can’t actually put an individual in there, or it’s not what the landlord wants. Fine, you’ve got the sort of, I suppose, the security in terms of just boarding it up, but then it’s a fairly ugly site. Are there any variations of that, or any things behind the scenes that you can, I suppose, make it more as aesthetically pleasing?
Nick: Yeah, yeah. I mean, one thing that we developed for the exact reason was a product called decals. Now, we do provide the steel screens, and you’re right, they are some of the most ugly things you’ve seen in your life, and probably wouldn’t suit Harrowgate town center very well. So decals are specific steel screens that are designed to place on the outskirts of the property with the exact same security level as steel screens, but you can give us a design that will go on the front of those steel screens. So as you could imagine, they can be either made up of two doors, windows, stained glass window, if you fancy being really fancy, or anything like that. And those could be created completely bespoke to what you want to blend into the high…
Interviewer: So you’re literally printing up giant stickers to look like the facade of that property?
Nick: Exactly like it, and there are examples where unless you go up extremely close to these properties, if you were driving past, it would be very difficult to notice the difference, and that’s not just to maintain, you know, with the local community, so it doesn’t stick out. But I would know that if I was a prospective buyer driving past these sites, the decals would look much more attractive in terms of where I see that property going as opposed to just steel screens that are placed on the outside of them. So, yes.
Interviewer: Yeah, absolutely because I suppose everyone then if you’ve got exposed windows, everyone’s about, sort of worried about vandalism, and graffiti, and dare I say, people getting inside. How does it actually work from a pure security point of view, when you talk about sort of cameras, and remote videoing, and monitoring?
Nick: Yeah, so because we’re the one-stop shop when it comes to these solutions, in terms of what we can provide, the alarms that we offer that have been developed, built, and installed by our in-house teams, because situations are always going to arise, no matter if you put steel on the property, or Guardians, but unfortunately there may be break ins at the site. Now, because of these alarms that we’ve developed in-house, that are responded to by our in-house team, we’ve got 27 service centers nationally across the UK, with over 500 staff that are on the ground. So you can imagine, we’ve got our own RVRC system, which is basically our own alarm monitoring system, which is based in Manchester. So all those are recorded and monitored by our in-house team. So if someone does, for whatever reason, break into the property, we’ve got the ability to respond to that on a very timely manner. The great thing about the alarm system is based on the fact that a lot of these properties are vacant. You don’t wanna be having to switch utilities on and the risk of utilities being left on. They are all wireless and they’re all battery-powered as well. So there’s no need to have any wires running in and around the property, and there’s no need to have any form of power running to it either.
Interviewer: And then obviously, it’s not a case of someone creeping in, and cutting the wire, and they can get in because again, all of that sort of thing is backed up.
Nick: Exactly, and the actual alarm unit that we create itself is made out of the same material. There’s riot shield. It’s got an anti-tamper device. It’s not one of those kind of things that you would you just stick on the wall and you can go and pull off. There are actually videos on YouTube with people taking baseball bats to these things, and so much so that if they do manage to do some damage to it, it will lay down and play dead, but will still carry on sending a signal to our service center.
Interviewer: Got you. So you really, really, really are secure?
Nick: Yeah. Absolutely, yeah.
Interviewer: If you’re away and we’re obviously, I suppose… certainly the commercial owners mindful, worried, given the summer supposedly upon us, with the weather soon, everyone hopes, you’ve obviously got summer parties and raves, and you always hear about them sort of crashing into an office or warehouse. What sort of thing could you provide, if you were, an empty warehouse, and you’re worried about that? What would you go through? I know we talked about the screens and the videos, but are there any other sort of pointers that you would give for those landlords or owners?
Nick: Absolutely. I mean, there are certain elements that would apply to certain properties depending on the size of it. The most important thing and the most important message that I give to my clients is that this solution is cheaper and easier than the cure. So once people like that actually get into the property, it’s extremely difficult to get them out. So simple things like concrete barriers that we can provide over the entrance. A lot of people don’t think like that, because people can not actually get the cars or vehicles onto the site. So concrete barriers are a massive, massive, massive deterrent for people like that. So that is one of the biggest tips that I can give to people, to look at the simple approach because sometimes the simplest solution is the most effective one.
Interviewer: What about the point of insurance? Because again, obviously, if a property’s lived in, and we talked on the Guardian side of things, your insurance is gonna be one thing. If you’ve got a vacant property, how does that sort of work, and what are the measures you should take?
Nick: Yeah, we work with the biggest commercial insurers. We work with AXA, ALIGNED, and Standard Life, and we are their preferred supplier purely because of the measures that we go to ensure that a property is insurance compliant. Now, if I was to say to you, what would you think you would need to do to ensure that a property is of a certain standard when it is vacant, could you give me some of the things that you believe?
Interviewer: Everyone always thinks sort of locking at the doors, turning off the lights, and sorting out the services, and as you said, probably putting it in a video camera. But, I guess, it’s always gonna be the small things that everyone’s gonna forget.
Nick: Absolutely, yeah. Absolutely. So it’s little things like, and a lot of people don’t know, is the sealing of the letterbox. Now, that may just be a £25 pound transaction to get that done, but the majority of the main insurers, if that action is not taken, would not pay out if something was to happen at the site. We have had specific examples of this at VPS, whether of extremely large, expensive office blocks located in the city center. Now, the reason why is that, if you can imagine, if you’ve got an open letterbox, and if you vacated the site, the post and the junk mail isn’t going to stop coming. So it piles up and piles up behind the letterbox. All someone needs to do is go in there and put a match to it, and then the building is aflame.
Interviewer: And it’s gone.
Nick: And that is your responsibility to ensure that that letterbox has been sealed. Otherwise, technically, the combustibles behind that they have been given access to. So it’s extremely important, and again, one of the biggest things in all the sites that I drive past, is always the main thing that people don’t pick up on, is ensuring that that letterbox is sealed.
Interviewer: So a £25 seal could save you literally millions, because if an insurer doesn’t pay out, you’re on your own?
Nick: Yes, and as we all know, insurers will do whatever they can to not pay out, and so it’s important, from your perspective, that you’ve got the confidence in the person that you know that is going to the site, knows what they are looking for, and knows what they need to be securing from a vacant property perspective.
Interviewer: And have you got any sort of examples in Yorkshire of sites and properties that you’ve helped?
Nick: Absolutely. I mean, we deal with such a broad range of property. Whether that be from… because we’ve got social arm of our company as well. So whether that be the local housing associations that we work with, or right up to the real big projects. And one of those, and the best example, was probably Hickleton Hall, which is basically in Doncaster. It’s an extremely large stately home. Stately homes are full of things that people would like to remove from stately homes, copper wiring, lead on the roof, or the boilers. So we were tasked by the company Sue Ryder, the charity that actually owned the property, after they closed it down, unfortunately, to go in and provide the most effective, cost-effective security solution. Now, man guarding is another thing to come on. It’s one of those things that people will always revert to when looking for security, but because of the ever spiraling cost, the increase of national living wage, for some companies it’s not just a viable security solution. So we went in there, did one of our full free site risk assessments, where we go in and do a 52 point check question on the property, look at what it needs. Is it low medium risk? We’ll also do an evaluation of the local area, look at crime statistics and provide a solution, a bespoke solution, based on what we believe that site needs. And in this instance, for Hickleton Hall, we secured the entire property with steel screens on the outside, also provide internal security alarms as well to monitor that, as well as smoke alarms.
Now, the reason we provide smoke alarms is that Hickleton Hall, prior to us installing these smoke alarms, they were receiving five or six call-outs from the fire department every single week. Now, I didn’t actually know this, but as soon as you go over a certain amount of call-outs by the fire brigade, they will start to fine you. So they were fining Hickleton Hall between £1,500 to £1,600 a week for unfulfilled call-outs, basically. So it’s £6,000 a month that’s just basically going down the drain. So because we can go and install our smoke detectors, and we can respond to that, I can assure you that our call-out charge is significantly less than that. And it’s much, much, much better monitored, in terms of the fact that we can respond to it with a local team, as opposed to dragging resource out of local government and having to send that to what was basically an unfulfilled call-out charge.
Interviewer: So it sounds like Fort Knox, that one.
Nick: It needed to be Fort Knox. There was around about £500,000 worth of lead that was on the roof alone, because of the high profile of the site it was in the local paper. It was in the local news. Everyone who would want to go into a site like that to remove things would have been made aware of it quite quickly.
Interviewer: And the obvious question, did anyone get in and steal the £500,000 lead roof?
Nick: Before we were there, there was an issue at the site. There were some numerous issues at the site, and then when it was raised to us, we managed to secure the property within 24 hours, and there has been zero issues at that site since.
Interviewer: Well, you heard it here first. Nick, it’s fantastic to talk with you and hear just a bit more and an insight into VPS. Now, if anyone wanted to sort of touch base with you and talk through any of their issues, what’s the best number to reach you on?
Nick: The best number to contact me on, I’ll give you my email address, which is firstname.lastname@example.org and the best contact telephone numbers is my mobile number, which is 07738818874.
Interviewer: Nick, fantastic and thanks so much for coming on.