Speeding up commercial-to-residential conversions to help solve the housing crisis

New rules make it easier to convert office and retail space to residential – but some obstacles remain

5 minute read
The pandemic has had a lasting impact on the property market. House prices have rocketed since March 2020, at first prompted by home workers looking for a house outside of cities. Then, as the housing market stalled, stamp duty rates were cut, and at the same time, the rental market flourished.
Construction of a building

Despite this uptick for the property sector, one underlying issue is yet to improve: the shortage of homes, particularly affordable ones, that represent the UK housing crisis. The pandemic has highlighted the opportunity to convert now-empty commercial properties into much-needed residential, with the government making it easier for developers to change use classes without needing planning permission.

While occupancy rates for industrial units have risen (driven by strong online shopping demand) and office occupancy is beginning to recover, it is bricks-and-mortar retail that has suffered the most; 1 in 7 retail units remain empty. Other sources suggest that as much as 40% of the UK’s retail space is not needed. Is it time to convert some of these retail units to residential properties?

While the right legislation is in place to make it happen, obstacles still remain in both residential and commercial property markets. The length of time it takes to buy and sell properties is not matching levels of demand brought on by the pandemic. So, what can be done to get rid of the backlog, speed up the process, make it more cost effective and ultimately provide more homes for those who need them?

Introduce certainty to your data

One way is to dramatically improve the quality and reliability of your data. With accurate information about addresses, properties and the local area, your property company can make more informed decisions.

Better quality data helps you gather all the necessary data and insights to help identify potential sites, enable faster planning applications, help local authorities capture planning data and better foresee and assess any issues that might arise later down the line. It helps you better understand where commercial and residential buildings are and what area of development they are currently in to speed up conversion times and ensure you build the right homes in the right places.

There are undeniably challenges that come with converting commercial properties to residential use, but done correctly, conversion of existing property can be completed much faster than starting out on new building projects from scratch.

In addition, an important consideration for modern housing is complying with regulations, particularly in terms of energy efficiency and maintaining local environments. These are centred around where properties are built – in turn influencing how they are built and used.

Why address data is invaluable

When embarking on a project to convert a property from commercial to residential use, it is crucial to know as much about the existing property as possible. To determine its suitability and what needs to be done to meet standards. This is where using a Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN) demonstrates its strengths.

The UPRN is an identification system developed by Ordnance Survey that offers the most robust source of information around a property. It has been mandated for use in government datasets, and private companies are mobilising towards its wider use, for an all-sector approach that will unlock its true potential as a system.

The UPRN is invaluable in speeding up the transaction process for housing development as it ensures that all parties are100% certain they are talking about the correct asset. Mistakes in addressing are very costly, but UPRNs allow everyone in the chain to view and assess the same data.

With geospatial linking, data points such as property risks – whether flood risk, radon presence, subsidence and so on – can be attached to the UPRN and used to determine suitability and plan timelines from the offset. It can also help piece together historical uses to ensure that areas such as brown field sites can be more easily and quickly used for new purposes.

How to adopt UPRN at your organisation

The best way to start taking advantage of UPRN with this added context is with AddressBase Premium. A data product available from OS that gives organisations the most up-to-date and accurate information about addresses, properties and areas to ensure efficient processes, help shape operations and spot data patterns.

AddressBase unlocks insights into property lifecycles that will help you shape, plan, operate and communicate with all parties, as well as giving you all the information to conduct risk analysis at individual address levels and spot patterns hidden in your own data.

Much more accurate than using postcode and address completion software, AddressBase can help organisations become more efficient while smoothing out the process of buying and selling in the property market.

Quicker transactions

To learn how to get the right data for faster transactions, read our insight, How to achieve quicker transactions in the post-Covid property landscape.

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By Louise Weale

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