It looks like a ghost town: the abandoned factory site in Oelsnitz in the Saxon Vogtland was once part of the largest carpet weaving mill in Europe. Today, the only gaze falls on empty halls that are falling into disrepair. In Oelsnitz no one had any more use for the buildings than the factory closed.
The decline of entire economic sectors and the resulting rural exodus is one of the main reasons why buildings are empty today. Young people in particular often move out of the provinces and into the cities. Land prices there continue to rise: in Dresden alone by up to 50 percent in the past two years. The urban-rural divide is particularly pronounced in East Germany: Bernd Düsterdiek from the German Association of Towns and Municipalities (DStG) estimates the number of vacant houses in Saxony alone at more than 700. “But in West Germany too, expensive basic prices and abandoned houses are a known problem “, Says Düsterdiek.
Some of these houses are even “ownerless” – so they do not belong to anyone. Because if the old owner has declared his waiver at the land registry, he will be deleted from the land register. The state then has the prerogative to appropriate the house. If he does without it, it is ownerless. Anyone can buy such a house if they are not afraid of going to one or the other authorities: “Here it is worth clarifying who is responsible,” says Helena Klinger, legal advisor at the owners’ association Haus und Grund Germany. Because in the different federal states different authorities are responsible for the administration of such properties.
Abandoned houses bring problems
For municipalities, abandoned houses are often a problem: they spoil the cityscape, disturb residents and cost money. Because the city has to ensure that passers-by are not endangered by collapsing walls and falling bricks. It is often cheaper for the public sector to demolish such a house – unless someone interested can warm to the property. After all, it sounds tempting at first to get a house and building plot for zero cents. In practice, however, this rarely happens because such houses usually cause a lot of problems.
In the run-up to a purchase, there is a lot to do either way: First of all, the buyer has to clarify whether there is actually no longer a registered owner and whether someone is using the house after all. If the house does not actually have an owner, you can go to the land registry as a private person and have yourself registered as the owner. However, one should note that mortgages or land charges can weigh on the house – which happens very often in practice. “Otherwise the state would have appropriated the house,” says City Association expert Düsterdiek. “A property actually always has a value.”
Lots of pitfalls
Another problem is the condition of the houses. Many of them need renovation, sometimes the whole house has to be demolished. However, if an abandoned house is a listed building, demolition is impossible. Endangered animal species can also prevent demolition: for example, when bats nest in the roof beams. In such cases, all that remains is the renovation, and the costs for this are often difficult to calculate.
Other pitfalls are also lurking: the floor of the property can be contaminated with toxic chemicals or other residues, making the house uninhabitable. Then the new owner pays nothing for the purchase of the property, but all the more for appraisers and, above all, the expensive removal of the pollutants. Anyone interested in an abandoned house should therefore look carefully before buying so that the supposed bargain does not turn out to be an expensive bad investment afterwards.
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