4 Things to Consider Before Buying a Listed Building
With their buckets of character, prestigious heritage and unusual architecture, it’s not hard to see why listed buildings in the UK are in such high demand. Whether you’ve fallen in love with a Tudor Mansion, Victorian cottage or a one-of a kind creation by a famous architect, here are four essential things to think about before committing to life in a listed building.
Find out about its grade
It’s not as simple as a building being listed or not. Across the UK, there are different levels of grading that reflect the various importance of properties, which will impact what you can and cannot do with the building.
England and Wales use Grade II, Grade II* and Grade I. Over 90% of listed homes are given Grade II status, which simply recognises that the property is of special interest and care must be taken to preserve its unique character. Grade II* applies to around 5.5% of all listed property in England and Wales and indicates that the property is particularly important and only 2.5% of listed buildings are given Grade I status (reserved for “exceptional interest”), very few of which are residential homes. For example, the Albert Dock area in Liverpool, Tower Bridge in London and Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, North Wales.
Scotland uses “Category A” to define buildings that are of international importance historically or architecturally, including fine examples of period styles. Category B is for regional or locally important buildings or period homes with little modification, and Category C is given to traditional buildings that are lesser examples of historical architecture. Northern Ireland uses a similar structure but grades property as A, B+, B1 and B2.
To find out more information about a property’s listed grade, visit your local council website and check the planning section. Alternatively, the Listed Property Owners’ Club may be able to help.
Obtaining Listed Building Consent
By their nature, listed buildings have exceptional charm, prestige and character, but they don’t always have the modern conveniences of a newer property. For this reason, you might be tempted to start planning a few updates for when you move in, but you need to slow down.
Listed status applies to a whole property (it’s a misconception that only special features or the exterior is protected), so before making any changes to a listed building, you will need to apply to the local authority for Listed Building Consent. This is not only required for big jobs like moving internal walls or adding an extension, but for smaller details like painting the outside, replacing the front door or changing the landscaping.
If your first thoughts involve making changes to a listed building, it’s probably best to walk away and find a building with fewer restrictions. However, if you’re happy to work with and around the existing style and characteristics, altering a listed building isn’t completely impossible. Your best option will be to make an upgrade or addition to the existing structure, rather than demolishing original features.
Failure to obtain Listed Building Consent before undertaking any modifications is a criminal offence, the liability for which rests with the current owner. This means that as soon as you have the keys, you can be held responsible for any works that have been carried out in the past without permission – the punishment for which can be huge fines and even imprisonment.
It’s therefore essential that you have the property surveyed by a professional before exchanging contracts. An experienced surveyor will be able to identify any modifications to the original building and investigate whether the proper consent is in place. Make sure to commission a Building Survey (or something with a similar level of detail), rather than a HomeBuyer Report or Condition Survey, which won’t provide sufficient detail.
“The primary purpose of the report is to identify any major defects within the property and to identify any areas of future expenditure you are likely to encounter.
The highly comprehensive report usually runs between 25 and 40 pages, depending on the size of the property, and includes photographs throughout. The surveyor should carry out a thorough inspection of the property, both internally and externally – covering the chimney, gutters, roof, windows and exterior walls.
This is followed by an internal inspection a check of roof space and ceilings as well as the kitchen, walls, floors and bathroom facilities is conducted. It should cover the wiring, plumbing and heating, although these services will not be independently tested. The surveyor should test for damp and look for evidence of woodworm. You can also expect comments on other matters pertinent to the building, such as the close proximity of trees or nearby rivers etc. The surveyor should comprehensively photograph the property, these photographs being incorporated within the report.” Cornwall based Listed Building specialists Hocking Associates.
Ongoing repairs and maintenance
As the owner of a listed building, you will be required to maintain and preserve its condition and character – all while fighting against ageing materials and building techniques that weren’t intended for modern life. Needless to say, this can require a significant budget.
Your priority will be to keep the building well-ventilated to prevent damp or rot, but you will also need to take particular care over the roof and drainage. Windows – particularly original ones – will also need ongoing care and maintenance, and many historic features like chimneys and thatched roofs will require specialist care from experienced contractors. It will almost certainly be more expensive than a conventional home, so investing in specialist insurance will be worthwhile.
Living in a listed building is undeniably hard work. Constant care, endless red tape and inflated expenses make it much more challenging than simply moving to a nice suburban semi. However, if you’re up to the task, becoming the owner of a period property provides the opportunity to be part of our national history, making it deeply, deeply rewarding.