May 6, 2016

Should I buy a listed building?

Period properties offer a charm all their own that is hard to resist. Many house hunters will seek out character properties because of the wealth of attractive architectural features and personality that most modern houses just do not have. But would you go as far as buying a listed property?

What is a listed building?

Put simply, ‘listing’ a building means that it is on a national register as a property of special architectural interest and historic importance, to ensure that its exceptional character is protected and preserved for future generations. Typically, a building has to be at least 30 years old to be elibible for the register. Most properties dating from 1700-1840 are listed as well as all older surviving buildings.

Should I buy a listed building?
Historic England details 3 categories:

• Grade I buildings are of exceptional interest
• Grade II* buildings are particularly important buildings of more than special interest
• Grade II buildings are of special interest. 92% of all listed buildings will fall into this category, including the vast majority of residential homes.

There are around ½ million buildings on the National Heritage List for England. You can search here to find out if the property you are interested in is on the register.

Contrary to what many people think, listing covers both the interior and exterior of the property as well as the area around it. The owner has a duty to maintain the building’s character and keep it in good repair. Before any changes can be made that might affect the building’s special interest, listed building consent must be obtained.

Looking forward or looking back?

If you are thinking of buying a listed building, be under no illusion about the responsibility that comes with it. Rather than a mere home owner, you are in effect the custodian of an important piece of history. And to be frank, you need to really be in love with this idea. Imagine the feeling of living in the historic surroundings of a unique and beautiful home full of character – does it tug at the heartstrings? Does it beat the humdrum architecture of modern housing estates hands down?
Restoration costs can be very high and there are strict guidelines about what can and can’t be done, including the use of acceptable historical materials and specialist contractors. That said, the authorities are generally in favour of historic building being maintained, lived in and enjoyed and the great majority of applications for listed building consent are approved. Grants may also be available to help with repairs.

Of course, period properties are highly sought after and their value often far eclipses that of ‘regular’ homes of comparable size, especially if period features have been expertly refurbished and the building well cared for.

On the other hand, if you buy a listed building with the intention to substantially alter its style or substance or to develop it in any way, you may be in for a lot of disappointment and frustration, as you will have a hard time to convince both Historic England and your local Conservation Officer of your plans. For initial guidance, contact your local Historic England office here.

Do I need a survey?

In a word, yes. If ever there was a case for a full structural survey, considering the purchase of a period property with listed status is surely it. A survey will give you valuable information about the condition of the property, any advice on repairs and how and when they should be undertaken. The survey may also be able to warn of any unauthorised work carried out by previous owners – problems that you may end up inheriting and having to rectify. Finally, the survey may give you the evidence you need to renegotiate the price, or to withdraw from the purchase altogether.

Because of the complexity and age of the building, choose your surveyor carefully. He needs to have a comprehensive understanding of problems that can arise in period properties, so that you get a full and frank picture of what you are letting yourself in for. It is strongly recommended that you look for a surveyor with experience of old buildings and who is familiar with listed buildings in particular. Membership of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) or The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) would be ideal. Some chartered building surveyors are accredited by RICS as having experience in conservation.

This article was provided by Sara Bryant, independent content writer for Southdown Surveyors who
were consulted over the information provided.