What you need to know before buying a listed property

Q4 2023

Listed properties are often full of character and period charm. If you want your own piece of architectural history, then a listed home may well be at the top of your wish list.

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Alexander Macfarlane

Senior Associate Director, Building Consultancy & Private Projects

+44 1865 366635

There are over half a million listed buildings in England alone. And if you’ve fallen in love with a pre-Victorian property, there’s a high chance that it will be listed. Here are our top tips on what you need to be aware of and what you should look out for when buying a listed property.

Categories of listed buildings

If a building is ‘listed’, it means it’s included on the statutory list of “buildings of special architectural or historic interest”. The status is intended to protect buildings from alterations that may negatively impact the character of the building and its historical context.

In most cases, the classification protects the entire building (inside and out) along with any structures attached to the building, including modern extensions. It can also include outbuildings, garden walls and even garden statues.

In England and Wales, there are three categories of listed buildings:

  • Grade I (2.5% of listed buildings) – buildings of exceptional interest.
  • Grade II* (5.5% of listed buildings) – buildings of particular importance.
  • Grade II (92% of listed buildings) – buildings of special architectural or historic interest.

What you need to know when buying a listed property

When you buy a listed property, you’re becoming a custodian of a unique, beautiful building.

And this comes with responsibilities — it’s up to you to take care of the property during your period of ownership. Here are a few things you should be aware of:

- Your home will be on a national register of listed properties, searchable on the Historic England website.

- You will need to get permission from your local authority for any alterations you want to carry out, including extensions, changes to the internal layout or even putting up a satellite dish. This can sometimes be bureaucratic and time-consuming! Read our Guide to Period Property Restoration here.

- You will need specialist insurance as the rebuild cost of a listed home will be significantly more than a non-listed building.

- The home could cost more to run and repair. You may have to use specific materials or hire tradespeople with special skills to carry out work on your property, and energy efficiency improvements such as double glazing or insulation may not be permitted.

Top tips for buying a listed property

If you’ve got your eye on a listed building, this checklist will help make sure you’re fully informed before proceeding with your purchase:

- Check out the reasons why this home is listed. The National Heritage List for England will give specific details on why the property has been listed, which will give an indication of the key attributes or features you’re unlikely to be able to change.

- Use a surveyor who specialises in listed buildings. They’ll understand how your home is constructed and be aware of special considerations relating to its repair. Our Residential Building Consultancy team are experts in this and can help to give you a full picture of what you’re taking on if you buy the property.

- Many buyers’ primary concern is what they can and can’t do to the property, particularly if it’s in need of renovation, and it can often be worth taking advice from a heritage expert for this. You don’t usually need permission to update kitchens and bathrooms, but always check with a specialist first.

- Get specialist advice on damp. Most older buildings have a very different construction to modern day buildings.If damp has been raised as an issue, get a specialist surveyor with expertise in similar buildings to assess the underlying cause.

- Check that any previous work has been authorised. If previous owners have carried out work to the property without gaining the necessary consent, then when ownership transfers to you, you will become liable for correcting any mistakes. You’ll need to make sure your insurance covers this.

It may feel like there’s a lot of hoops to jump through, but don’t let it put you off buying a listed building. Ultimately, most home owners and conservation officers have one common aim: they all want to preserve the beauty and uniqueness of these very special properties. There’s also a whole host of specialists and experts who can help guide you through the process. Whether you’re assessing a house pre-purchase or looking to start works on your new listed home, our Residential Building Consultancy team are able to assist and can tailor their involvement to your requirements.