What you need to know before buying a listed property

Q4 2017

Listed properties are unique and full of character and period charm. If you want your own piece of English history, then a listed home may be at the top of your wish list. But there are a few things you need to consider before buying.

There are over half a million listed buildings in England alone. If you’ve set your heart on buying a pre-Victorian property, there’s a high likelihood it will be listed. It’s important to understand the implications of this status so you’re fully informed before you buy your home.

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. 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 need to be aware of:

  • Your home will be on a national register of listed properties, searchable on the Historic England website.
  • You’ll have 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 be bureaucratic and time-consuming!
  • You’ll need specialist insurance. The rebuild cost of a listed building will be significantly more than a non-listed building, as the local authority will determine how and if it will be rebuilt.
  • It will 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, follow this checklist to make sure you’re fully informed before buying:

  • Check out the reasons for listing. The National Heritage List for England will give specific details on why the property is listed. This 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. This will give you a full picture of what you’re taking on if you buy the property.
  • Don’t assume you’ll be able to make changes to 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. It may be worth taking advice from a heritage expert. 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. Rather than blocking moisture with impermeable materials, homes were designed to breathe. 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.

You may find this list intimidating, but don’t let it put you off buying a listed building. Ultimately, most home owners and conservation officers have one common aim: to preserve the beauty and uniqueness of these very special properties.

Our favourite listed properties

  • Willowbrook house, Gloucestershire. This romantic Cotswold country house dates from the 17th century and has been recently refurbished and extended to create a modern home with period charm.
  • Todenham Hall is a former Georgian rectory with a classical facade and sash and rounded headed dormer windows. Inside, the property retains the elegant light feel and period features of a Georgian property but has integrated technology for modern-day living.
  • Otterington Hall, near Northallerton, is an impressive Grade II listed house set in beautiful parkland. The unique yew topiary has been featured several times in Country Life magazine and the estate has been owned by many gentry families over the years