While buying a house can be daunting and stressful at the best of times, what if your dream home purchase came with the responsibility of owning a piece of Britain’s history? For nearly half a million home owners in the UK this is a reality if they own a Listed Building, in other words a building that has been judged to be of national importance in terms of architectural or historic interest. Whether it’s a chocolate box cottage, a city town house or a sprawling country estate, the joys of owning a small part of our heritage can be immensely satisfying and rewarding. Listed homes are usually lovely to look at and are full of character and history and this is what attracts people to them in the first place. There can be downsides however. Below are some key points to consider before buying a Listed Building.
1. Altering Listed properties can be difficult so make sure you really like what is there when you purchase as it may be what you are stuck with. If you are thinking of making changes after you purchase then make sure to consult a really good architect (have a look at Country Life magazine’s list of 100 best architects) or planning advisor who is used to dealing with listed buildings and they have a good relationship with the Conservation Officer within the Council.
The law requires that Listed Building Consent be granted by the Local Planning Authority in conjunction with English Heritage for any alterations which affect the character of the listed building. The controls don’t normally extend to replacing the bathroom suite or kitchen units but most other alterations will require consent. If in doubt, speak to the Listed Property Owners Club, your Local Planning Authority or your dedicated buying agent.
2. Remember it is usually easier to make additions to listed houses than to demolish or change anything existing. So if you want to add an extension or indoor pool which doesn’t alter the main property it is likely to be easier than removing an original feature, however small, even if it’s a fireplace or internal wall. If a feature is specifically mentioned in the official Listing document you haven’t got much of a chance in changing it so check this very carefully (these can be found online at imagesofengland.org.uk).
Grade I and II* are the higher grades which represent only the top 7% of listed buildings. Most buildings are listed Grade II. The main difference is that if you apply for listed building consent to make alterations, greater weight will be given to preserving the architectural and historic significance of the more highly graded buildings. English Heritage will also be consulted on these applications. It is worth bearing in mind that all buildings are listed with a view to preserving their character, whatever the grade.
3. Check any works carried out by the current or previous owners have been done correctly and with appropriate Listed Building Consent. If the property on site does not correspond exactly with the plans on the Consents you, as the new owner, may be the one who has to reinstate any previous works. Beware of Enforcement action.
You need to be aware that there is no time limit to when a local planning authority can require unauthorised alterations to be reversed. Consequently new owners can be required to remedy alterations made by previous owners. It goes without saying that you need to be very cautious if you suspect alterations have been made without consent.
When a building is Listed the whole building is protected, inside and outside. In fact statutory protection extends to the building itself, anything attached to the building and any building within the curtilage of the building.
If it transpires unauthorised changes have been made to the property by a previous owner, very few insurance companies will cover you for this. It is therefore important to have suitable cover in place when you purchase your listed property. We often recommend the following firms: R K Harrison; Hiscox; NFU Mutual and Weatherbys Hamilton.
4. You will probably buy the house in the summer so make sure it is going to be warm enough in the winter! Old windows can often leak like sieves and gaining consent for double glazing is usually not possible.
5. Be prepared for larger insurance premiums if the property is listed similar to if it is thatched. When insuring a listed home, look out for the small print. With any insurance quotes you get, make sure you read the policy and check exactly what you will be insured for as many people make the mistake of being under insured – a policy obtained from an online comparison site is unlikely to be sufficient. Check that the provider will cover the full cost of a rebuild to the conservation officer’s standards should the situation arise.
The Listed Property Owners’ Club is Britain’s only advice service dedicated to helping members get the most from their homes by providing detailed guidance, information and support for just about every conceivable issue associated with ownership. A reputable buying agent will also have good knowledge of these issues and make introductions to appropriate experts to avoid clients inheriting these problems.