A step-by-step guide to help you buy or renovate old listed buildings.
Living in an old abode is a dream come true for some. After all, nothing beats the feeling of being a part of something that is historic. These buildings are the nation’s pride — something that needs to be treasured and protected and here’s where the definition of old and listed buildings comes in.
And while there’s probably a few more who want to experience what it’s like to own a listed building, it’s not that simple. Together with the privilege of having and living in one, comes big responsibilities and a hefty list of chores.
And that’s precisely what this two-part guide is meant to help with. The first part will talk about the things that you need to do and accomplish when buying a listed building. The second part will focus more on essential guidelines, including the do’s and don’ts concerning upkeep and renovation.
What is a listed building, anyway?
The most straightforward definition of a listed building is a structure that has ‘special architectural’ and ‘historic interest’. These buildings are included on the National Heritage List, hence the term listed. Once included it is extremely hard to list out unless there are extraordinary circumstances at hand.
It’s only logical that they are preserved and protected since they’re recognised as exceptional in a national context. Many architectural masterpieces fall under the tight government protection.
Ideally, the older the building, the more likely that it’s listed. The UK has around half a million listed structures throughout the entire country. If you’re interested in finding out if the property you’re living in or the one that you’re planning to buy is listed, the following resources can help you.
- Historic England has a searchable map including a complete list of all listed properties in England.
- Scotland’s Historic Environment offers a searchable list
- Cof Cymru has a searchable map of listed buildings in Wales
- The Department for Communities in Northern Ireland comes equipped with a database of listed buildings.
Listed buildings are categorised based on how ‘interesting’ they are. These categories or grades vary across the UK. For instance, England and Wales’s grade listed structures as follows:
- Grade I – only 3% of listed buildings fall in this grade. These are the ones with outstanding or national architectural or historical interest.
- Grade II* – listed buildings of more than the special interest which make up 5% of listed buildings.
- Grade II – this is where most listed buildings are included (92%) — those that are considered to be of special interest.
Listed buildings in Scotland are graded as A, B, and C. On the other hand, Northern Ireland grades them as either A, B+, B1, or B2.
The first thing that is considered for a building to be listed is the age of the property. All buildings that are listed need to be more than 30 years old. If the one you have on your mind isn’t, then you’re good to go.
Naturally, all buildings that were built before 1700 that are still standing and in their ‘original’ condition are considered as listed. Buildings constructed between 1700 and 1840 are also listed, with some selectivity being applied. Although criteria can range, property owners are allowed to carry some minor repairs and renovations, as long as those fit official regulations.
Those that were built from 1840 to 1914 may also be listed provided that they meet any of the following conditions:
- Demonstrating technological advances;
- Being the work of particular architects;
- Possess some notable feature.
Buying a listed building
Purchasing a non-listed property is already a not-so-simple process, to begin with. What more in the case of a listed building? It’s your responsibility to be fully aware of what you’re getting yourself into and if you fail to research, you’re up to bad gamble.
This is not meant to scare you off buying a listed building. However, it means that you should proceed with extra caution. With that said, here are a few important reminders to help you make this process as smooth-sailing as possible and avoid problems in the long-term.
- Thoroughly check with your solicitor if the house that you’re buying is listed. Don’t be too dependent on the details provided to you by your estate agent for they are often prone to mislead you, only to take advantage in the sale.
- Hire not only the right solicitor and surveyor but also the ones with expertise in listed buildings. Professionals who are not familiar with these properties will only cost you money, time, and probably problems.
- A building survey will help you a lot. Specifically, be cautious about unauthorised alterations carried out by previous owners. There are certain restrictions that only apply to listed buildings, and as the future owner, you don’t want one to be the one responsible for these things.
- Most lenders would require future owners to make alterations to a property before releasing the funds. DON’T. But if you need to proceed, make sure that you get advice from a specialist first and foremost.
- A listed building is treated as special. As such, you also need to have a specialised type of insurance for coverage. Choose a suitable policy that will incorporate considerations way beyond than that of an ‘ordinary home’, and standards such as carbon monoxide poisoning and CO awareness are a must.
Renovating a listed building
Like mentioned above, owning a listed building comes with big responsibilities. You might be thinking that after you bought the house, you can just sit and relax. Not quite.
Taking care of an old and historic property is very much different than that of a non-listed building. One thing you have to realize is that the character of a listed building needs to be protected. That may include not just the house itself, but everything else within its curtilage, such as taking care of bespoke guttering or specific paint colours.
If you think the listed property you bought needs some much-needed renovations, again, proceed with caution. While there are many tweaks and changes you could undertake, there many you are simply forbidden to carry. Here are the do’s and don’ts that you ought to remember.
- Make sure to understand the causes of defects before doing any repairs to the property.
- Repair instead of replacing whenever possible. Avoid unnecessary work done if you can.
- Hire ONLY architects, builders, and tradespeople who have experience with listed buildings or you risk the quality of works, not to mention falling under sanctions.
- Seek help from a local conservation officer to explain to you what’s allowed to be done. The conservation officer is an employee of the local council. Their primary job is to ensure that the character of a listed building is preserved and to apply the law in case of misdoings and breaches of the law.
- Keep all permissions and plans. You’ll need them if you plan to sell the listed building in the future.
- Retain historical fabric and finishes if possible.
- Consider reversing poor alterations and repairs that were done in the past.
- ALWAYS obtain written consent before proceeding with a repair or alteration. If by any chance you end up at a hearing before your local council, only written proof can service in your advantage.
- Get the right balance between making the building energy efficient, and the amount of work you’re allowed to do.
- Forget that listed building consent is on top of planning permission and building control approvals.
- Take for granted the cost of repairs and rebuilding should a disaster strike. Again, an insurance policy that covers listed buildings is advisable and proven to help.
- Question or challenge the decision of the conservation officer WITHOUT well-researched reasons.
- Just rely on advice from salespeople or contractors. They may not be aware of laws regarding listed buildings and could often mislead you.
- Use incompatible materials like cement or uPVC. In some occasions, these could be considered as a violation of the rules imposed by your local council.
- Change original features and historic parts of the building. This is absolutely forbidden for that’s the purpose behind the regulation.
- Ignore structural problems such as damp, damage or decay, and flooding issues. If you fail to spot it in time, you put the structural integrity of the building at stake.
- Neglect fire safety requirements and precautions. Old buildings are vulnerable to fires and that’s one of the most common reasons for disasters.
- Build any additions or conversions. Sometimes something as simple as a terrace renovation could be considered as a violation.
- Remove ornaments, sculptures or other interior or exterior decorations.
Despite so many things that you need to be aware of, being the owner of a listed building gives a great sense of pride. What you have is something that not a lot of people can get their hands on in their lifetime. That’s why the conscientious attitude towards such a property is an absolute must.
Be sure to take care of it, treasure it, and do your best so the abode lasts for as long as possible.
March 8, 2018