A step-by-step guide.
Living in an old structure 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 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 that’s precisely what this two-part guide is for. The first part will talk about 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 renovations.
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.
It’s only logical that they are preserved and protected since they’re recognised as exceptional in a national context.
Ideally, the older the building, the more likely that it’s listed. The UK has around half a million listed structures. 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 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 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 its age. All buildings that are listed need to be more than 30 years old.
Naturally, all buildings that were built before 1700 that are still standing and in their ‘original’ condition are listed. Buildings constructed between 1700 and 1840 are also listed, with some selectivity being applied.
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.
This is not meant to scare you off buying a listed building. However, proceed with caution. With that said, here are important reminders to help you make this process as smooth-sailing as possible.
- 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.
- 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. Here are the do’s and don’ts that you ought to remember.
- Make sure to understand the causes of defects before doing repairs.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Use incompatible materials like cement or uPVC.
- Change original features and historic parts of the building.
- Ignore structural problems such as damp, damage or decay, and flooding issues.
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.
Be sure to take care of it, treasure it, and make sure it lasts for as long as possible.
March 8, 2018