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Owning A Piece Of British Heritage

Buying A Listed Building

Knight Frank’s specialist Residential Building Consultancy team has put together a guide to living in a listed building.

A listed building means that it is one of the UK’s most historically or architecturally significant properties. To live in a listed building is special; you’ll have a home brimming with character and history. It also makes you the member of an elite club – there are only around 500,000 listed buildings in the UK. Listed buildings in the UK fall into three categories – Grade I, Grade II * and Grade II and are classified according to their historical and architectural significance.  Grade I and II* are the higher grades but the majority (approximately 91%) are Grade II.

The most important aspect of owning a listed building is to understand that that all work to the property, other than simple repair and maintenance, requires listed building consent from your local planning department.  However, don’t let this put you off; in recent years there has been a revival in traditional craftsmanship, materials and finishes, so renovating and maintaining a listed property is easier to manage now than it was twenty or thirty years ago.

If you are considering purchasing a listed property, we can’t stress enough the importance of getting professional advice beforehand by commissioning a full building survey.  A survey will provide information on the property’s general condition and highlight if there are any causes for concern. An experienced building surveyor will help you to understand the condition of a property and its potential for change before you buy it. They will be aware of any special considerations and will understand the period and structural details.

To get the very best advice you should use a surveyor with broad experience in surveying old buildings. Listed buildings often have quirky or unusual features which a modern textbook approach might frown upon, but a surveyor familiar with listed properties will have a far greater knowledge and understanding of historic buildings and can give you the most appropriate professional advice for your particular property.

Don’t panic! Listing is not a ‘preservation order’ that stops all change, it is simply a marker that the building is special and that its character and heritage is protected. Contrary to popular belief the majority of listed building applications are approved. And you shouldn’t worry about the popular misconception about listed buildings being cold and draughty.  Whilst you are unlikely to be granted permission to install double glazing; technology has moved on in recent years and there are many alternatives to consider.

Some people mistakenly think a listing only affects the outside of a property. In fact a listing, whatever its grade, protects the whole building, inside and out and includes anything attached to the property and any building within the curtilage of the listed building. Before considering any alterations or work I always suggest if in doubt, check first with your local planning department to discuss whether listed building consent is required and if so how to go about it – do not leave it till the last minute! It is a criminal offence to alter a listed building without consent and you could be prosecuted and be forced to undertake expensive remedial works.

Before purchasing a listed building it is vital to ensure that any alterations by previous owners have been granted listed building consent. It doesn’t matter who did the work, or how long ago, once you take ownership it will become your responsibility.

It is possible to get permission to extend a listed property – it depends on the listing, but sometimes the planning office will require sympathetic additions and sometimes they will ask you to make it more contemporary to clearly distinguish the old from the new.  Don’t forget in addition to listed building consent, you will also need planning permission for any significant alteration to or re-development of a listed building. Depending on the work undertaken you may also need to meet building and fire regulations.

Finally, if you are looking to convert or carry out major building works to a property, I always advise clients to choose people that they like to work with. A big project can easily take 9-12 months or much longer.  You want the best people with the right expertise, but if you engage a team you don’t feel comfortable with, the project is likely to be tedious and unenjoyable. You want a team with experience and enthusiasm who will share your passion and help you to make the very best out of owning a piece of British heritage.

This article was originally published on the Knight Frank blog.