Buying A Listed Building: 8 Things You Should Know

According to heritage and conservation expert Anske Bax, there are eight things you need to know before buying a listed property.
Buying A Listed Building: 8 Things You Should Know

Key Considerations When Buying A Listed Property

Heritage and Conservation Expert, Anske Bax, shares eight things you need to know before buying a listed building.

Listed buildings have exceptional character and charm. However, while listed properties maintain their value well, owning one poses some constraints. Listed structures are protected under planning legislation, so maintaining, renovating, and altering them is complicated. Heritage Consultant and Conservation Expert Anske Bax specialises in crafting plans for the maintenance and alteration of Grade II* and Grade II listed buildings. Below, he shares eight things a prospective buyer needs to know before making an offer on a listed property.

1) As The Owner, You Become The Custodian Of The Building

When you buy a listed property you don’t only become its owner. You’re effectively the custodian of the building; you’re in charge of preserving the historic structure and it's character for future generations to enjoy. You therefore have a duty to maintain the building to it's current state. Historic England, a British Government public body, helps owners care for and celebrate listed structures. They provide lots of free advice on their website.

2) Listed Buildings Are Protected Under Planning Legislation

To make any alterations that can alter a historic building’s character and fabric, you must apply for listed building consent. Whether you want to replace a door, remove a wall, or repair the roof, you have to make an application to your local planning authority (LPA). The LPA will approve or reject the proposal and provide feedback. If you’d like to add an extension to the main structure, make internal reconfigurations or build a new outbuilding on site, you will also need to apply for planning permission. We wrote an article about adding an extension to a listed building here and one about altering the internal layout here.

No matter the kind of work you want to carry out on your listed home, it’s always best to hire a specialist. There are no set guidelines for altering listed buildings, as the limitations are set on a case-by-case basis depending on the building’s historical value and the context in which it’s located. Only a specialist can advise whether the changes you’d like to make would be approved by the LPA and design a successful scheme.

3) Altering A Listed Property Without Consent Is A Criminal Offence

If you carry out any alteration work to a listed building without obtaining consent from the LPA you risk a fine of up to £20,000 and or up to six months imprisonment. The local authority will also likely serve an enforcement notice to rectify unauthorised work.

4) You’re Liable For Previous Unauthorised Work Once You Buy

If the previous owner of the structure carried out work without planning consent, such as adding an extension, loft conversion or a swimming pool, you must correct this once you become the owner. Therefore, hiring a conservation expert to carry out a survey during the purchasing process of a listed home is crucial. They’ll be able to spot any unauthorised work, so you can ask the owner to correct it or pay for the application and work.

5) If The Property Is In A Conservation Area It Will Be Subject To More Planning Restrictions

Structures and properties in conservation areas enjoy more protection, as they’re located in a historical context. For example, there’s a palette of materials you need to conform to for any work, which has been established by the local parish. Having said that, there may be a way to work around restrictions, even in conservation areas. Heritage specialists can find a compromise between the wishes of an owner and the planning authorities’ policies. At James Clague Architects, we have obtained listed building consent for work in conservation areas on multiple occasions. At The Chestnuts, in West Malling, Kent, we added a ped gate to the boundary walls of the Grade II listed building. The walls couldn’t be altered so we redesigned the main gate to incorporate a ped gate. We also removed a wall between the kitchen and sitting room to produce an open-plan kitchen diner. Interior layout changes are often not allowed, but in this case, the wall removal improved heat flow from the wood stove located in the dining room, helping preserve the original timber in the kitchen.

Recently, we gained a positive pre-app for the extension of a Grade II* farmhouse within the setting of a farmhouse within the grounds of scheduled monument in Alkham.

6) There Will Be Work You Won’t Be Able To Carry Out

Work like demolition, adding modern fittings to the exterior, and replacing historic fittings throughout a listed property is generally forbidden. Even an experienced specialist might not be able to work around such restrictions. As the owner, you will need to adapt your wishes to the local regulations. For example, if you’d like to renovate a bathroom, you might need to restore any historic fittings like-for-like and add modern furniture that complements their character.

7) You Will Need To Hire Specialist Architects For Most Work

Because the legislation around listed properties is very complex, you should consult a specialist before carrying out any work, including emergency repairs and maintenance. In some instances, such as regular maintenance carried out like-for-like, you might not need to apply for consent. However, it’s best to check that’s the case with a specialist in advance. Experienced heritage and conservation experts can assess what work will likely be approved by the LPA and find ways to work around their requirements. They will submit a detailed plan to the LPA and supervise the work to make sure the contractors follow any specifications and schedule of repairs for historic fabric detailed in the plan. At James Clague Architects, we have many years of experience gaining listed building consent for alterations to listed buildings and overseeing the work to bring them to life across the South East.

8) You Will Have To Hire Specialist Contractors

Any work carried out on a listed structure needs to be performed using specific materials, such as timber, and using special skills and techniques. For this reason, hiring a specialist contractor to do any maintenance, repair, and alteration work is highly recommended. At James Clague Architects, we have a trusted list of contractors experienced within the historical environment. We work with them to carry out work on listed buildings across the South East.

A Heritage And Conservation Expert’s Top Tips For Buying A Listed Property

Below we’ve collected Anske’s top tips for buying a listed building.

1) Learn About The Listed Property’s History

First, check the National Heritage List for England (NHLE). On the listing, you can read the history of the property and look at what parts carry the strictest restrictions. This will give you a good idea of how much you can change the structure in the future.

2) Check For Planning Restrictions

Check if the area in which the property is located has had Article 4 removed. If it did, the building will be subject to more restrictions.

3) Get A Specialist Pre-Purchase Survey Done

Hire a conservation expert to carry out a pre-purchase survey during the purchasing process. They will be able to spot any unauthorised work. This will help you negotiate with the owner; you can ask them to correct the work or pay for the application and work. We work with reputable surveyors and can recommend you company’s we have experience working with.

4) Understand The Restrictions That Apply

Ask the expert to assess what changes can and can’t be made to the structure and include them in the survey. This is so you can adjust your expectations. The expert might also be able to give you an idea of the cost of certain work.

5) Ask For Proof Of Approvals

Request approvals, or evidence of approvals - such as copies of planning and LBCs - for any alterations to the building completed in the last 10 years.

6) Buy Specialist Insurance

Finally, once you become the owner, buy specialist insurance. In case of a fire or a burst pipe, the conservation officer and English Heritage will help the insurer decide how the damage will need to be fixed and how much it will cost. Anske, our heritage and conservation consultant, has successfully helped listed building owners gain planning and listed building consent for the maintenance and alteration of their properties. He can also create a detailed heritage appraisal, which will help you decide whether to make an offer.

Anske works at the James Clague offices in Canterbury and Tunbridge Wells, covering Kent, Sussex, Surrey, and the South East. If you would like to book an initial consultation call with Anske please contact him here or call 01227 649073.

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