Buying Listed Property - a Guide

Packed full of history and period features, buying a listed building can be a rewarding endeavour. But while it might be tempting to follow your heart, make sure you are making a fully informed decision before putting an offer on your chosen home. Buying a listed building comes with unique challenges not found in standard residential conveyancing.

On the other hand, you don’t have to be put off a property simply because it is listed. As long as you do your research and make sure you understand the potential costs associated with repairs and planning permission, there is no reason why you shouldn’t go for it. That’s why we’ve put together this essential guide to buying listed property to take into consideration when deciding whether to purchase.

Give our conveyancing solicitors a call today for advice about buying listed property or a quote. Alternatively, please fill in our online enquiry form and a member of our team will be in touch in due course.

What is a listed property?

A listed property is a building placed on a national register for being of historical and/or architectural importance. The goal of listing buildings is to protect and preserve them from redevelopment or alterations which could damage their significance.

Most pre-Victorian buildings and basically all pre-1700s buildings (which are in their original condition) are listed. Buildings less than 30 years old are usually not listed because they tend not to be of historic or architectural interest yet.

The effect of a building being listed is you must obtain planning consent for any changes, both inside and to the exterior. There are three categories of listed building – grade I, grade II* and grade II.

Grade I listed buildings

Grade I applies to buildings which are of exceptional historical interest or national importance. Usually it applies to older buildings such as cathedrals, churches, and castles.

Grade II* listed buildings

Grade II* applies to buildings which are particularly important and of more than special interest.

Grade II listed buildings

Grade II applies to buildings of special interest which should be preserved. The majority of listed buildings (over 90%) and particularly residential properties fall into this category.

What is the effect of listing?

Listing means there are limitations on the changes you can make to the interior or exterior of the building. Generally, listing will affect the entire property unless specific exclusions are made. It can also cover later additions such as extensions.

How to find out if a property is listed

You can search the National Heritage List of England (NHLE) for free to find out if the property you are interested in is listed.

How does a property get listed?

Anyone can nominate a building to be listed by completing an online application form. Historic England has strict listing guidance which sets out when a building can be listed.

Typically, the building must be threatened by major alteration or demolition or be one of Historic England’s “strategic listing priorities” to get listed. Strategic listing priorities are projects undertaken by Historic England to protect specific types of places which may be under threat or otherwise are under-represented and rarely listed, for example, public libraries built between the First and Second World War.

What happens if you alter a listed building without permission?

You must obtain listed building consent to demolish, alter, or extend a listed building. Listed buildings’ protection is enshrined in law and it is a criminal offence if you carry out work which requires listed building consent without obtaining authorisation.

The offence can be committed by both the person doing the work and the person instructing the work. This means if you hire a builder to undertake work without listed building consent, you may be implicating them in an offence.

The maximum penalty for breaking the law is two years in prison and an unlimited fine. The fine will be judged according any financial benefit obtained through the wrongdoing.

You can make an application for listed building consent after the work has been completed. However, even if granted, the consent will not be retrospective and you could still be prosecuted. It is therefore essential to check whether you need listed building consent and make the proper application before doing any work.

Questions to ask when buying a listed property

What grade is the listing?

The type of listing will affect the perceived importance of the building and what alterations you can make.  

Does the house suit my modern needs?

Although tiny historic cottages are objectively attractive, realistically consider whether you would be happy living there. For example, low ceilings and dark rooms tend to be at odds with our need for space and natural light. However, it is always worth considering whether you could make changes, such as lowering the floors. Of course, you will need permission to do this.

Can I get a mortgage on a listed building?

The more unusual the listed property, the more difficult you will likely find it to get a mortgage. This is because lenders usually have set lending criteria to establish whether a property is good security for the loan. Unusual features such as thatch or timber frames will likely be at odds with this.

Some lenders will provide security but you may not get access to the very best rates and/or you may have to provide a larger deposit than normal or agree to conditions such as to repair the property or obtain extensive insurance coverage.

What issues should I look out for?

Significant issues you should look for in the listed property you want to buy include:

  • Unauthorised work – as the owner, you could incur significant costs even if you are not responsible for previous unauthorised work on the building.
  • Damp – this is a common problem, particularly in older properties. However, it can cause significant damage to a listed building. When looking round the property, check for obvious issues such as blocked or broken gutters, overflows, condensation, and damp patches on the walls or floors.
  • General lack of repair – because of the age of these buildings and the costs of repair they are often in a more advanced state of disrepair than modern properties.
  • Asbestos – Asbestos was commonly used in buildings until relatively recently. In a listed building it could have been used for things like fire protection. Because of the health implications it can be expensive to remove asbestos.
  • Double glazing – if the property does not have it already, check whether it is possible to install double glazing. In many listed buildings, the windows’ narrow glazing bars will not allow for the installation of double glazing. For these properties, Historic England normally recommends secondary glazing (installing a second window inside the original window) or occasionally slimmer double glazing within the original glazing bars.

This is not an exhaustive list. Because of the many potential issues with listed buildings it is critical that anyone buying such a property considers having a full structualr survey carried out by an appropriately qualified surveyor with experience in such buildings.

How do I get permission to make changes?

Your Local Authority’s Planning Department will decide whether or not to allow your proposed changes.

If you want to demolish, alter, or extend a listed building in a way that would affect its special character, you will need to make an application to the Local Conservation Officer at your Local Authority for listed building consent. This includes interior alterations. Listed building consent will apply in addition to any standard planning requirements.

Listed building consent may be granted subject to conditions, such as the requirement to:

  • Preserve a particular feature of the building, either as part of the building or after its removal
  • Reversing any damage caused to the building after work is completed
  • Reconstructing the building or parts of it after work, using original materials wherever possible

Will my local authority allow the work?

Every local authority is different in what it will and will not accept in terms of listed building consent applications. Always check your council’s individual planning guidance before submitting your application.

If you know before you buy the property that you want to carry out work you should consider contacting the council to find out whether they would be happy in principle with the work proposed.

Have past works been authorised?

If the previous owner of the property carried out any work, ensure they obtained the required consent. Otherwise, even though it was their error, you are at risk of incurring the costs of restoring the property yourself.

You can also obtain insurance to protect against the risk of pre-existing works being carried out by previous owners without the required listed building consent.

It is worth remembering that where work has been carried out without consent the Local Authority can bring enforcement action to bring work up to standard or even remove the works. Unlike the usual planning legislation there is no limitation period for how long they have to take this action.

Can I demolish a listed building?

You may be able to get listed building consent to demolish a listed building subject to a condition that you will not demolish it until you and the Planning Department have come to an agreement about how the site will be redeveloped.

How much will it cost to repair a listed building?

Many listed properties are in excellent condition. However, in the event that the one you want to buy is run down and in need of work, you should carefully consider how much it will cost to repair.

As previously mentioned, you will need to obtain listed building consent to carry out the repairs and may be required to use specialist materials. You may also have to hire expert tradesmen with specific expertise, working with the required materials, and listed buildings in general.

All this can add up so it is worth getting a comprehensive survey to assess what repairs are needed then obtaining a range of quotes for the work.

How can I avoid unexpected costs?

One of the dangers of buying a listed property is that it is hard to estimate exactly how much it will cost to restore. Buildings which have decades, maybe even centuries of history often have layers of hidden characteristics and potential issues.

As well as getting a full structural survey, it is always worth reviewing a listed property’s planning history, including Ordnance Survey plans of the area and searching local archives for photographs, maps and documents. All these documents could reveal significant things about the property’s history.

Where a survey reveals that work is required it is important to get full estimates of the cost of carrying out this work prior to purchase. This enables you to factor the cost in and, where necessary, renegotiate the price.

Can I get financial support to repair this listed building?

Historic England offers grants for the repair of some historic sites called Repair Grants for Heritage at Risk. These grants are available for the sites most in need of repair where the project otherwise could not go ahead.

What insurance do I need?

When taking out home insurance, you must tell your insurer that the property is listed. Some insurers will cover listed buildings, but depending on the building, you may require specialist cover.

You should ensure that your buildings insurance includes cover for the rebuild cost of the property, not just the market value. Rebuilding a listed property tends to be more expensive than other properties because they require specialist building materials, including original materials in many cases.

Choose our conveyancing solicitors for your listed property purchase

At Bird & Co, we are conveyancing specialists with decades of experience handling listed property transactions on behalf of clients across the UK.

We provide a full solution service including helping you decide whether purchasing a listed property is right for you and advice about repairs, planning, listed building consent, financing, and more.

We are members of the Law Society Conveyancing Quality Scheme Accreditation for our excellent residential conveyancing services and commitment to completing property transaction as swiftly and cost-effectively as possible.

We have offices in Grantham, Newark and Lincoln. However, our clients are attracted to us from across the UK, and even abroad, for our skills and reputation. As such, we have developed a niche online conveyancing service which allows our clients to securely progress their transaction online without ever having to visit us at our offices (unless they want to).

Get in touch with our listed property conveyancing solicitors

Give our conveyancing solicitors a call today for advice or a quote for your listed property purchase. Alternatively, please fill in our online enquiry form and a member of our team will be in touch in due course.