Considerations When Buying a Listed Property
A listed building is a one which is included on the statutory list of ‘buildings of special architectural or historic interest.’ It recognises that a building is special in a national context and there are rules controlling its alteration, extension and demolition. Listed buildings account for approximately 2% of England’s built heritage .The older a building is the more likely it is to be listed. Modern buildings can be listed but they need to be particularly special in order to qualify.
There are three levels of listing in England and Wales: Grade I, Grade II and Grade II*. A Grade I listed building will have more restrictions than a Grade II.
You can find out if a property is listed, and to what extent, on the planning section of the local council’s website. You can also call LPOC to help you establish this.
Listed status England and Wales
GRADE I – Buildings are of exceptional interest. Only 2.5% of listed buildings are Grade I.
GRADE II* – Buildings that are particularly important and of more than special interest; 5.5% of listed buildings are Grade II*.
GRADE II – Buildings of special architectural or historic interest; 92% of listed buildings are Grade II.
In England there are approximately 376,000 listed building entries amounting to over 500,000 listed buildings. The number is not always exact as one listing for example can cover a row of terraced houses.
Listed Status Scotland
CATEGORY A – Buildings that are of national/international importance, either architectural or historic, or well preserved examples of a particular period, style or building type.
CATEGORY B – Buildings of regional importance, or major examples of some particular period, style or building type which may have been altered.
CATEGORY C – Buildings of local importance, less relevant examples of any periods, style or building type, as originally constructed or altered; and simple, traditional buildings which group well with others in categories A and B or are part of a planned group such as an estate or an industrial complex.
Northern Ireland uses a similar system to Scotland with grades A, B+, B1 and B2. Buildings of local importance, lesser examples of any period, style or building type, as originally constructed or moderately altered, and simple, traditional buildings that group well with other listed buildings.
Altering A Listed Building
If you want to extend or alter a listed building, YOU MUST inform your Conservation Officer at the earliest stage possible. (This is the case even for something as simple as putting up a satellite dish). The Conservation Officer will ensure that the special characteristics of the house are preserved. They do understand that owners will need to adapt properties to accommodate modern day living.
In some situations they will approve extensions and major alterations, but each case will be considered individually. The officer may require extensions to match the original building; in other situations they may require that you extend with modern materials so that the new is clearly discernible from the old.
It is a criminal offence to alter a listed building without permission.
If you plan to purchase a listed building you must ensure that any alterations by the previous owners have been granted Listed Building Consent. It doesn’t matter who did the work, or how long ago, it will become your responsibility once you have bought the property. Once the property is yours, you may be liable to reverse any alterations that do not have Listed Building Consent or comply with conditions of a consent.
When it comes to insurance for your new property, it is possible to take out a policy that includes cover for unauthorised alterations to listed buildings by previous owners providing you were not already aware of them and the relevant checks have been done.
Double glazing is problematic in listed buildings. However, there is often no restriction on using secondary glazing and this is normally recommended by Historic England.
The use of ‘slim’ double-glazing units set within the original glazing bars may be acceptable in some situations.
Modern buildings are constructed with a waterproof membrane covering the whole site and use cement mortar and two skins of brickwork to create a cavity through which water cannot pass.
Older buildings are usually built with solid walls and lime mortar. Traditional building materials are soft and porous; moisture can enter and evaporates into the atmosphere. This is referred to as ‘breathing’ or ‘breathable construction’.
It is important to understand how historic buildings were constructed to appreciate why inexperienced surveyors often detect what they think of as “rising damp”. In the majority of cases, the ‘damp’ has been caused by the introduction of cement or other non-breathable materials to the building, which prevents moisture escaping through evaporation. Specialist surveyors frequently suggest that artificial materials are injected into the walls to ‘cure’ this, but generally speaking it is an unnecessary expense and the removal of inappropriate cement or Gypsum plaster is all that is needed to encourage the building to breathe naturally.
A solicitor experienced in listed buildings will make the right enquires to ensure you are aware of any potential liabilities caused by previous owners. They will also be aware of any delays and pitfalls that listed buildings bring. They can also advise on any plans you may have for the building. When you pick you Conveyancing Solicitor check they have experience with listed buildings.
It is important that you use an experienced ‘conservation’ surveyor for similar reasons to the above. She will know of any special considerations and implications for repairs and renovations of the building, she will be aware of the perceived “damp problems” and will understand period house characteristics.
Many lenders might ask you to make alterations to your listed building before funds can be released, including damp-proofing, underpinning etc. Do not proceed on the recommendation of your mortgage company before seeking specialist advice.
If a non-listed building burns down in a fire, the insurance claim would involve the owner and the insurer, probably a loss adjuster, who between them will agree how the building will be reinstated and the cost.
With a listed building, the above situation would rely on the local council’s Conservation Officer (or in the case of Grade I or Grade II*, Historic England, Historic Environment Scotland or Cadw). The will decide if it is to be rebuilt, how it is to be rebuilt, with which materials and methods to be used.
Cost or who pays is not their concern but she has the backing of law to ensure the building is reinstated to its previous condition.
Without the correct insurance, your provider may not be willing to cover the full cost. This could be a disaster. It is therefore vital that appropriate cover is provided. Work on these buildings using traditional materials and skills will often be more expensive.
Insurance of listed buildings is very specialised and has to incorporate considerations way beyond the requirements of an “ordinary” home. Unauthorised work by previous owners, the demands of your conservation officer, specialist planning needs, cover for building works – they all figure in the selection of a suitable policy
Grants for listed property owners are few and far between. Some local authorities provide small discretionary grants so contact them directly about availability. The Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic England also provide grants in very particular circumstances.