Owning a listed property

It’s not for the faint-hearted, but advice is on hand and the eventual positives of owning an historic house more than outweigh the negatives, says Ross Willmington

Owning a listed property

When the refurbishment of Buckingham Palace was put before MPs, details emerged of the work that needed to be done to avoid ‘catastrophic building failure’. The works included the replacement of over 100 miles of 1940s electrical cabling and 20 miles of heating pipes, just for starters. The total bill is estimated to be more than £370m.

Fortunately for most owners of listed buildings they will never face such vast bills – but the work currently being carried out at the royal family’s most famous residence is a valuable lesson about keeping on top of maintenance. The MPs’ own track record with the Palace of Westminster is no better, however let’s leave that for another day!

Listed buildings account for approximately 2% of England’s buildings: 92% are Grade II, 5.5% are Grade II* and 2.5% are Grade I. Any property built pre-1700 is certain to be listed and anything pre-1840 highly likely to be on the list.

Of course, there are exceptions, with a number of 200- to 300-year-old houses that we sell not being listed. My own farmhouse is understood to date from the 1700s and is unlisted. Conversely, more modern buildings can appear on the list if they’re believed to have particular significance or are deemed to be under threat.

In practical terms for the owner it means obtaining listed-building consent in addition to planning consent for any changes to your home. It is worth remembering that not applying for listed consent or hoping to apply retrospectively is a criminal offence – if you get caught. That may help to concentrate the mind.

That’s not to say that buyers should shy away from purchasing a listed building, even if it does require renovation work. It is, after all, still your house and all types of improvements or changes can be approved if they’re handled sensitively.

Symonds & Sampson handles the sale of hundreds of listed properties – just recently I have dealt with the sale of four Grade II* farmhouses requiring improvement in East Devon and West Dorset. All have found sympathetic new owners who are now embarking on restoration projects.

Looke Farm at Litton Cheney – a Grade II* farmhouse marketed by Axminster office

Stories of projects overshooting their budgets and timeframe abound. I have one client who merrily tells friends he is “10 years into a three-year project” restoring a Grade II Listed country house. The phrase ‘labour of love’ is regularly heard in connection with listed building renovations, for good reason.

One way to avoid pitfalls when it comes to listed houses is to read the description of the property on Historic England’s national heritage list. This details why the building was listed in the first place and will help to explain the elements that make it special.

As each district council varies in its approach to what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of extensions or renovations, owners should also look at the council website to see evidence of what has been allowed elsewhere – precedent can be very useful.

Think ahead and where possible try to futureproof the house as much as possible. It’s not always easy, but introduce as much light as you can; buyers crave light-filled rooms and that trend is unlikely to change. Dig out ground floors in cottages to create taller ceilings and paint or strip back dark beams. The need for multiple bathrooms and a downstairs cloakroom is now a modern necessity, but key among all things these days is to focus on technology. Most buyers cannot function without super-fast broadband.

Thankfully, Symonds & Sampson has an experienced and specialist team of agents and building surveyors on hand to guide those buying or improving listed buildings. This ensures buyers are able to confidently enjoy being owners and custodians of these important homes for generations to come.

Main Photo: Livenhayes Farm at Yarcombe – a Grade II* farmhouse sold by Axminster office

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