Listed Buildings and what to do with them

With an estimated 680,000 in the UK, it is likely you may have considered purchasing a listed building.

The process of listing a building started after the second world war with the aim of protecting buildings of architectural merit.  92% of listed buildings are known as Grade II listed and these are described as “nationally important and of special interest” 

Having been involved with many listed buildings, I can confirm that it can be a hugely rewarding experience bringing back to life a building which is nationally acknowledged as a heritage asset.

Accordingly I urge you to consider a similar venture but before you do, there are a number of important issues to consider as working with a listed building is likely to be a very different task to what you may be used to.

One of the first things to do when viewing a listed building is to be mindful of any alterations which may have taken place. It is critical to determine whether these alterations were authorised by the local planning authority as if they were not, you may be obliged to reinstate the property to its pre alteration condition and in doing so may lose the value associated with those alterations.

I have heard of situations where the local authority have required an owner to undo work to a converted outbuilding and even to remove a swimming pool. Furthermore, if the only natural light to a particular room is from an unauthorised rooflight then you may wish to give the property a miss altogether. The viewing is therefore incredibly important.

Such investigation is of equal importance from a financing point of view as most lenders will want confirmation from your conveyancing solicitor that building work on a listed building has the correct consents.  It may be possible to take out an indemnity insurance against undiscovered unauthorised works carried out by previous owners, however it will doubtless be very difficult to obtain cover against known unapproved works.

There are regular prosecutions against those who do not comply with the rules. One case in 2017  involved the removal of part of a ceiling and floor to a listed building in East Sussex and the owner was fined £123,000 with an additional costs order of £80,000. 

Many people confuse Planning permission with Listed Building Consent. There is a distinct difference in that if no one finds out that work was done without planning permission, then the issue can potentially disappear over time. There is no such time limit with Listed Building Consent and it is a criminal offence, under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 to alter a listed building without the correct permission.

Once you own the property you will need to make additional time allowances in respect of any listed building consents that you may require for the work you wish to undertake. Such applications can be quite time consuming as it is common that the local authority will want you to provide samples of materials you are proposing to use and as such, there are likely to be additional planning conditions to satisfy.

Local authority conservation officers normally have a commercial understanding that the building needs to be fit for purpose and therefore you are likely to have a sympathetic ear if, for example, you propose to add a second bathroom to a listed building with five bedrooms. That said, even such a relatively straightforward suggestion may be declined if the alteration would require cutting through oak paneling or losing a period cornice.

If you have not experienced listing buildings before then you will be surprised at the amount of works, even some you may consider trivial, which require listed building consent. It is therefore imperative that you engage with the Conservation Officer at your Council before starting any work.

The other consideration for those embarking on listed buildings is that works of refurbishment will need to be undertaken using the same materials and methods where possible. This will doubtless lead to the need to employ tradespeople with the requisite skills and this may make the project more expensive. Similarly, items which you are obliged to repair and restore could be more costly than a new replacement. One example is the refurbishment of period sash windows. You must therefore ensure that your budget for the works is accurate to avoid unwelcome surprises later on.

The additional costs and timescale which you may be subjected to with a listed building development are likely to be rewarded with a strong capital value and  good demand from the buying public. Character properties are normally in high demand and so as well as completing your civic duty of maintaining our heritage assets for the next generation, you could make a healthy profit too!