Listed Buildings – Pitfalls and potential

Most of us will at some stage want to progress to bigger or more complicated developments. It’s all part of our personal development throughout our property journey.

This month I am going to share with you a cautionary tale of a developer who had undertaken a couple of property conversions and developments and who subsequently wished to undertake a listed building project.

We had project managed two schemes for the developer, both of which went according to plan. He then announced that he had agreed terms to buy a Grade II listed property which required comprehensive renovation.

Based on the figures incurred on the previous two non-listed projects, he had a figure and a timescale in mind. The discussions that followed served as a sobering lesson that Listed Buildings require a different approach.

The first thing to factor in is the time involved in the pre-construction work. With a standard property you may get some pre application advice from your local authority and then submit your planning application. The Building Regulation requirements are readily available and so you can have a good understanding of what is likely to be required to get that all important completion certificate.

This is not the case with a listed building. Aside from a planning application you are also obliged to submit a listed building application and this is likely to involve some significant dialogue with the local Conservation Officer. They have a veto over the requirements of the Building Control Officer and so you will have to allow an appropriate period of time to navigate your way through both parties to achieve a satisfactory solution for them and of course one which meets your own aspirations.

You may be required to undertake works which are different to those stated in the Building Regulations and these may require additional time, money and/or require specialist contractors. The Conservation department view may differ, depending on the building you have selected to renovate and so it would be naive to think that what was permitted with the last listed building you refurbished, will necessarily be acceptable in the next one.

The timescale can also be extended as some works which the local authority state require a standard consent may be allowed to commence with the application being retrospective. This will never be the case with a listed building as works to such a building without appropriate consent will always be an actionable offence.

For these reasons you should perhaps allow a longer period for funding with such a project whilst the paperwork is processed and the various parties involved consider your proposals. This is possibly less critical in a rising property market but particularly concerning in different market conditions.

A further surprise for our Client was the likely costs of the works themselves. In our particular example the Conservation Officer wanted all the internal doors and architraves retained and my Client took the view that this would represent a cost saving. This is rarely the case as the refurbishment of an 100 year old door, which has had numerous locks and catches fitted over the years, is more costly and time consuming than a replacement. Furthermore, you must allow for increased costs for Lathe and plaster repairs, refurbishment of period windows and specialist plastering as against the speedy and cost effective process of boarding and skimming and the installation of new fittings. In our example this represented an increase of cost even allowing for the fact that the Conservation Officer did not want the internal walls lined with insulation.

Set against the requirements for the building will be your own considerations for any future occupier. The building needs to work for those who live in it and so you will need to be able to strike a sensible balance in terms of retaining character as well as providing some thermal benefit, sound insulation and fire precaution. Such solutions can be far from easy to achieve!

Specialist paints, intumescent coatings and the bespoke manufacture of fittings can prove very expensive.

My aim is not to deter you from such projects, indeed my experience is that not only  is it hugely rewarding to bring these period buildings back to life but also, the end capital values are normally impressive given the character, charm and sought after nature of such properties. Furthermore, given the challenges involved, I believe fewer developers search for listed buildings and so you may have a greater chance of landing a bargain.

All I suggest is that you carefully gauge the amount of time and money that  will  be required and ensure that you assemble a team of professionals who have experience  with listed buildings, in order to ensure that your project is a success.