What to check before buying a listed building
However desirable, listed buildings can be an expensive and bureaucratic nightmare. Here's what you need to know before you make an offer.
Buying a listed building
Listed buildings have special architectural and/or historical interest. As an ownership proposition they tend to ooze character and desirability. However, restrictions over their use and development, as well as the upkeep obligations and costs, can take the shine off.
If the current owner has carried out any unauthorised works or modifications, then the liability to remedy the situation will pass to the new owner. And as the new owner, failure to comply is a criminal offence.
Furthermore, there is no time limit to when a local authority can enforce the reversion or repair of the property to its original state.
The 3 levels of listing
In England and Wales there are 3 levels of listed building:
- Grade I - of exceptional national architectural or historic importance
- Grade II* - of particular national importance & special interest
- Grade II - of special architectural or historic interest (approx 94% of buildings are Grade II)
How do I know if the property is listed?
If you are thinking about buying a listed building you should obtain as much information as possible. You should find out if any specific part of the property is mentioned in the listing as well as what obligations and restrictions are in place.
This information is freely available online from the English Heritage database.
More information on specific listed buildings can also be found on the planning section of the relevant local authority website.
Some local authorities provide access through the Heritage Gateway.
Ideally you will have read the official listing at English Heritage before you view the property. This way you can ask the owner any relevant questions at the earliest possible stage.
Do you plan to alter or extend the property?
Buying a listed property does not necessarily mean that you won't be able to modify it.
As a rule of thumb, it will be usually be easier to extend the property than it will be to remove part of it.
If you do plan to make alterations you should prepare yourself for significant added bureaucracy, cost and time wasting in seeking consent.
Typically any alterations will need to be carried out in the same or similar materials. How far these requirements go can be at the individual whim of the planning officer. It is not unheard of for the planning officers to disagree on what is required and the owner gets caught in the middle.
Referring to the following checklists could help identify any issues and resolve any concerns as early as possible in the process:
Before the viewing
- Speak to the estate agent - ask the agent if the property is listed and if so, is he aware of any issues relating to the listing.
- Check the English Heritage website to confirm what restrictions and obligations affect the owner. Also check whether anything specific is mentioned in the official listing.
- Check whether there are any obligations to contribute to the upkeep of other buildings such as a local church. This will normally be picked up by the chancel search and title investigation during the conveyancing process. However it may have an impact or whether you want to make an offer in the first place.
During the viewing
- Look to see if there appears to be any alterations, extensions, loft conversion etc.
- Check whether anything looks out of keeping with the property e.g. PVC double glazed windows (Windows are a large part of a property's aesthetic. To preserve this aesthetic the local authority will often refuse double glazing applications.)
- If present, ask the vendor if there have been any alterations made to the property and were the appropriate consents obtained.
- ask whether any works been signed off by the local authority
- ask what the cost of buildings insurance is and are there any aspects of the building that the insurer will not cover
- ask if there have been any other issues relating to the building's listed status
- Obtain a few buildings insurance quotes and make sure that the full listed building rebuild cost (to the exacting conservation officer's standards) are covered.
- Contact the Listed Building Owners Club (LPOC). The LPOC is an advice service dedicated to helping the owners of listed buildings. The LPOC will also provide a list of insurers that specialise in listed buildings.
Some of the LPOC insurers can even offer protection against undiscovered unauthorised work through specialist insurance policies.
- Double check that your lender is prepared to lend on a listed building. The LPOC can again be of invaluable help here as they can put you in touch with a specialist broker.
- Don't try and save costs by buying without a survey - listed buildings tend to be older (all buildings built pre-1700 are listed). They may be built out of traditional or unique materials that can be very expensive to repair or replace.
- Instruct the right surveyor - you should find a RICS chartered surveyor
- Better still, the LPOC will provide a list of approved surveyors with a specialism in listed buildings.
- If you plan to alter the property, you could have an outline conversation with an architect with experience in pleasing the local planning and conservation officer.
- Tell your conveyancer that the property is listed at the outset.