There are over 370,000 listed buildings in the UK, all with their own special charm. Period features and eccentricities can be a real draw, but what exactly does listing mean for a potential owner? Is that beautiful old cottage you have your eye on just a crumbling wreck of paperwork and frustration?
‘Listing’ is essentially the legal protection of important buildings against demolition, alteration or extension. While overall responsibility for listing lies with the Secretary of State, it’s the job of English Heritage to assess and advise on applications. Of course it’s not just residential properties that are listed; pubs, warehouses, factories and theatres can all warrant careful preservation. Criteria for listing include:
The older and rarer a building, the better it’s chances of being listed. Buildings constructed before 1700 which have survived in their original condition are pretty much guaranteed to make the list. Anything dating before 1840 stands a good chance too. From 1840 onwards there are more surviving examples so requirements are stricter. A building will need some special interest above and beyond its age. While modern buildings can be listed, those built after 1945 will need something exceptional about them to be listed.
The style and proportions of a building are important factors. Properties built by notable architects will get bonus points, as will those featuring important examples of building techniques or layout. Any alterations must be judged to have added or preserved architectural interest rather than detracting from it.
Connections with historic figures or events can work in a building’s favour. A passing lodger won’t count for much, but many buildings have played significant roles in Britain’s social, economic, cultural or military history.
Some buildings which wouldn’t necessarily make the grade on their individual merit will be listed because of their ‘group value’ This tends to be when a building forms part of an important architectural unity or example of planning, such as a square, terrace or model village.
Listed buildings are graded to reflect their relative importance:
- Grade I are those of exceptional interest
- Grade II* are particularly important and of more than special interest
- Grade II are of special interest and warranting preservation. Around 92% of listed buildings fall into this category.
When thinking about buying a listed property it is important to check that any changes made by previous owners have been carried out in accordance with the strict regulations governing renovation and maintenance. Listed properties are protected inside and out, and you can’t change the character of the building without permission in the form of Listed Building Consent (LBC). Alterations requiring applications include:
- Painting over brickwork
- Removing external surfaces
- Adding dormer windows or roof lights
- Changing roofing material
- Putting up aerials or satellite dishes
- Removing internal walls
- Altering fireplaces, panelling or staircases
As a new owner, you can’t be prosecuted for someone else’s shoddy work or failure to acquire LBC. However, you do need to watch out in case you are forced to rectify previous mistakes from your own pocket. This can be a real nightmare, and it is well worth bringing in a solicitor or surveyor with experience dealing with listed buildings. You can also get useful information from the Listed Property Owners Club and English Heritage .
If you find yourself moving into a listed property requiring renovation or alteration then you can’t just start bashing away. Put down the hammer and get the paperwork sorted first. Repairs exactly matching the existing look of the property should be alright without LBC, but it is always wise to check.
The conservation officer at your local council is first port of call when enquiring about LBC. They should be able to tell you whether or not your proposed work needs permission and whether it is likely to be accepted. It takes at least eight weeks for a decision to be made following an application for LBC
If plans to alter a listed property are refused then you have six months in which to appeal. LBC is a serious business. If you carry out work without the proper permission you are guilty of a criminal offence punishable by a fine or prison sentence, and the local council will make you return the property to its original state.
You should also do your research when hunting for architects, builders and suppliers. Some will have more experience and expertise in dealing with listed properties. Getting in touch with fellow owners of listed buildings is a good way to pick up recommendations. The Listed Property Owners Club is a helpful source of information and advice.
Even without the legal obligations involved in occupying a listed property, it makes sense to maintain attractive features and decorate sympathetically. This can pose a problem when you come to source materials for your DIY projects.
There are several shops specialising in fittings and accessories for the period home. Lassco in London is famed for its architectural antiques, salvage and curiosities. Here you can find anything from 17th century oak panelling to earthenware baths and gothic stone archways. Willow and Stone in Cornwall offers all sorts of period hinges, hooks, brackets, bells, buzzers, knobs and handles.
Be prepared to pay a premium for specialist materials and skills. Thatchers, for example, are in short supply these days and don’t come cheap. Pest problems can add to maintenance costs, and older timbered constructions are particularly vulnerable to infestation. Allergy sufferers should beware: pollen, mould and spores are often buried deep in the fabric of older buildings.
It’s a common perception that moving into an older property means giving up all the convenience and efficiency of a modern home. While you may find yourself struggling with damp and pests, you could be surprised by unexpected bonuses. A recent study from British Gas showed that older constructions, particularly Tudor properties, can be more energy efficient than modern builds.
The survey found that Tudor properties leaked around ten cubic metres of air an hour while houses built in the 1960s leaked over fifteen. Tudor architecture uses a wooden framework of beams with spaces filled by wattle and daub or stones, making the building airtight and reducing carbon emissions. Older properties also tend to have less environmental impact associated with their construction, since materials had to be sourced locally.
Listed properties come with a unique range of quirks and perks. Owning a little piece of architectural heritage can be a romantic dream come true. Just remember that affairs of the heart come hand in hand with high costs, careful maintenance and complex legalities.