Listed Buildings and how to buy them

A listed building will give you a beautiful property enriched with history. However, you’ll have to contend with damp, decay and defects when purchasing an older building, whilst still adhering to the legalese of the listed building system.

What actually is a listed building?

Before we proceed any further with the guide, let’s discuss what a listed building actually is. A listed building is one that is on the National Heritage List for its ‘special architectural or historic interest.’ The building’s character must be protected and any owner has the responsibility to keep this up. This can also pertain to the outside of the building, such as the garden.

Buildings that were built before 1700 are considered as listed buildings and those built between 1700 and 1840 are too. Selection becomes pickier after that date, with particular scrutiny paid to buildings after 1945. A building must be over 30 years old to be listed.

Historic England offers advice for those considering alterations within listed buildings. Listed buildings are protected from any form of harmful development and demolition. You can enjoy and use the building, including altering and extending – you’ll need to get planning guidance from the government though.

When creating changes for listed buildings, the conservation officer will be the person you have most contact with. Generally, they are employees of a local council and their role is to maintain the character of your building. They can advise on materials and techniques you should use to make any changes to the property. All work must be granted consent – there are no fees involved, but it’s a criminal offence to alter a listed building without consent.

You are responsible for protecting and maintaining the building. Lycetts, specialists in insurance for listed buildings, provides specialist cover for listed buildings that may be exempt from a standard insurance policy.

Damp is very common in listed buildings due to the way they are built and because of how old they are. It’s a problem encountered in most old properties, but in historic buildings it can be even more difficult. Firstly, check for the initial signs of damp such as overflows, as well as blocked and broken gutters and downpipes. Check your ground level outside the building is not too high, or inclined towards the building.

Surveyors will be needed for different types of problems because unlike modern buildings, they weren’t built with waterproofed boards. However, common fixes can make things worse – injecting modern materials such as cement into the walls can hinder breathability and cause more damp.

Repair and renovation might be needed, but this must be agreed by the conservation officer associated with your property. There is no legal demand for the owner of a building to carry out repairs, but you can be forced to with an urgent works notice for unused or part-unused properties if the work is deemed necessary to preserve the building. If you don’t carry out these repairs, the local authority can enter the property and do the work themselves then seek to recover the costs.

As older listed buildings are usually built in the countryside, they often have a higher flood risk. You can carry out preventative maintenance to help this, which can include adding door guards and air brick covers. Remove any run-off surfaces at the exterior of the property too, as they can decrease drainage and direct water into the property. After a flood, you’ll need to obtain advice from the planning authority’s conservation officer before repairs begin.

Energy within listed buildings

Listed buildings are not usually equipped with energy saving technology. As a listed building is generally older and not installed with modern energy-saving measures, you’ll need to first carry out basic maintenance such as fixing guttering to prevent damp walls, repair any ill-fitting or rotting windows and lag any pipes.

Boilers are much more efficient and you are usually able to install them in listed buildings. You can also insulate the attic and other rooms, but you’ll need planning advice for any larger work.

Double glazed windows are a great asset to have in order to save energy, but this might lead to the design of the building changing. You may not be permitted to install modern double glazing to your property. However, secondary glazing can be carefully designed and installed to leave the original windows unaltered — this will both save energy and be more likely to be approved.

Insurance for listed buildings

Generally, listed buildings will not be covered with regular home insurance. Instead, you’ll need the advice of a specialist insurance broker who can protect your property and provide the proper cover.

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