Buying a listed building

You might have your eye on a quaint thatched cottage in a picture postcard English village, or an 18th century manor house with acres of land. But with buying a piece of Britain's national heritage, you could also be letting yourself in for some unwelcome surprises.

Buying a listed building

Pic: Corbis

Before you throw yourself in at the deep end, here's what you need to know about investing in a listed property.

What does listed mean?
There are approximately 500,000 listed buildings across the UK, and each must meet certain criteria to be named as such. Grade II listed buildings, which make up 92 per cent of the total figure, are deemed of 'special interest', Grade II* denotes 'more than special interest', and Grade I buildings are of 'exceptional interest', although the latter category total just 2.5 per cent of the listed properties in Britain.

What to consider
Most homeowners are keen to put their own stamp on a place when they move into a new home, but with a listed property there are limits to what you can do, both internally and externally, depending on the building. Knocking through, adding an extension or conservatory and even double glazing are common tricky areas, and it's essential to know what can and can't be done before you rush in with the sledgehammer.

Major changes or additions to a listed property must be awarded planning consent, and the planning process can be a long and confusing one, so it's best to seek expert advice if you are unsure.

It's tempting to see the planning department as your enemy, but first and foremost they are protecting our heritage, so try to work with them rather than against them. When applying for planning consent, detailed drawings are necessary, and the surrounding buildings or area will also be taken into account when proposed changes are considered.

Getting advice
There are a number of resources available to anyone looking to buy and possibly alter a listed property. Bodies such as the Georgian Group or the Victorian Society can offer advice on which structural changes will likely be successful at the planning stage, while the English Heritage website features an excellent planning advice section that includes guidelines on improving the energy efficiency of your home. If you are willing to spend a little cash, the List Property Owners' Club can offer advice on everything to architectural changes to insurance for an annual subscription fee of £55.

If the property is in an area laden with similar listed buildings, it's worth having a friendly chat with the neighbours to see what, if anything, they have been allowed to do. Aside from anything else, it can pay to have them on your side if you decide to make alterations.

Architects, designers and specialist contractors are also a must if you are to submit a properly detailed application. Thereafter, your success will be determined by the local planning authority, but don't be disheartened if your initial application is rejected. Be open, honest and clear about what you hope to achieve and why, and it may be that you can discuss the matter further, and reach a compromise with a little constructive advice from the planning department.

Most importantly, remember that altering a listed building without prior consent is against the law, and you could be landed with a hefty bill to put right what you did wrong. Whatever age or condition your dream heritage home, 'better safe than sorry' should be your mantra.

Have you experienced the pitfalls of buying a listed property? Let us know below...