What you need to know before buying a listed property

Pretty Cotswold stone farmhouse, Gloucestershire, England.
To make even a minor alteration to a listed property you will need to get permission and use specialist builders and architects. Photo: Getty

It’s many people’s dream to buy a listed building but, while they may look beautiful, don’t underestimate the challenges that come with living in one.

What is a listed building?

A listed building is defined as being “of special architectural or historic interest.” It is usually (though not always) pre-Victorian in era and is on a national register, held by Historic England.

There are around 400,000 listed buildings in England and 500,000 across the UK, and this status protects them from changes that may affect the building and its history.

There are three categories of Listed Building: Grade I, which makes up 2.5% of the list and includes buildings of exceptional interest which are very strictly protected; Grade II*, buildings of extra special importance, accounting for 5.5% of listings; and Grade II, which makes up the remaining 92%.

The listing doesn’t just cover a house, but also all outbuildings and structures, such as walls, that sit within the curtilage of a listed building.

How is living in a listed building different?

When you buy a listed property, you are buying a little piece of history but you are also promising to protect and preserve it.

Ann Beckwith lives in a Grade II*, 14th century, timber-framed farmhouse. “It is quirky and unique, but we have to maintain the history of the house for public benefit,” she said.

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Listed properties require specialist, and often pricey, buildings insurance as the cost of rebuilding them is much more than that of a non-listed building. These buildings also cost more to repair if something goes wrong as specific materials and specialist tradespeople are required.

While many modern homes are focusing on becoming more energy efficient, this isn’t an option for listed buildings. “Making the house eco-friendly is a challenge as we’re not allowed to use double glazing or insulate the house in the same way you can a modern house,” says Ann. “This means heating can be expensive and the house can be draughty and cold.”

On the plus side, if you are planning to sell or rent out your property, an energy performance certificate (EPC) won’t be required.

Can you make alterations to a listed property?

Another major difference between a listed and unlisted property is the process of making changes. For even a minor alteration, for example putting up panelling or changing windows, you will need to get permission and use specialist builders and architects.

“Any work to the fabric of a Grade II Listed building, other than simple maintenance work, will require Listed Building Consent (LBC) from your local authority,” says Mark Hall, a director at Cyma Architects, who specialises in listed properties.

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“As it is a criminal offence to carry out building work on a listed building without LBC, it is much better to check with your local authority first before starting any building work, even if it is only maintenance.”

For major work, such as extensions or changes to the internal layout, you will need to be prepared for large amounts of paperwork, not to mention time, and, potentially at the end of it all, a rejection of your proposed plans.

“If you want to make your mark on a property and make radical changes, don’t buy a listed building,” says Mark.

But, for those who are willing to compromise and put in the time, there are things that can be done. “We want to add a big dining-room/kitchen onto the house but were prevented from adding an extension at ground level,” says Ann. After two years, Historic England and the conservation officer have suggested an alternative design that involves converting the cellar instead, so Ann’s hoping to get the go-ahead this year.

Top tips

If you decide to take the plunge and buy a listed building, there are plenty of resources around to give you advice on what you can and can’t do.

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“There are a number of databases of suitable craftspeople and professionals, such as The Building Conservation Directory, published by Cathedral Communications Directory; and The Listed Property Owners Club have suitably qualified members,” according to Mark. “Also, Historic England has some fantastic advice and guidance on their website.”

Despite the difficulties that come with owning a listed building, Ann thoroughly recommends it: “You feel you are a part of living history.”

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