What do you need to know before buying a listed building? It’s true that buying a listed building with unauthorised works done by a previous owner may lead you down a difficult and costly path. But actually, buying a listed building can be an excellent investment and a way of owning a characterful and charming older home.
In our borough of Lewisham alone, we have 399 listed buildings. These properties are fascinating and often aesthetically pleasing both inside and outside. However, we are often asked whether it’s wise to buy a listed building, as unfortunately myths abound around these unique and interesting properties.
Let’s explain what a listed building is and why it affects you as a homeowner, so that you can figure out which listed buildings are good investments and which are best avoided.
What is a listed building?
A listed building is one which is deemed to be of national interest. They are put on The National Heritage List and assigned a grade – I, II* or II.
Listed buildings have certain restrictions when it comes to planning rules. For changes to these properties – whether renovations, maintenance, demolition or extensions – you need to obtain consent from your local council.
It’s thanks to the listing process of buildings that our housing stock and urban character is so diverse and interesting. As Brits, we don’t tend to tear down old buildings but instead love them and transform them into valuable modern dwellings with exceptional character.
Properties are listed through a combination of being nominated (by anyone) and by specialists at Historic England.
Take a look at listed properties in Lewisham and across the country on The National Heritage List.
Grade I, Grade II* and Grade II listed buildings
The National Heritage List places listed buildings in one of three categories. All have special stipulations and protection under planning law. Most listed buildings available to buy are Grade II, and carry the least stringent restrictions.
Grade I listed buildings
2.5% of listed buildings are Grade I. They are of exceptional interest and usually not family homes. In Lewisham, Boone’s Chapel and The Church of St Paul are our only Grade I listed buildings.
Grade II* listed buildings
Grade II* listed properties account for 5.5% of listed buildings. Again, it’s rare that these are private dwellings. In Lewisham, some are museums or public buildings.
Grade II listed buildings
The vast majority, 92%, of listed buildings are Grade II listed. These properties have special architectural or historical interest to the country. Most of the listed properties in Lewisham are Grade II and many are privately owned as homes.
Owning a Grade II listed building
It’s not the case that you should never buy a listed building. However, you do need to know some specific things, and you should be very wary of buying a listed building with unauthorised work, or without listed building consent.
If your home is Grade II listed, then you are required to get consent from your local council before you carry out any renovations. This is true for works both inside or outside the building, including on things like walls that surround the property.
It’s easy to think that this makes buying a listed property undesirable. However, while there are specific planning rules you must follow, they aren’t usually as onerous as people fear. The rules are designed to protect the property, not to stop change in its tracks. This means that you are still likely to be able to do things like replace your windows or even add on a modern looking conservatory.
The issue is that your plans need to be considered by the council more thoroughly to check it’s in keeping with the building and its style, but they do this within the context of viability and condition. There are no restrictions on how you use your home which don’t apply to any other property.
In fact, there are good reasons why you should actively consider buying a Grade II listed property. These properties are usually highly attractive and aesthetically interesting. They are distinctive and unusual compared to other houses, so they are often sought after and don’t tend to stay on the market for long. Furthermore, Grade II listed buildings tend to increase notably in value.
Buying a listed property
If you’ve got your eye on buying a listed building, then you will need to consider a few extra points.
- You are effectively becoming the custodian of the building. Never buy a listed building if you are not interested in helping to maintain it for future generations.
- Know that your future home will be listed on the National Heritage List. Check out why the property is listed before you buy as it gives an indication of the parts of the property where permission for change is less likely to be given.
- Be aware that you will need to request special permission from your local authority if you want to make changes. This includes extensions, changing the internal configuration, changing windows, etc. It can even cover things like putting up a satellite dish. You won’t necessarily be told ‘no’, but just be aware that you will need consent and that can take time.
- You must get specialist insurance that’s generally more costly. Factor this in at the buying stage.
- Generally speaking, older properties cost more to maintain and repair.
Buying a listed property with unauthorised works
Unfortunately, not all property owners are knowledgeable or ethical, and you need to be wary of buying a house without listed building consent for any works that have been done. Use a surveyor who is experienced and specialised in surveying listed buildings. They should pick up any works that haven’t received consent, and also identify any likely maintenance and repair issues in the future. They can also assess common concerns with older properties.
Listed building planning consent can be granted retrospectively. However, we recommend that you leave this to the current owners. While consent may be granted, the council may also stipulate changes or even undoing the works entirely. The costs and inconvenience of this should be borne by the current owners. If you move into a property with unauthorised works, then you will be liable for correcting any mistakes. It can be worth checking that your insurance will cover this.
Buying a listed property in London
There are a huge number of listed properties available in Lewisham and throughout London. We are here to support you buying a listed property, so that you can benefit from owning these beautiful and interesting buildings.