During the 30 years that David King has sold country houses, a large number of them have been listed properties. Here he shares his top tips for buyers considering owning part of Britain's built heritage.
There are nearly 500,000 owners of listed properties in the England and Wales. They range from chocolate box cottages through to farmhouses and manor houses and can be found through our offices in Petersfield, Lewes, Devizes and Exeter, amongst others. For many, it's regarded as something of privilege to be a custodian of a building which has been judged to be of architectural or historic interest. For others, it's a rather daunting prospect. It needn't be so, providing buyers go in with their eyes wide open.
When a building is listed, the whole structure is protected both on the inside and the outside. The protection extends to anything attached to the building and any building within the curtilage of the main house. Sometimes, other elements within a property, such as outbuildings or a historic wall, will also be classified as listed and come under the same regulations.
One of the main challenges to owning a listed property is when it comes to alterations. Before buying, it's worth checking that any works that were carried out by the current or previous owners have been done correctly and with appropriate consent. If the floorplans of the house don't correspond exactly with the plans on the planning consents, the local council would be in a position to make the new owner reinstate elements. It's worth bearing in mind that there is no time limit to when a local planning authority can require the reversal of any unauthorised alterations. Few insurance companies will provide cover for the cost of such works in their basic policies so consider getting suitable cover in place before buying a listed property, just in case.
When it comes to making your changes, it's important to consult an architect who has a really good relationship with the local planning and conservation officers. Better still, go to them first and ask their advice on how the kitchen layout or position of bathroom might be changed. It's important to get them on side early on and they might even recommend an architect who has experience in tackling such jobs. In the end, this is likely to make the process much smoother.
Bear in mind that conservation officers will often want to see the evolution of a house rather than recommend that you turn back the clock entirely. I know of a case involving a 17th century cottage whose Inglenook fireplace was blocked and replaced with a 1930s-era one. Permission wasn't granted to replace it because the view was that the house shouldn't be paralysed in one era.
It's usually easier to make additions to listed buildings rather than demolish or change anything that already exists. As a result, it's likely to be a smoother process of negotiation with planners to add an extension than remove an original fireplace or internal wall. Have a look at the original listing documentâ€”often available on the local council's website and at Images of England. If a feature is specifically mentioned there, there's very little chance of anyone agreeing to its removal.
While most listings are Grade II (the lowest grade), the top 7% of properties (owned privately and publicly) are listed Grade I and II*â€“these include some of the fine townhouses for sale in Brighton, for example. In this sector, the main difference is that if you apply for listed building consent to make any alterations, greater weight will be giving to preserving the architectural and historic significance of these buildings. Additionally, Historic England (formerly English Heritage) are also consulted on these applications which means it can be more of a drawn-out process. That's not to say it's impossible, however: Grade I-listed Stockton House in Wiltshire's Wylye Valley has been gently yet thoroughly brought into the 21st century with first-rate plumbing, as well as wifi and sound systems in every room. It just requires a high level of determination.
Below are just some of the stunning listed properties our offices are currently selling:
If you're looking to buy a listed property, or simply would like some advice on the current market conditions, please get in touch.