Buying a listed building: you must proceed with caution

Annie Button has written an article that looks at what buying a listed building entails, and gives a warning that the buyer should proceed with caution.

Many people love the idea of owning a home with character and history. Indeed, while the supply of properties built before World War I is ever-dwindling, the demand for period homes has never been stronger.

Original features such as decorative ceiling mouldings, timber sash windows and feature fireplaces are highly prized among house buyers, so much so that well-maintained Victorian and Edwardian properties for sale are fetching in the region of 20% more than their modern counterparts.

What does it mean when a building is ’listed’?

The ‘best’ period buildings, i.e. those that are considered to be of national importance in terms of their historical or architectural interest, have been placed on one of the UK’s statutory lists – Historic England, Historic Environment Scotland, Cadw (Wales) and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

For many, owning a listed building is the Holy Grail when it comes to character homes, however you should be aware that these buildings require careful maintenance to preserve their unique charm. Are you prepared to treat your listed home like the precious antique that it is?

What’s more, listed buildings are subject to extensive planning restrictions designed to protect the structure by law. Historic England distinguishes between Grade I, Grade II* and Grade II listing, depending on the significance of the building’s unique features. Over 90% of listed buildings are designated Grade II.

Listed Building Consent

Planning control is significantly stricter when it comes to making alterations to a listed building compared to a standard property. In addition to normal planning regulations, you will need to obtain Listed Building Consent for most renovations and refurbishments. In fact, alterations, extensions or demolitions carried out without the express permission of your local planning authority are a criminal offence.

When you come to make home improvements in a listed building, your options will be limited with regard to the choice of materials and methods of construction. You’ll be expected to use like-for-like materials and traditional techniques, and installing new kitchens and bathrooms may require a good deal of negotiation with your local Conservation Office before you’re able to proceed.

Window replacements are likely to be another no-go. Luckily, “whatever the problem may be with your timber sashes, they can be refurbished back to their pristine condition while repairing original sash windows will help you to sympathetically maintain an important period feature of your home,” advises one industry expert.

Problems you may encounter

It is all too easy to be seduced by the obvious appeal of a listed building, but this is not the time for an emotionally driven purchase. Because of their age, method of construction and architectural style, these old buildings can come with a whole host of defects that may be expensive to remedy.

It goes without saying that before you proceed with the purchase, an in-depth listed building survey is an absolute must. Find an experienced property surveyor with a specialisation in period properties who can investigate the building thoroughly for structural issues, roof defects, damp problems, timber decay and much more besides. The findings will give you a good idea of the severity and urgency of any problems found, and provide cost estimates to put them right. Armed with factual information, you are now in a position to decide whether the building is in fact worth taking on, and the budget you will need to tackle any issues that need attention.

The building survey will also reveal any previously unapproved renovations that technically constitute a breach of Listed Building Consent. Whether internal walls were removed or a conservatory was added by a previous owner, the liability for complying with the law will transfer to you when the building becomes yours.

Maintenance requirements

Looking after a listed building is not for the faint-hearted, nor the right job for enthusiastic DIYers. Unfortunately, many building problems can be caused by ill-informed maintenance choices, however well-intentioned they may be.

Upkeep and repair work on listed buildings should always be entrusted to a specialist contractor. Take painting and decorating, for instance. Walls and ceilings require the use of breathable paint that is compatible with lime-based plasters. Contemporary paints, by contrast, contain chemicals that lock in moisture and lead to decay.

One final recommendation is to consider joining the Listed Property Owners’ Club (LPOC). This independent organisation provides valuable support and advice on matters of maintenance, specialist suppliers and planning issues dedicated to listed buildings.


Buying a period home should always be a well-considered decision, and especially if the building is listed. If you’ve had a full survey done and nothing untoward has come to light, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to enjoy your beautiful piece of British architectural heritage for many years to come.


Kindly shared by Annie Button

Main article photo courtesy of Pixabay