The UK is a country steeped in history. No matter where you live, it’s unlikely that you’re further than a short walk away from some antique architecture or historic countryside. This is why we have the modern ‘listed building’ system, which seeks to preserve buildings that have architectural or historic significance.
English Heritage estimates that there are just shy of 375,000 listed buildings in England, accounting for around 2% of the country’s total building stock. It’s therefore statistically unlikely that a home for sale is listed. But the older a building is, the more likely it is that it is listed, and if you are opting for a period property over a modern one you may well be buying a listed building.
What are listed buildings?
The modern listed building system is tied in with planning law, and its roots go back to 1947, shortly after the end of the Second World War. A number of historic buildings were destroyed during enemy air raids, and their loss helped to motivate the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947.
The Act gave county and borough councils the power to approve or deny planning proposals, develop land or lease it out to private developers, control outdoor advertising, and preserve architecture and woodland.
In England and Wales, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has authority over listing. Listed buildings are cared for by Historic England, a non-departmental agency sponsored by the DCMS. In Scotland, this duty falls with Historic Scotland, and in Northern Ireland, with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
Grades of listed buildings
Listed buildings are graded either Grade I, Grade II*, or Grade II (A, B or C in Scotland and Northern Ireland), according to their cultural and historical significance.
Grade I buildings are considered to be of exceptional national, and sometimes even international, importance. For example, the official residences of the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer – numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street – are Grade I listed buildings. Grade I comprises only 2.5% of all listed buildings in England.
5.5% of listed buildings are Grade II* – those of particular importance and ‘more than special interest’. The famous Battersea Power Station is Grade II* listed.
The final grade, Grade II, comprises 92% of all listed buildings in England. If you are buying a listed building to live in, it is likely to belong to this grade.
The perks of owning a listed building
- A great many people will get a great deal of satisfaction out of owning a historically important building, and will find the extra legal loopholes they need to jump through are well worth the character and charm of the building.
- Because they are unique, listed buildings may hold their value better than other properties and therefore could make for good long-term investments, provided that you are willing to put in the extra work.
- It might be possible to obtain grant assistance for repairs and maintenance to your property, though grants are in high demand and won’t always be issued. See English Heritage’s Assistance for Owners section for more details.
The downsides of owning a listed building
- As they are constructed from older, possibly outdated materials, listed buildings can be more difficult – and expensive – to repair and maintain. Damp can also be an issue, as older buildings have solid rather than cavity walls and lack the waterproof membranes used in modern construction.
- Under sections 14 and 15 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971, local authorities can issue repair notices for listed buildings that they believe are not being properly maintained. After two months, if the repairs have not been carried out, the local authority can seek to enforce a compulsory purchase order (i.e. force you to sell the building and land to them).
What to bear in mind when buying a listed building
- Before purchasing the building, be sure to instruct an experienced structural surveyor. He or she will tell you whether the building is in good repair and will identify any potentially expensive work that might need doing.
- Along with a surveyor, have an experienced property solicitor on hand. Beyond simple repairs and maintenance, all work undertaken on a listed building requires ‘Listed Building Consent’ (LBC) from the local Conservation Officer; if any previous owner undertook work without LBC, it will become your responsibility following purchase to correct it.
- Make contact with your local Conservation Officer. He or she will grant or deny permission to modify the building and ensure that modifications are in line with the existing character of the building. They can also outline your responsibility for the ongoing maintenance of the building.
- Ensure that you have a landlords insurance policy that is suitable for a listed building.