Fallen in Love with a Listed House? Here’s Where the Headache Begins

You might have seen us mention once or twice that buying and selling property can be ruddy hard work. Unsurprising, we suppose, seeing as there’s a whole legal specialism dedicated to the practice.

If you’ve been really paying attention, you’ll know that there are certain things that can make the process even more complicated. Think septic tanks, bats, barneys with the neighbours, or rising groundwater.

Now, we’d like to throw a whole new spanner into the proverbial works: buying and selling properties that are listed buildings or scheduled monuments.

We know, we know. Buying a listed building or ancient monument sounds rather romantic, doesn’t it? We bet you’re picturing incredible original features, blue plaques and maybe even a ghostly historical figure or two. And though we don’t doubt that all those things could be wonderful… unfortunately, we also have to be the party poopers who point out that you’re almost certainly in store for a doozy of a conveyancing process.

What are listed buildings?

Before we go any further, let’s make sure we’ve got our definitions straight.

A listed building is a building that’s been listed on the national register for properties of historical or architectural significance. There are three different grades of listing – grade II, grade II* and grade I – depending on how special/unusual/impressive/decrepit a property is (we might have made that last one up).

Anything pre-Victorian is likely to be listed. A listed status can protect the whole building, including gardens, exterior walls, outbuildings and even more modern extensions.

If you own a listed building, you’re legally obligated to protect and conserve any listed features along with the general character of the property. Put it this way: you won’t be able to fit white PVC windows to quickly get rid of the draughts. There are likely to be certain features of the house you cannot change (no matter how impractical) and you’ll need to get consent from your local conservation officer to make sure any alterations or repairs will be in keeping with the general historic flavour.

Making unauthorised changes to a listed building is an actual criminal offence (not just a civil one) so it’s advisable to take this stuff seriously.

What about locally listed buildings?

We’re going to take a brief detour here to mention that many local authorities keep an additional list of buildings of note in their area. These properties are referred to as ‘locally listed’ buildings.

The exact rules on how locally listed buildings are managed vary a bit from council to council, but essentially this is a category for properties that are interesting enough to stand out from the crowd and merit a bit of extra attention… but not so interesting that they need to be formally listed on the national listed buildings register.

If you own a property that’s given a ‘locally listed’ designation – or if you’re thinking of buying one – there’s really nothing to worry about. We’d consider it more of a compliment than anything else. Locally listed buildings aren’t regulated by law and you won’t need to liaise with a local conservation officer/contemplate a criminal conviction every time you want to do a bit of DIY.

We will point out that a planning application for a locally listed building is likely to be scrutinised more carefully, but that would likely be the case for any period or unusual home, regardless of whether or not it was officially ‘locally listed’.

What are scheduled monuments?

A scheduled ancient monument is a property that’s included on the ‘Schedule of Monuments’ recorded by the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. These properties are considered to be of national importance and are usually archaeological sites such as ruins, churches or castles. 

Admittedly, it’s less likely that you’ll be buying and selling a scheduled monument as part of a standard residential sale. However, it’s far from unheard of for otherwise perfectly normal properties to have a monument of historical interest somewhere in the garden or surrounding land. (You’ve seen The Dig on Netflix, right?!)

How should you go about buying one? 

Now we’ve explained what it is we’re talking about, the next order of business is to cover how you should go about actually attempting to buy or sell a listed or scheduled property.

Let’s start with buying.

  1. For goodness sake, do your research

 Any estate agency worth their salt will make clear in a property advert if a property is listed or scheduled. In these cases, we’d suggest starting your research before you even go for a viewing. The description of the property on the National Heritage List will give you an idea of what you’re in for.

If you’re seriously interested in a property, it’s wise to have a chat with the local conservation offer. They’ll be able to give you a good idea of what your responsibilities will be and whether any alterations will be possible.

You’ll also need to have a good think about additional maintenance and running costs. Traditional repairs will almost certainly be pricier than standard ones, and you’re likely to need specialist buildings insurance.

  1. Ensure there are no nasty, non-consented surprises

Remember how we said unauthorised changes to listed or scheduled properties are criminal? Well – surprise! – there’s also no limit on the time period that your local council or conservation officer can take action against unpermitted work. This means that if the people who sold you the property (or even the people before them) had done something naughty, the expense of putting it right would fall to you.

With this in mind, make sure you triple check the full planning history of the building and that no work has been done without consent.

  1. Call in specialist reinforcements

Specialist buildings need to be assessed by specialist professionals. We thoroughly recommend investing in a full structural building survey in these cases… and it’ll be well worth your while taking a bit of time to find a surveyor with a lot of experience with listed buildings.

If your surveyor knows their stuff, they’ll also be able to keep an eye out for any possible non-consented changes.

  1. Make sure you choose a conveyancer who knows their onions

Though we’ll be the first to argue that it’s always important to choose a conveyancer with lots of experience, it’s even more vital if you’re buying a non-standard house.

Make sure you tell your conveyancer from the outset if you’re buying a listed or scheduled property – along with any concerns about consent (or the lack of it).

Your conveyancer may also undertake a few extra searches, including a chancel search and a title investigation. This is to check whether the property you’re buying comes with any obligations to other local buildings. For example, some older properties come with deed requirements that the owner contributes to the upkeep of the local church (it’s more common than you’d think!)

What about selling a listed building?

Selling a listed or scheduled building can be a bit of a palaver. You’ll be able to make the process a whole lot smoother by being as open as possible with your buyers. (In this scenario we’re assuming that you haven’t done anything unauthorised to the building. If you have, we’d suggest coming clean and putting things right before you even think about starting the sales process.)

Take some time before putting the property on the market to gather a file of all work done along with permissions, certificates, guarantees and the like. This can speed things up by avoiding a lot of back-and-forth between conveyancers.

Of course, it might well be the case that you don’t know what work has been done to a property. This might sound like a convenient excuse(!), but it’s fairly likely to be the case if you’re selling a property on behalf of a relative who’s died. In these situations, it can be helpful to have the property carefully assessed before it goes on the market. This reduces the chance of anything unexpected or unsightly cropping up during conveyancing. 

Is there good news?

Our intention isn’t to put you off buying (or selling) a listed or scheduled building all together! Once you’ve jumped a few conveyancing and bureaucracy-related hurdles, it would, of course, be amazing to have your very own slice of history.

We’ll also mention that listed buildings are often considered to retain their value better than modern homes. Plus, there’s a possibility of some VAT relief on any repair work caried out.

If you’ve fallen for a listed building with a certain pre-Victorian je ne sais quois, all is not lost. Whether you’re hoping to buy it, or the time has come to sell it on, give us a buzz and we’ll work with you to keep the process as headache-free as possible.