Considerations when buying a heritage property

When many of us think about heritage properties, we think of buildings associated with our architectural past: a castle, stately home or elegant Georgian townhouse perhaps. But new developments, such as barn and warehouse conversions, may also be heritage properties if they are listed or in a conservation area.

In this article we look at the different categories of heritage property and the implications for buyers who face the prospect of having to deal with the obligations that go hand in hand with owning a property of historical interest.

If you are considering buying a listed building, a property in a conservation area or a property that appears in a local heritage asset list, then it is important that you speak to your solicitor at an early stage to discuss the implications. The fact that a property has heritage status will impact on the sorts of changes you can make and will also usually incur higher maintenance costs and insurance premiums.

Listed buildings

Properties that have been listed will have been graded according to their significance, with Grade 1 being the most important followed by Grade 2* and Grade 2.

Listed building are subject to statutory controls which apply equally to all three grades. It is important that your advisor ascertains the exact listing, together with any special features referred to, as this will influence how the local authority will deal with any planning application or alleged breach of planning regulations.

All works to a listed building and its immediate surrounds will require listed building consent from the local planning authority in addition to normal planning permission. Carrying out unauthorised works to a listed building is a criminal offence.

Listed status does not mean you cannot carry out any building works or alterations, but it can be more difficult to obtain consent as the local planning authority must consider heritage conservation criteria when deciding your application. If you hope to carry out works to your new home or to change its appearance in any way, it is important that you talk to your advisor early on. They may have experience of how the local authority has treated applications for similar works in the past, or they may suggest ways to minimise risk. For example, you could make your purchase conditional on listed building consent being granted or seek pre-application advice from the planning authority or Historic England.

If you are buying a listed building, your solicitor should also check whether consents were obtained for any works the seller or previous owners carried out. Where unauthorised works have been undertaken, there is a risk that you could be required to restore the property to its original condition. There is no time limit for enforcement action in respect of listed buildings. It may be possible to apply for consent retrospectively, but there is always a risk that this could be refused. In these circumstances, your solicitor may suggest asking the seller to apply for permission or suggest that you seek a price reduction.

Conservation areas

Conservation areas are designated areas of special architectural or historic interest which it is considered desirable to preserve or enhance. Recent changes to the law abolished the need for specific conservation area consent, but homes in conservation areas require planning permission for works where permission would not normally be needed, such as for demolition.

You may be unable to rely upon deemed development rights, which most homes enjoy. These allow householders to carry out permitted works, such as small-scale extensions, without permission. You will also need to give notice to the local authority before carrying out any works to trees on your property.

Locally listed heritage assets

Some local authorities also maintain a list of heritage properties that are not officially listed or in a designated conservation area. None of the statutory controls which affect listed buildings or conservation areas will apply to these properties, and on its own the list has no legal status. However, the inclusion of a property on a heritage list does indicate that the planning authority considers the building to be of local significance and that the authority is likely to consider its contribution to local heritage when determining a planning application.

Additional considerations

Heritage properties are, by their very nature, unique. They include some of the most characterful and desirable homes in the country. However, it is important that you consider all the implications and take specialist advice before proceeding to purchase one. For example, older properties are likely to require more maintenance. You should budget for this and instruct a specialist surveyor who can advise on any repairs needed before you buy.

Insurance costs are also likely to be significantly higher than for an ordinary home, partly because of the specialist materials and labour required should you need to reinstate the building. It is a good idea to ask your seller how much they pay for their insurance.

Despite the additional burdens, however, heritage properties can make the most rewarding and stylish of homes.

If you have any questions about heritage properties or home buying more generally, please contact our residential property team on 01732 747900 or email [email protected].

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

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