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Buying a Listed Building - What you need to know

View profile for Heidi Aitken
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We are very fortunate that our office is based in the spa town of Cheltenham, a town filled with beautiful historic buildings. Just counting properties within the borders of Cheltenham Borough Council there are over 2602 listed buildings of which five are Grade I, 387 are Grade II* and 2210 are Grade II.  There are of course many more in the surrounding Boroughs of Tewkesbury, Worcester, Gloucester, the Cotswolds and further afield.  A 'point in time' photographic library of England 's listed buildings, recorded at the turn of the 21st century, is available to view at Historic England Images of England. (1)

If a property is listed it means it “may not be demolished, extended or altered without special permission from the local planning authority”. Listed buildings can be placed into one of three categories, Grade I, Grade II* and Grade II.  2.5% fall into the Grade I category, meaning they are buildings of exceptional interest. Grade II* comprises 5.5% of listed buildings, these are deemed to be 'particularly important and of more than special interest'. The overwhelming majority of buildings (including most residential properties) fall into the Grade II category.  These are 'of special interest and national importance'.  Newer buildings continue to be added to the lists as they are identified and become eligible. The majority of these are the buildings which had not previously been old enough or unique enough to be listed, or which have acquired a place in popular culture as a result of their use rather than purely on their architectural merit. An example of the latter is the recently listed Abbey Road Studios. (2)

The statutory controls apply equally to all listed buildings, irrespective of grade, so if you are buying a Listed Building it is extremely important to get the right advice.  The controls can extend to any structures fixed to the listed building or structures within its curtilage. (For further guidance on curtilage listing see the link at (3) below)

There are many benefits to purchasing a listed property. They are beautiful buildings and form an integral part of our country’s rich history. It would however be flippant to not consider the strict controls on alterations and the obligations that come with the privilege of owning a listed building. Below, we have listed some things you should consider before committing to your purchase:-

  • It is a criminal offence to make alterations to a listed building without obtaining listed building consent when required, ignorance is not a defence.  

  • If you wish to make alterations to either the interior or exterior of a listed building, you will need to obtain ‘Listed Building Consent’ (note that if the alterations affect the external appearance you may also need a separate Planning Permission) and the application process can be lengthy.   It is a common misunderstanding that the special interest of a listed building lies only in its features, such as fireplaces and plasterwork. The interest is also in its history and architecture. The general form and layout of the building may be as important in this regard as any eye-catching "period feature".  (4)

  • Although there is no statutory obligation on you to do so, it is in your interest to keep the building in good repair.  If a local authority has reason to believe that reasonable steps are not being taken to preserve a listed building, it can serve a Repair Notice on the owner. This will list the repair works needed to return the building to an acceptable state. If after not less than two months the property remains in a state of disrepair, the local authority may begin compulsory purchase proceedings to acquire the building in order to ensure its preservation.(5)

  • Listed properties can be expensive to repair and insure.  When carrying out repairs specialist tradesman and materials may be needed so the cost of repairs is usually significantly higher. Because of this insurance premiums are also often higher than for non-listed properties.  

  • If there has been unauthorised works an enforcement notice can be issued at any time, even many years after the unlawful works were carried out. It can be served on the current owner of a building irrespective of whether they, a previous owner or any other party was responsible for the works (6).  In light of this it is important to seek advice from a suitably experienced surveyor and ensure you discuss any suspected alterations with your legal advisor during the purchase process prior to exchange of contracts.

Despite the stricter controls and obligations that come with owning a listed property, in our opinion the pros far outweigh the cons.  Ensuring your surveyor and legal advisor have experience in dealing with listed properties will help to ensure any issues are picked up and dealt with as efficiently as possible. The specialist team in our Residential Property Department will be delighted to assist you.  If you would like to get in touch, please contact Heidi Aitken 

(1) Looking for images of England

(2) What are Listed Buildings?

(3)  Historic Buildings and Curtilage Advice

(4) Listed Building Consent

(5) Compulsory Acquisitions

The information contained on this page has been prepared for the purpose of this blog/article only. The content should not be regarded at any time as a substitute for taking legal advice.