Buying a Listed Building
Buying any home can involve its fair share of anxiety and stress but buying a listed building sometimes has added complications particularly if it is your first listed building.
There can be quite a lot to get your mind around, and The Listed Property Owners’ Club is here to help right from the start.
“It would all have been much easier when purchasing our listed property had we known of the existence of the LPOC at the time. I think you do a really good job and I much enjoy and look forward to the articles in the magazine. It’s nice to be part of this community, who all care for old buildings for similar reasons.” Mr Lipmann, LPOC Member
If you’re thinking of buying a listed building, download our Guide to Owning or Buying a Listed Building and our Guide to Insuring Your Listed Property. For a free printed copy of these guides or to speak to an expert to see how we can help, call us on 01795 844939.
Finding the right listed building
It is very easy to let the heart rule the head when looking through the estate agent’s brochures. You may have fallen in love with the elegant Georgian elevation, the picturesque thatched cottage or the rural barn conversion, but take a moment to consider whether it actually meets your needs and those of your family. It’s sometimes best to limit your search to those buildings which actually meet your functional needs and aspirations rather than those which could be altered to meet your needs. Extensive alterations are not always going to be appropriate or acceptable in many listed buildings so look for a building that you can adapt to rather than one you can’t adapt.
Making alterations or extending a listed building is certainly not out of the question but until you have applied for and been granted listed building consent there will always be a degree of uncertainty.
Things to look out for
Use all of your senses. If rooms are damp they tend to smell foisty. Feel the walls for damp patches and look for signs of mildew in concealed corners or behind furniture. Damp is rarely an insurmountable problem but it can involve costly remedial measures in some cases.
Look out for any structural movement, cracks, ill-fitting doors, uneven ﬂoors or leaning walls. All are familiar features in listed buildings but you may want to direct your surveyor to assess whether they are just signs of age or whether remedial action might be required. Keep an eye open for alterations which may have been carried out since the day the building was listed. These are the alterations that you may want to ask the vendor about or to draw to the attention of your solicitor or surveyor. The reason they are so important is that any alterations carried out without consent can be the subject of enforcement action and you as the new owner could be required to reverse them at your own cost.
Do your research
Establish the date when the building was listed and its grade. It is not wise to rely on the estate agent’s particulars as they are sometimes misleading or misinformed. The Listed Property Owners’ Club can provide you with the statutory list description, the listing grade, the listing date and a map. Read the list description carefully to make sure that it tallies with the building you are considering buying. If there are discrepancies, such as changes to the windows or roof covering, you will want to enquire to see if they have been carried out with the appropriate listed building consent.
Get the right professional help
It pays to make extensive enquiries yourself but once you have decided to make an offer or proceed towards a purchase you will also need professional help from your solicitor and surveyor.
A good solicitor will know what to do and will make all the routine checks through a local land search. They can advise on a whole range of issues which are specific to listed buildings as well as the normal conveyancing process. They will explain to you the consequences of owning a listed building and answer any questions you have. If you have any concerns about the property it is important to raise them with your solicitor so that they can be fully addressed.
It is always advisable to have a survey carried out by a professional building surveyor, a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). A register of RICS surveyors who are accredited in building conservation is available on their website.
Beware the surveyor appointed through the building society or bank as their ‘house buyer’s survey’, frequently carried out by surveyors who are not experts in listed buildings, can cause untold problems. You need a surveyor who recognises that ancient buildings behave differently from modern buildings and that old structural movement or woodworm is not necessarily a problem. We cannot count the amount of times we have come across poorly qualified surveyors making the wrong recommendations and costing their clients unnecessary expenditure. Conversely, a good surveyor’s report can save the house buyer many thousands of pounds and is worth its weight in gold.
The LPOC Suppliers Directory contains details of solicitors and surveyors with listed building experience.
What if alterations have been made without consent?
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to find that alterations have been made without listed building consent. If that is the case, you will need to explore the extent of any liability you might be taking on before proceeding with the purchase. If the extent of the alteration is small, such as a poor replacement window, you may consider that you can proceed on the basis that you would need to replace the window anyway so the consequence is small and can be easily resolved. However, if an extension or a conservatory has been added without consent the situation could be much more serious. If you proceed at risk you may be taking on a property which you cannot sell at a future date. The only way to remove the risk is to reverse the alteration (if possible) or for you or the vendor to apply retrospectively for consent for the alteration. Only when granted would it be safe to proceed with the purchase.
For help and advice on how to find out if alterations have listed building consent, contact the Club on 01795 844939. We can talk you through the process and provide helpful insight.
Extra protection against unauthorised changes – insurance
There are ways to protect yourself against many unauthorised changes to your property by previous owners. Provided you have made suitable enquiries through your surveyor and solicitor and they are happy that all alterations have the correct consent, LPOC Insurance Services can arrange cover against the cost of rectifying unauthorised alterations if they are discovered some time in the future. Provided that you were not aware of these changes prior to taking out the policy and as long as the works were conducted by a previous owner, you will not have to foot the bill for putting things right. Recently an LPOC Insurance Services client succeeded in claiming £65,000 addressing unauthorised works carried out by a previous owner, highlighting the importance of making the necessary checks and ensuring you are properly protected.
LPOC is here to help with your listed building purchase
Some property purchases are very straightforward but for those that are not LPOC can offer advice, help and assistance. Members have access to legal advisors, conservation advisors and insurance advisors – contact us to join the Club today by calling 01795 844939 or click here.