What does buying a ‘listed building’ really mean?

When we purchased our house, obviously we knew it was a listed building and we thought the same as many people do, that it was old and needed a ‘bit’ of work doing. What we didn’t appreciate was the ‘red tape’ involved. Naively, we had no idea what responsibility had been bestowed upon us. Something which lays heavy on our shoulders…. even now. You see, it’s not just the initial renovation work but also the constant upkeep and maintenance. Something which will be forever more. We consider ourselves custodians of our home. Merely looking after it until such time it is passed on.

Had we done our research we possibly would have thought twice about what was involved. With hindsight, at our deepest darkest times we wouldn’t have touched it with a barge pole. Not because it has cost us far more than we ever thought possible (although that would have been a huge factor), but because it takes far too long to get anything agreed by the powers that be and because the techniques involved in restoring a listed building take far too long. To put it bluntly, we have found it hard work. With a newbuild (which we have owned previously), you want something doing, you get on with it within reason. Planning permission is straight forward and away you go. With a listed building, the planners are involved but you also have to liaise with conservation officers. Sometimes they don’t agree on an outcome and you are left piggy in the middle paying for the privilege. Often the decisions which are made don’t make sense and they can leave you feeling that it’s a ‘right place, right time’ situation. As planning trends and targets change it can be somewhat potluck as to what’s in fashion at the time.

Nothing is a quick fix. Take the plastering for example. You can’t just pop down to B & Q to get some plaster. You need specialist materials and specialist tradesman. Something which is in short supply and demands a higher price. It’s that simple. Supply and demand commands a higher price. I wish now, I had remembered back to my 6thform Business Studies days!

This lime plaster is composed of sand, water and lime. Historically it often contained horse hair for reinforcement. It is normally layered in 3 coats with each layer left to dry naturally in-between coats. It took approx. 3 months to dry in total. Not a quick fix at all. When you have a whole house to renovate its daunting and would test the patience of a saint! Particularly when you have builders on site to pay for and you don’t want them to disappear on another job because you will never know when they will be returning. Something worth thinking about.

Now bear with me (boring I know) but I felt that this extract from Wikipedia pretty much sums up the responsibility involved: “A ‘listed building’ is one that has been placed on one of the four statutory lists. A listed building may not be demolished, extended, or altered without special permission from the local authority. Owners of listed buildings are in some circumstances compelled to repair and maintain them and can face criminal prosecution if they fail to do so or if they perform unauthorised alterations. When alterations are permitted, or when listed buildings are repaired or maintained, the owners are often compelled to use specific materials or techniques.”

It’s not for the faint hearted. It takes time, patience (something I’m not good at) and money.

Now I sound like a moaning mini but…..on the upside, its’ not all doom and gloom. You will have original features galore, character and a beautiful old building which is protected for future generations to come. It will certainly have the wow factor. They are an amazing part of our history, but I want to put it out there…. Don’t just buy a building willy nilly like we did without knowing the full extent of what’s involved.

My top tips to buying a listed building:

  1. Do your research BEFORE buying. That includes, the planners, conservation officers, specialist builders and architects. Who are you going to use to do the work? All of which I would recommend being specialists in listed buildings or at the very least have had previous experience.
  2. Employ a project manager whether that be an independent, the builder to do it for you or your architect. You will need that middle man to liaise with all the parties involved, plan and overcome problems along the way. They can cost approx. £30k give or take but they are worth every single penny in my humble opinion.
  3. Get references. A lot of people talk a good game but often don’t have the experience to back it up. View samples of their work. Don’t just take their website as a green light. Sometimes these images are standard pictures found on google NOT samples of their own work.
  4. Are there specialist trades in your area? It’s no good setting a budget and then you find out that the lime mortar plasterer is located in Devon and the delivery/travel costs are astronomical. Or you can’t find the specialists you need.
  5. Break down a budget as closely as you possibly can and always, always, always have a contingency. And… a contingency for the contingency!
  6. Do you have easy access to your property. I can’t tell you how many times we are asked if the delivery lorry’s will have access problems when dropping materials off. This goes for any building work not just listed.
  7. Speak to your neighbours. They often have some great knowledge about what has been done to the property previously.

This is an organic process which adapts and changes along the way. We’ve learnt so much and the process continues every single day.

Happy house renovating!

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