A guide to buying listed buildings in the UK
"Some buyers crave an ‘architecturally pure’ mansion, which, if it is historic, will most likely be 'listed.'" says Alex Newall, Managing Director of Hanover Private. "Foreign buyers are wary of old listed buildings because they are concerned they won’t be able to make changes to them, to bring them up to the luxury and high tech standards they want and expect.
However listing is not a preservation order preventing change, it is an identification stage where buildings are marked and ‘celebrated’ as having exceptional architectural or historic special interest, before any planning stage which may decide a building's future. If a property is listed it does not freeze a building in time, it simply means that listed building consent must be applied for in order to make any changes to that building which might affect its special interest.
Some owners fail to get permission they want, however, as the changes damage the area of the property which is of special interest. Listed buildings can be altered, extended and sometimes even demolished within government planning guidance. The local authority uses listed building consent to make decisions that balance the site's historic significance against other issues such as its function, condition or viability.
There are 3 levels of listing Grade I, Grade II* and Grade II.
- Grade I buildings are of exceptional interest, sometimes considered to be internationally important; only 2.5% of listed buildings are Grade I.
- Grade II* buildings are particularly important buildings of more than special interest; 5.5% of listed buildings are Grade II*.
- Grade II buildings are nationally important and of special interest; 92% of all listed buildings are in this class and it is the most likely grade of listing for a home owner.
In England there are approximately 374,081 listed building entries. Some people are unaware that there gardens and landscapes (such as parkland in front of a country house / estate) can be listed. Listings cover 1,601 registered historic parks and gardens, 19,717 scheduled ancient monuments, 9,080 conservation areas, 43 registered historic battlefields, 46 designated wrecks, 17 World Heritage Sites across England.
PRICES - MORE OR LESS?
Listed buildings do not necessarily carry a premium because they are listed, but some listed buildings do sell for a premium because they are architecturally pure, and because often listed buildings are large and of international or national importance.
Many grand houses are listed, but as making changes to them can be not always be as easy as altering a non-listed property, some can sell for less, as some buyers steer clear as they do not wish for a potentially complicated planning process which they may not fully understand. There is always an exceptions to the rule, but often Chinese and Hong Kong buyers prefer non-listed properties, which have been designed to a modern and optimum layout.
A Grade I listed Georgian mansion from the 1740s for example did not have two dressing rooms and two bathrooms off the master bedroom. Whilst it might be possible to reconfigure rooms in a listed house, often if can be difficult or likely lead to a compromise. For buyers who are seeking their version of perfection in terms of layout and design, often a new non-listed house will be better suited for their requirements.
RESTORATION AND DEVELOPMENT
Some developers and owners have been extremely well advised and have managed to sympathetically work inside the rules, but also the get the ideal floor plan and design that does meet the needs of today’s buyers. Ultimately it depends on the starting point. The white Stucco Robert Adam terrace houses of Regent’s Park are listed and very popular with foreign buyers, as the proportions are exceptional.
An example of this was the highly successful Cornwall Terrace, which was developed within a listed shell. As you walk around Prime Central London, through Mayfair and Knightsbridge you will often see the front façade of a listed building being propped up by scaffolding, whilst behind everything else has been knocked down and will be rebuilt brand new, to enable the perfect layout. It is very much possible, with the correct help, to buy a listed building and make it ‘perfect’ for the needs of today’s multi-cultural society.
Finally, ‘mullion windows’ may look wonderful with bags of charm, but are horrendously expensive to restore or even replicate. These days skilled craftsmen are few and far between as their skill base is a dying art, so if you find one, the cost of retaining their services is likely to be very considerable. When factoring in the estimates for repairs and restoration that a prospective property may require, do not think that a quick tot-up as you wander around a builders merchant will equate to a realistic figure; using the correct materials in a restoration will often require accessing specialist suppliers that do not come cheap and can be as much as twice the normal price of more standard materials.”