Should I buy a listed property?

Buying a listed property. Timber frame country cottage in the historic, medieval Cotswolds English village of Castle Combe in Wiltshire, UK.
Buying a listed property such as this traditional timber frame cottage in the historic Cotswolds village of Castle Combe, is a dream for many people. Photo: Getty

If you’re looking to move home amid the new year buying frenzy, there’s a chance you might be considering a listed property.

This type of home can be very appealing, and it’s easy to get lured in by the unique charm, and the idea of owning something which comes with architectural significance.

But you need to go in with your eyes wide open, as there are often strict limitations on how you can extend, adapt or modernise. Here we take a closer look.

What is a listed building?

Properties are listed when they are deemed to be of significant interest or importance to our culture and heritage. Such classification is designed to ensure the buildings are protected against physical and environmental alterations.

Dr Craig Kennedy from the Global Research Institute for Smart Construction / Resilient Infrastructure & Communities at Heriot-Watt University, said: “Buildings are listed based on four different criteria and age is only one of these. The categories include age and rarity, unique architectural approach, cultural or historical significance and group value. A building doesn’t necessarily have to be old to be listed, and there are some very modern examples achieving this status.”

What’s the issue?

If you want to alter, extend or modernise a listed property, you may find your hands are tied.

Zara Banday, partner in the residential property team at Slater Heelis Solicitors said: “You can only do this with prior specific consent and there may be limits on what you can do, as your plans may not be in keeping with the building in its historical context.”

Getting planning permission can be time-consuming and tricky.

Karen Bell from property firm David Salisbury – a firm which has worked on thousands of orangery and conservatory projects for listed buildings said: “Seeking planning permission for anything from building an extension to something as simple as upgrading windows is becoming increasingly lengthy and complicated.”

Dr Kennedy added: “Around 80% of building applications for listed buildings are approved each year but owners should be aware that it does take longer and can cost considerably more to achieve planning permission. Part of the purpose of listing a building is to add an extra step into the planning process so local authorities can ensure a conservation expert considers its cultural value and decides if the proposed changes will damage its historic or cultural identity.”

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How can you improve your chances of a successful application?

The key to gaining approval is respecting the existing property.

Bell said: “Designs should always be subservient to what’s already there. In particular, it’s wise to pay attention to the materials you’re using; a traditional building material will often be looked upon favourably.”

Dr Kennedy agrees, adding: “It is essential that any proposed changes first consider preserving the cultural value of the building.”

Don’t cut corners

While you may be tempted to try and carry out work without the requisite permission, it’s imperative you follow the rules.

Banday said: “It is actually a criminal offence to carry out unauthorised works without listed building permission so I would urge any purchaser to really look into the obligations required of you, and to be aware of the legal implications that comes with such a purchase.”

Dr Kennedy added: “Note that it is the whole property that is listed, so any walls, outhouses and garden structures must also be considered. It is not necessarily possible to demolish an outhouse structure even if it needs significant repair.”

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Can I make energy efficient improvements?

Despite the growing focus on mitigating climate change, owners of listed buildings are not usually allowed to take steps such as changing windows to modern uPVC double glazing or adding external insulation – as this changes the character of the building.

Dr Kennedy said: “There are, however, other options that won’t damage a property’s historical value which can support energy saving. Bodies such as Historic England publish guidance for owners and, where required, individual assessments can take place to find ways to improve the building’s energy efficiency without compromising its structure.”

Listed properties must be well-maintained

With a listed home, there is the expectation that the property will be kept in good condition.

Richard Wayman, finance director at CIA Landlord Insurance, said: “The property owner is responsible for the upkeep and, if a listed building is left in a poor condition, owners can be served with what is known as a ‘repairs notice’ (under the Town and Country Planning Act 1971). This requires the owner to make the needed repairs within a set timeframe, or the property can be submitted to be taken away from the owners.”

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Maintenance costs can be high

As a listed property will be listed both inside and out, certain features which are considered historically important must be preserved – and this can come at a cost.

Wayman said: “Costs to repair listed properties are generally more expensive than repairs to your average home. This is due to the delicacy of some repair work and the fact the materials needed may not be available to the average repairman. The cost of getting an expert out to do the job at hand can be extremely pricey.”

… and could get even more expensive

Potential owners are also warned that grants for building repairs are becoming harder to obtain.

Chris Salmons from property law specialist, Quittance Legal Services, said: “This trend is likely to grow as we enter another period of austerity. Anyone looking to purchase a listed building will therefore need to carry out even more due diligence than normal into the potential maintenance issues that may arise during ownership.”

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Don’t forget to factor in insurance

Also bear in mind that given the importance of listed buildings – and the fact they come with numerous period elements which can cause problems – insurance costs can be steep.

These are all costs that need to be taken into consideration before you buy.

So what are the upsides?

While there are a lot of caveats to buying a listed property, there are plenty of upsides, too.

Banday said: “Owning a listed building certainly has its merits and can be very aesthetically pleasing, with original features – such as open fire places and wooden beams – holding a special interest.”

She also points out that if the property is sympathetically maintained, and altered in accordance with the listing requirements and with correct permissions, it will also increase in value.

This is a view shared by Wayman. He said: “Firstly, the fact the building is a listed property means it holds historical significance or architectural beauty, such as beams and features. This is a big positive. A listed building is also a great investment as this type of property rarely depreciates in value, unless it has been badly damaged and cannot be restored. These properties tend to be made of sturdy materials and have generally withstood the test of time. They are usually also found in sought-after locations, so you know you are hopefully making a good investment.”

Colby Short, founder of, added: “As grade-listed homes come with a range of rules, regulations and responsibilities to adhere to, they aren’t for everyone. However, for those who wish to own a small piece of the historic fabric of our nation, they are very sought after indeed.”

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