Is buying a listed building, house or flat, not worth the hassle?
ASK THE EXPERT
Q. Is buying a listed property likely to be more trouble than it’s worth?
A. Living in a listed property may be prestigious, but it also brings responsibilities - and it is those responsibilities which put some people off the idea. Owning a listed property, it is widely believed, merely puts you at the mercy of petty local bureaucrats and exorbitantly expensive specialist craftsmen.
But is this fair? Yes, there are certain restrictions on what you can and can’t do in order to bring listed buildings up to modern standards, and put your own stamp on them. Generally speaking, however, owners of such properties tend to regard themselves as custodians of a piece British history, and are happy to accept the limits on their freedom of action which that implies.
Besides, the simple fact is that in practice, living with a listed property isn’t really such a big deal anyway – particularly in the case of the Grade II classification, which accounts for the vast majority of them. Listed status certainly doesn’t mean you can’t touch anything at all - it just means you are obliged to respect the character of the building. You only have to look around at listed properties which have already been modernised, (and there are surprising numbers of them) to see that it’s perfectly possible to include every creature comfort, from luxury fitted kitchens to wet rooms. And ironically, while alterations to an existing listed building may well mean using appropriate traditional materials and methods, brand new extensions will often require modern materials - in order to ensure a noticeable difference between old and new!
If you do decide to buy a listed property, it’s important to use a solicitor who is familiar not only with the area, but also with the sort of anomalies that may crop up during legal enquiries. For the same reasons, you should use a local surveyor with good experience of listed buildings, who fully understands the structure.
Finally, when it comes to making any alterations, it’s always best to involve the local listed buildings people from day one. They are generally extremely co-operative, and in some cases may just be relieved that someone is prepared to take on a particular property. They fully appreciate that people have to live in the 21st century – so they certainly won’t expect you to continue drawing water from a well, or insist that you only read by candlelight!