A beginner's guide to buying a listed property

Posted 5 May 2015 by Stephen Maunder

All of the talk in property circles at the moment seems to be about new homes – how many can we build, where can we build them and why haven’t we built enough in recent years? With estimates on housebuilding numbers varying wildly, homes can almost seem disposable – so why not take a look at the properties that definitely aren’t going anywhere? There is currently in excess of 375,000 listed buildings in the UK – but is it really realistic to purchase one of your own? 

What is a listed building?

Buildings are awarded listed status to mark their architectural or historical interest, and to give them protection against any alterations that may affect this interest. All buildings that retain their original structures built before 1700 have listed status, while most buildings constructed before 1840 do too. Listed buildings don’t have to be hundreds of years old, but the status is usually reserved for those at least 30 years old.

What are the grades?

Grade II listed buildings are structures of ‘special interest’. Grade II* are ‘more than special interest’ and Grade I are ‘exceptional interest’. 92% of listed buildings in the UK are Grade II, 5% Grade II* and just 2.5% Grade I.

Why are some people reluctant about purchasing listed homes?

There is a misconception that listed buildings cannot be altered. Changes can be made in some circumstances, but carrying out unauthorised alterations or extensions to a listed building is a criminal offence, and can lead to a huge bill to restore the building to its original state.

Why is the Conservation Officer important?

The Conservation Officer will be an employee of the local council, whose job it is to ensure the character of a property remains intact. The Conservation Officer will have the power to grant or deny permission to make changes to your home, and may also dictate which materials you can use to make the changes. Listed Building Consent is comparable to planning permission, although no fees are involved.

Is there anything I need to be particularly careful of?

Buyers should check carefully for any unauthorised work on their prospective property by previous owners, as once the home is purchased the buyer is responsible, regardless of when this work was carried out. Home insurance can help you get past this issue, but can be significantly more expensive for listed buildings.

What should I do before buying a listed home?

Consult specialists on the relevant architectural period to get advice on what kind of changes might be allowed on your property. These groups include The Georgian Group, Victorian Society and Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

Ensure you are totally up to date with the current planning advice and guidelines, which can change over time. The English Heritage website should be your first port of call, and will also be your first point of contact should you experience a dispute with your local planning authority.

Find out who your neighbours will be. Any decisions made on your proposed changes or renovations will take the wider community into consideration – so if you are surrounded by similar listed properties your scope could be limited considerably. Good neighbours can also be valuable allies should any planning disputes occur.

Expert Opinion

James Greenwood of Stacks Property Search

Should I buy a listed property?

“Whether you decide to buy a listed property should depend on whether you love the house as it is, or whether you want to make significant changes. Remember, the curtilage, and all buildings within the curtilage, fall into the category, so any grand designs you have for the gardens and outbuildings need to be passed by the Listed Buildings Officer.

“It is worth checking if there is any specific feature that underpins the status of the property, as this is likely to be completely non-negotiable in terms of modifications, while a more relaxed attitude may be adopted when it comes to other less important features or areas of the property.”

Who can advise me?

“Make an early appointment with a Listed Buildings Officer or Conservation Officer, who will give an indication of whether your proposed changes seem appropriate.”

Grade I or Grade II

“Grade I Listed properties and Grade II* Listed properties are a much more serious matter than Grade II Listed. The chances of getting permission to make changes to these properties are remote, so purchasers need to be sure that they love the property as it is. The kudos of owning one of these properties is also much greater.”

Can I make changes without listed building consent?

“Making changes without Listed building consent would be making a big mistake. An enforcement notice is an expensive piece of paper, and even if you get away with internal changes at the time, they will become a big problem if you come to sell.”

Find out more at www.stacks.co.uk ; 01594 842880

Example Properties

Hazel Tor Barn
Lower Soar, Malborough, Devon

A charming Grade II listed four-bedroom barn conversion with sea views, located within a ten-minute walk of Soar Mill Cove and the South West Coastal Path. The current owners oversaw the conversion of the slate stone farmhouse and barns, which has resulted in a picturesque group of dwellings.

Find out more at www.marchandpetit.co.uk ; 01548844473 

Thirston House
West Thirston, Morpeth, Northumberland


Thirston House is an exceptional Grade II listed country house, which was extensively renovated by the present owners in 1996. Constructed in 1820 by John Dobson and internally remodelled in 1902, the property provides generously proportioned and versatile accommodation. It is set within eight acres of private, landscaped grounds but is accessible to local amenities and the A1.

Find out more at www.smithsgore.co.uk ; 01434 632001


Click here to see your activities