Listed buildings: Renovating a National Treasure

There are over half a million listed structures across the UK. Some might surprise you – for example the zebra crossing just outside the entrance to the Abbey Road Studios in London where the Beatles recorded their last studio album was given Grade II Listed status back in 2010. Others, like York Minster, are perhaps more obvious. However, the vast majority are private residences. It’s thought that some 350,000 homes are listed.

However, to paraphrase Spiderman’s Uncle Ben, with great buildings comes great responsibility and often great challenges, not the least of which can be finding the right insurance – but more of that later.

Buildings are given a listed status to mark their historical and architectural interest and also to protect them from damage and alterations that may detract from that special interest. The status that a listing brings does place restrictions on what the homeowner can and can’t do, which can make carrying out alterations and repairs a little more complicated and a little more costly.

Any renovation or improvement to the property’s interior or exterior is subject to listed building consent, which may also apply to what might be considered minor changes such as cleaning brickwork and even painting. There are no set rules. Each building is judged individually and it’s up to each local authority to advise what work will require consent on a property.

Whilst the golden rule is to consult with the local authority’s conservation officer, unfortunately, and perhaps inevitably, not everyone complies despite the fact that this is, in fact, a criminal offence. If the local authority discovers that an owner has made any alteration without the proper consent then they can take action to secure repairs at the owner’s expense. They can even make a compulsory purchase order.

If having bought a listed property, the new owner discovers that the vendor undertook work without the appropriate listed building consent, they risk incurring the cost of sorting it out – even completely undo it. It is possible to apply for listed building consent retrospectively, but this may well be rejected. And to add salt to the wound, a listed property to which unauthorised work has been carried out can be very hard to sell on.

Most lenders will want to know if building work on a listed property has the right consent, and it’s likely that any insurance provider will also ask the same question. Whilst indemnity insurance is available for undiscovered unauthorised works carried out by previous owners, it can be difficult to indemnify against known unapproved works.

If you are looking to purchase a listed building, or are in the fortunate position of already owning one, there are a number of factors that you need to take into consideration. However, there are clearly huge benefits to living in such a property, with most owners happy to accept the increased responsibility as a trade-off for the beautiful home they are able to live in and enjoy.