Country houses for sale

Barn conversions: pros and cons

Barn conversions are like Marmite: you either love them or hate them. ‘There is always a percentage of buyers that steers clear of them, as they’re just not their thing,’ says William Kirkland of John D. Wood. This strong reaction often stems from the way people respond to the trade-off between the attractive features of living in a converted barn and its potential drawbacks compared to a conventional house. A barn’s main advantage is the sheer volume it offers. High (often vaulted) ceilings, glazed, full-height cart entrances and open-plan areas provide a great sense of space, creating contemporary interiors in a period setting.

As a result, barn conversions often appeal to ‘a younger, more modern-thinking buyer,’ explains John Woodward of Geering & Colyer, but also to downsizers, as there is plenty of space for their big furniture without the burden of lots of bedrooms. That said, local authorities often impose restrictions on conversions, which result in unusual layouts or disproportionately sized living or sleeping areas.

For example, planners insist on the central bay being left full height in many period barns, which means that the first-floor bedrooms often get split into two wings, with a main bedroom at one end of the building and another at the opposite end, off a separate staircase. That’s fine for an adult couple who want an independent guest bedroom, but inappropriate for a family with children.

That said, the pros and cons of living in a barn conversion are dependent to a large extent on the character of your chosen building and the quality of the conversion work. For example, many barn conversions attract buyers because they’re situated in beautiful rural locations-places where you would never achieve planning permission to build a new house these days.

Others, however, are adjacent to working farms, or are part of small outbuilding developments, meaning that privacy, space and views may be limited. Shared drives and services may also be a contentious issue, according to Nick Forman of Freeman Forman. Interiors can also differ widely. Some barns, particularly those converted in the 1980s (when it was fashionable to turn your outbuildings into conventional houses, complete with dark-stained timbers), can feel cramped and oppressive, says Russell Hill of Harington’s, whereas more recent conversions make better use of space and light. The very best ones combine the drama and features of the original building with the practicality and comforts of a new-build. They also strike the right balance between living and sleeping space-if a barn has a series of large reception rooms, but only one bedroom, it will be harder to resell, warns Jonathan Bramwell of The Buying Solution.

Older conversions can also be expensive to heat. By contrast, huge improvements in building technology have transformed the thermal efficiency of barns, potentially making them a cut above houses from the same period. For example, explains property-search agent Colin Mackenzie, ‘a 5,400 sq ft barn we purchased recently for clients showed an energy-efficiency rating of 56-most houses of the same age would show a rating of 24 to 28′. With such a marked difference in quality, it pays to research a barn conversion thoroughly before making an offer, scrutinising everything from the quality of the insulation to the title deeds. And bear in mind rights of way, special easements and covenants-you may find that a neighbouring landowner has retained right
of access for farm vehicles.

But perhaps the largest caveat for buyers is the enormous financial and emotional cost of converting a barn yourself. Although ready-converted barns cost about as much (or even a little less) than a conventional house of similar size, and generally hold their value, the conversion work itself can be more expensive than building a property from scratch (especially if you have to deal with a listed building requiring the use of specific materials), and you may not recover your costs fully when you resell. ‘I’ve seen budgets obliterated during conversion, with the end result being far from the dream the buyer started out with,’ says Claire Carter of Freeman Forman. So if you think a barn is for you, it may be best to pick one that has already been converted.

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