Country houses for sale

Top ten things to look for when buying a period house

‘If only we had known…’ is the phrase I hear so many times when working with clients. I am not trying to put off potential buyers with this article – I am just suggesting that if you better understand the implications buying a period property you will hopefully have a much less stressful time.

Many period properties are ‘listed’. However, it often comes as a surprise to many that the ‘listed’ status applies to: the exterior; the interior; any object or structure fixed to it; and, any object or structure within the curtilage (garden) of the building.

Some period properties are not listed – but lie within ‘conservation areas’, which means external alterations and extensions need to be sensitive to their historic setting.

It is entirely possible to measure the ‘what?’, ‘where?, ‘why?’, ‘when?’ and ‘how much?’ – so that you can have a good idea of what kind of alterations are possible, or likely to be allowed, and what would not be, and more importantly, how much it is likely to cost.

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Alterations, adding extensions, or even just getting repairs approved it may take much longer than you think – which can be very expensive and stressful.  

To start with though, a good quality RICS Building Survey by a surveyor used to working on historic buildings goes some way to provide you with the information you need. However, an integrated Building and Historic Survey provides you with a much fuller picture of the undertaking ahead of you. The Historic Survey provides a clear understanding of the development phases of the building and a summary of all the key significant historic features (you will also need this information for the listed building consent process).

From this information it is then possible to identify what alterations are likely to be approved and what would be inappropriate. It also investigates if previous repairs have received approval from the local authority. A new owner inherits the legal liability for all previous repairs on a listed property since it was listed.

All this information then informs the Building Survey process, so that the recommended repairs or restoration are sympathetic to the history of the building, and costed to the appropriate standards.

Top 10 items to checking when buying a period property

1. Whether it is listed or not. If not listed, is it in a conservation area?
2. The structural issues
3. The damp issues
4. Does it need re-roofing
5. Does the house have sash windows or other key historic elements? Can you live with secondary double glazing?
6. Have all recent repair and restoration works had Local Authority approval and been done to the required standard?
7. If you want to extend will it be allowed?
8. If you want to alter the layout of the house, are you likely to getting listed building consent?
9. Do any or all the services need replacing? Can you install new ‘green’ energy alternatives or supplement?
10. How much will it all cost and how long will it all take?

You can easily over estimate what you will be allowed to do, and under estimate how much it will cost and how long it will take.

An integrated RICS Building and Historic Survey will be a very worthwhile investment that provides you with a realistic expectation of the costs involved and a better knowledge of the property.

Dr David Hickie was formerly assistant regional director with English Heritage before setting up his own independent practice – Heritage Matters. The company offer a range of services from Historic Building Surveys & Impact Assessments, Structural Surveys and Repair Costings to Planning and Listed Building Applications.

This is an article from ProjectBook which provides a wide range of information for the conservation, restoration, care and repair of period and listed buildings. Heritage Matters are members of the Heritage Register which contains over 500 vetted craftsmen, contractors and consultants from all over the UK. Updated daily with new content, the website features the heritage register, a products directory, informative articles, current news, events and more. For more information, visit