Home purchasing

Buy a listed building

Although the days of lockdowns and foreign travel bans are now (hopefully) firmly behind us, demand for a home in the country continues to be strong with buyers still looking for that home quintessential country estate brimming with unique charm and character. With many of these properties considered to be of particular architectural and historical interest and thus carrying listed building status, it is important to understand how the purchase of a listed building may impact future use and enjoyment. of the property – and what a buyer should specifically check before making an acquisition.

Understand the list

Historic England maintains a register of all nationally protected historic buildings. The list will cover the entire building (including later extensions and additions) as well as curtilage of the building and all structures within it. The buyer should examine the entrance to the property to understand if it is listed Grade I (for buildings of utmost importance), Grade II or Grade II*, and if there are any features noted as being particularly important .

Future work

Any future alterations to the interior or exterior of the building will likely require a listed building permit (which is entirely separate from the planning permission) and the purchaser should understand that any proposed works which may alter the architectural interest or specific history of the building be subject to rigorous checks.

If the purchase is conditional on the ability to carry out certain work in the future, the purchaser should consult a specialist heritage consultant to determine whether such consent is likely to be granted. Where absolute certainty is required, the buyer might consider offering the exchange subject to obtaining consent – ​​if the commercial terms of the agreement can be negotiated to allow for this delay.

Hire a specialist surveyor

The buyer must make sure to appoint a surveyor specialized in listed buildings from the outset and who can provide a complete analysis of both the physical condition of the building; and all past changes. The surveyor should indicate whether the previous work has been carried out in accordance with the listed planning permission, including all conditions and drawings and plans which have been approved by the local authority. The surveyor should work with the purchaser’s attorney to ensure that all work completed has obtained the required construction consent or to identify and investigate any violations.

Unauthorized work

It is a criminal offense to carry out (or have carried out) work in a listed building without the required building permit. If prosecuted, this could lead to an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison.

There is an ongoing risk for a buyer after purchase that the local authority may choose to take enforcement action and the works may need to be reinstated. There is no time limit within which the local authority must initiate enforcement action, so (unlike breaches of planning permission) the works will never be safe. Failure to comply with a Listed Building Enforcement Notice is also a criminal offence.

Solutions where to buy with a known breach

If breaches of the classified building permit are identified during the purchase due diligence, the buyer should not panic (as this is not uncommon and is often minor). Possible solutions will depend on the facts, but may include the following:

  1. Purchase the property notwithstanding the breaches and the risk of enforcement action being taken in the future – the length of time the works have been in situ and the nature of the breaches will be important considerations here and it is important to understand that this option is unlikely to be feasible when mortgage financing is obtained.
  2. Obtain retroactive consent for works – it may be useful to seek the advice of a heritage consultant as to whether retroactive consent is likely to be granted for defaults. Many sellers will resist having to obtain retroactive consent due to the time and risk involved – so the buyer may have to deal with this after completion. Again, this may not be an option with financing as a lender is likely to require retrospective consent to be obtained before advancing funds.
  3. Find out if an indemnity insurance policy can be obtained for a reasonable premium. The seller would usually pay the policy as it is a defect in their title, but this would have to be negotiated. The insurance would provide financial compensation in the event that enforcement action is taken in the future. Such a policy is likely to be invalidated by future work carried out on the building and therefore may not be appropriate if work is planned in the future.

In summary: the purchase of a listed building requires increased diligence on past modifications as well as in-depth reflection on future projects. With the right guidance, all of this can be easily navigated!

If you require further information on any subject covered in this briefing, please contact Laura Conduit, Jenna Whistler or your usual firm contact on +44 (0)20 3375 7000.

This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your particular situation.

© Farrer & Co LLP, November 2022