The UK is blessed with a huge supply and wide variety of beautiful period properties that are also homes. If you live in a listed building, make sure you protect ‘your’ little bit of national heritage with the proper home insurance.
What exactly is a listed building?
There are currently somewhere in the region of half a million listed buildings in the UK ranging from royal palaces and ecclesiastical structures to residential dwellings, farm buildings, civic and memorial buildings, and many other structures. ‘Listing’ denotes special historical or architectural importance due to the building’s national interest, age, rarity, aesthetic appeal or simply because it’s one of the best preserved or few examples of its kind still standing.
There are 3 categories of listing – Grade I, Grade II* or Grade II depending on the level of interest. Just over 90% of listed buildings in the UK are Grade II. Any buildings dating back to before 1700 are likely to be listed, and most built before 1834. As a general rule, buildings need to be at least 30 years old to be considered for listing.
You can check if a particular property is listed by checking with the local authority as well as regional organisations such as Historic England, Historic Environment Scotland, Cadw (in Wales) and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.
Are you thinking of buying a period property?
If you are considering buying a listed building, it is advisable to find out as much detailed information about the property and its status as you can. This will help you to plan/save for any specialist repairs that might be needed as well as crucial information for your home and buildings insurance that should be in place before you complete on your purchase.
What’s more, it’s also a good idea to make sure that there has been no breach of listed building consent by any of the previous owners, as you will be held liable. To protect you from this issue, it is possible to buy indemnity insurance for listed buildings which pays out if any illegal work is detected by an enforcement officer that necessitates remedial work.
It’s worth obtaining legal advice before your take out an indemnity insurance for listed building consent issues, because if it can be shown that you knew of any work not having been approved, this can invalidate your policy.
Non-standard home insurance
Indemnity cover is not the same as home insurance. Unfortunately, obtaining home insurance for a listed building is a more involved process than for a modern home. Mainstream insurance policies are unlikely to cover listed buildings because of their protected status.
The history and special architectural features, as well as the techniques and materials used in the construction means that specialist insurance will be required. Construction materials may include wattle and daub or old brickwork that is no longer used in modern building methods and can therefore be more expensive to source and install. Features like thatched roofs need looking after by skilled tradesmen, and of course older buildings can be more prone to problems such as damp and decay.
For all those reasons, non-standard home insurance for listed buildings is likely to come in at a higher premium compared to newer homes and non-listed properties.
Know your building’s history
Owning a listed building is a great privilege but it also carries a lot of responsibility for the owner to be a responsible guardian of a piece of national heritage. These buildings must be regularly and properly maintained, and the onus is on you as the owner to find out as much as you can about the history of the building so that you can understand how best to look after it. This includes things like regular inspections of the roof and gutters, cleaning chimneys, repainting woodwork, installing smoke alarms and intruder detectors as well as regular electrical checks.
Regular checks and maintenance are also required to reduce the risk of needing to make an insurance claim. Knowing when your period home was built and by whom, what it is made from and what repairs have been carried out to date (and any documentation and certification to go with it) are all essential pieces of information.
If possible, instruct a specialist surveyor to take a good look at your home and produce a detailed condition report to eliminate any nasty surprises, and get and accurate idea of cost for any repairs and rebuilding work. Listed building experts Hutton + Rostron, for instance, can produce historic building surveys that use ‘minimally invasive techniques with the focus on conservation and preservation’ including deploying their famous ‘rot hounds’ to detect evidence of dry rot.
This information may also be useful for any potential insurance to obtain a quote.
Making changes to a listed property
Listed buildings can be altered, enhanced or extended, provided that listed building consent is granted by your local planning authority. Historic England’s website states that ‘listing is not a preservation order, preventing change. It does not freeze a building in time, it simply means that listed building consent must be applied for in order to make any changes to that building which might affect its special interest’.
It can be a complex process, though. While modern heating appliances, for instance, are now widely accepted, specific methods such as using lime mortar to render a pre-1910 house are likely to be insisted on. While this may be an onerous obligation on the owner, the reason is perfectly sensible: using cement mortar externally or plastic based paints on the inside can cause damp and rotting timber.
In addition to obtaining listed building consent, you must also let your insurance company know of the changes you intend to make, and it’s a good idea to have an accurate valuation of the property at your disposal. Altering a listed building without consent is a criminal offence. You also need to comply with building regulations, which are separate from planning consent.