Period dramas

Buying a listed property in need of restoration is not for the faint of heart, but follow these few simple steps to avoid becoming a nervous wreck(ing ball).

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Funding for the multi-million-pound refurbishment of Buckingham Palace was approved by MP’s earlier this year (March 15), after officials had announced in November that £369 million was needed to avoid ‘catastrophic building failure’. The works began in April.

Fortunately, most country house buyers will not face the replacement of 100 miles of 1950s electrical cabling and 20 miles of heating pipework. However, there are some caveats to be digested before embarking on a large restoration – particularly if the house is listed.

One of the first to consider is insurance which of often forgotten. Most good household policies will include restoration, renovation and extension works up to £50,000 without the need to notify insurers, but once you exceed this level, you risk invalidating the policy. ‘Expert advice at the start of the project is essential,’ says Alec Moore of brokers Weatherbys Hamilton. ‘Insurers can provide advice for the protection and security of existing buildings and possessions.’

Stories of projects overshooting their budgets abound. ‘Restoration to a certain Grade II listed country house recently started at £30,000 and is now £200,000 and counting. The owner discovered unexpected issues many as a result of the listing,’ cautions Mr Moore. One way to avoid the pitfalls when it comes to listed country houses is to read the description of the property on the National Heritage List. This normally details why the building was listed in the first place and will help to explain the elements that make it special.

‘Another step would be to review the planning history of the property,’ advises Richard Winsborough of City & Country, a developer that specialises in the restoration of listed buildings, including the King Edward VII Estate near Midhurst, West Sussex. ‘It’s worth consulting old Ordnance Survey plans of the area and searching the local archive office for documents and photographs, as this can reveal layers of history hidden within your property.’

As each council varies in its approach to what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of extensions or renovations to listed houses, owners should look at the council website to see what’s been allowed elsewhere. ‘Your local Conservation Officer might be happy to discuss plans informally before you submit an application, too,’ adds Mr Winsborough.

Where owners have the opportunity, they should try to future-proof their house as much as possible. It’s not always easy but introduce as much light as you can; just like the Georgians, we crave light rooms and that trend is unlikely to change,’ says Rupert Lawson-Johnson of Strut & Parker. ‘Lower floors in cottages to create taller ceilings and paint dark beams. Key among all things these day is to focus on the tech – it’s a lovely surprise to find a 16th or 17th century farmhouse with super-fast broadband.’