What to consider when buying a historic property

By Paul Gowers
Posted on:
Row of characteristic English houses

Are you looking to buy a residential property and have fallen for the charms of a period home? We all know that older buildings offer beautiful and unique features and a wealth of character that modern homes and new-builds simply cannot compete with. From generous room sizes to architectural features such as original fireplaces, sash windows, stained-glass and more, there’s much to fall in love with.

However, maintaining or restoring an old house can be costly and time-consuming. Before you invest your hard-earned cash into a historic building, we would strongly recommend that you make a decision based on your head, not your heart. It is also a prudent move to set aside some contingency funds for repairs and renovation. Finally, carefully consider the time it will take to make your dream property into a dream home – time is money, as we know.

Gowers Surveyors are specialists in historic property. We offer a dedicated Historic Building Survey specially designed for period properties, historic structures and unique buildings constructed before 1919. The report provides additional details about how to care for your period home so you can enjoy the property for many years.

Here are some key questions you should be asking before you buy:

How do you deal with damp and mould?

Damp issues are a common problem with old buildings built with solid walls which now no longer have adequate ventilation due to energy efficiency improvements and the elimination of draughts. There may be a musty smell in carpets, curtains or cupboards, or tell-tale signs on walls and ceilings. Look out for roof damage that may have caused leaks, or blocked guttering and drains.

Are you prepared for structural defects?

Before you can start redecorating, you need to establish whether the house is structurally sound. Small cracks may be nothing to worry about in an older building, bug large cracks in walls or ceilings, especially around doors or windows, could be a serious sign of structural movement that should never be ignored.

What about gas and electrics?

Rewiring and replumbing an old house can cost thousands, so look out for evidence of an old electrical system – old fuse box with ceramic fuses, cast iron switches, old-fashioned sockets, surface mounted cabling etc. Check the age of the central heating system too – a boiler often needs replacing after fifteen years.

How old are the pipes and drainage system?

Lead was commonly used for underground pipes but we now know that lead water pipes can be a health risk and need replacing. What’s more, old drainage systems can sometimes need to be replaced to avoid the risk of leakage damaging the foundations.

Are there any planning restrictions?

If the property is located in a Conservation Area or has designated listed status, planning restrictions will apply and your permitted development rights will be curtailed. Before you can carry out any refurbishments, check with the local planning authority whether you require planning consent or Listed Building Consent for the proposed works.

Buying a charming old house is all very well, but adopting a rose-tinted view towards the work that may need to be carried out can prove a costly mistake. The time, effort and dedication required to restore an old house can be physically, emotionally and financially draining. Before you take the important decision to buy a period home, consider whether you are ready and able to embark on this journey.

At Gowers Surveyors, we specialise in Historic Building Surveys and can provide valuable expert advice to help you make an informed and confident decision. We have many years’ experience with traditional construction methods and materials and can explain how an old building works, what you can and cannot do in a listed building, why an old house needs to ‘breathe’ and may not need a damp proof course.

If you would like to find out more about how to arrange a Historic Building Survey for a property you are thinking of buying please get in touch with our friendly, professional team.

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