Property: Downside of making the grade

The Abrams were charmed when their Georgian house in Stockport became a Grade 11-listed building. But no one warned them that buyers would be scared off by the costs of compliance.

NONE OF that self-doubt about the value of our homes need trouble the owner of a listed property. Distinguished, glorious, an architectural gem - whatever the reason for its place in the national register no one can question the fact that it is special.

Tony and Joan Abrams needed no official reassurance that the Georgian house they bought near Stockport in the Sixties was a treasure. A few years later they were more delighted that their house was recognised as being of local historical interest when a letter arrived proposing it be Grade II-listed. Thirty years on, the Abrams regret agreeing so easily.

For the past year, The Old Hall, Marple, has been for sale and it is of little comfort to the Abrams to be told listed buildings have an enhanced value. As would be expected with a lovely house in an idyllic spot it has drawn enormous interest.

But potential buyers dropped out because of their worries about the extra cost of complying with listed building consent. The Abrams' found buyers will not commit themselves without an idea of building costs, yet until they know precisely what they can do, they cannot budget.

"We didn't realise that to have the house listed would reduce its price by a chunk," says Tony Abrams. "We are well aware most people will want to update the interior but we never expected it to be so complicated. If we could de-list the house we would. Nobody from the local authority has been to look around the house, so how can they know what should be preserved? Major alterations were made in 1945." Frustration at the lack of guidance forced the first buyer to throw in the towel. "I couldn't get a steer on what my costs might be and as I was trying to budget for renovations it scared me to death," he said.

"For instance, I was told the beams holding up the floorboards would probably have to be replaced with thick timber which would have been prohibitively expensive and required a specialist carpenter. But why not allow concealed metal girders? I intended restoring it sensitively - but I don't have a pot of gold."

English Heritage, which advises the government on all aspects of historic buildings, is sensitive to the charge of making unrealistic demands on owners. Paul Velluet, assistant regional director for London, says: "Listed building control is not a process by which a building is frozen but it regulates the extent and nature of change so the special interest and features of a building are preserved."

Last year, he says, 90 per cent of more than 4,500 applications were approved, 5 per cent rejected and 5 per cent not pursued by the applicants.

Although English Heritage is not involved with Grade 11 buildings outside London, Mr Velluet recommends discussing proposals with the conservation officer before an application. "There is scope for loose informal discussion, but the only sure guarantee is in response to an application with detailed drawings. An essential prerequisite is understanding the needs of the owner and that is a matter of professional judgement on the part of the architect and planning officer."

A major problem is that official opinion can vary widely, says Peter Anslow of the Listed Property Owners Club. "Each local conservation officer has his own set of criteria about what constitutes changes to a building. The only possible route forward is to meet at the property with a blank sheet of paper and have a one-to-one discussion about the project. If you go straight for the official route it can be a nightmare."

Disagreement often occurs about the use of modern methods of construction and what should be preserved in a house that has seen numerous changes over the years. John Hunter, a developer who restored a terrace of Georgian houses in London, says: "The floors were sloping and there were gaps under the doors because the backbone of the houses had slipped. I was told it was part of the character of the terrace and should not be changed. I pointed out that it wasn't built with uneven floors."

The difficulty will always be in balancing the conservationists' argument that the crucial character of a house evolves over the years with the owners' plans and budget. English Heritage insist cornices, fireplaces and panelling cannot be swept away simply because they are not of the same period as the building, and buildings are listed in their entirety.

Henry Holland-Hibbert, a director of Lane Fox, the estate agent, says buyers should not be shy of a listed building. "Their chief worry is that it will need continuous maintenance and repair, but that is true only if the people before made a botched job. If a house does need work, it is far better if the seller gets a full structural survey done and gives copies to prospective buyers. That way everything is out in the open."

The Abrams house, with its 3ft-thick walls, is in a beautiful setting, close to fishing lakes, with a mill leat running across its boundary. Among its curiosities is a tunnel leading from the garden under the road into the field opposite. The Old Hall was listed because of its industrial history and is not a typical Georgian country house.

But it would be sad if that were not preserved says their daughter, Fran. "It was a brilliant place to be a child," she says. "Never mind that the heating didn't reach our bedrooms, it was still worth waking up in a freezing room. But what matters now is that the house should get the treatment it deserves. It is falling into disrepair while there are people who are keen to take it on. They just need guidance."

The Old Hall, Marple, is for sale through Bridgfords (0161 449 0317) at a price of pounds 279,950. Listed Property Owners Club offers advice on restoration and insurance: 01795 844949

correction

Watermark Resorts have asked us to point out that contrary to our report last week stating they no longer exist, they are alive and well in second-home developments

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

    £14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

    £13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent