Listed buildings needn't always be a nightmare to restore. By Mary Wilson
Some purchasers might dream about buying a dilapidated listed house and bringing it back to its former glory, but the majority are daunted by the enormity of the task, the problems of dealing with English Heritage, listed building officers and planners.

"Any purchaser interested in listed property should proceed with caution" says Martin Higgins of Ekins Surveyors. "The Planning, Listed Building and Conservation Areas Act 1990 governs what you can and can't do. A breach is a criminal offence punishable by a fine of pounds 20,000 and/or imprisonment."

That puts most people off, but occasionally properties come on the market with all the hard work done. Planning permission has been obtained, major structural work done - but there is still the interior.

Mr Higgins says: "When you buy a `shell' property that is listed, you must be aware that you need to go though the process of gaining approvals for all the work you intend to do to the interior.

"You will need to be careful about room divisions and about not losing architectural features such as fireplaces and decorative plaster work." In a Grade I property, you have to tread particularly carefully as every detail has to be acceptable to the listed building officers, right down to paint colour.

In Hampshire, John D Wood is selling The Mill, an 18th-century Grade II listed building, on the banks of the Itchen at Shawford, near Winchester. The mill was partly converted into offices by the vendors and they are selling the remainder with planning for residential use.

"We had a lengthy debate as to whether our clients should do up the residential part and sell it finished, but we thought new owners would probably want to change it to their taste," says Philip Blanchard, of John D Wood.

The three-storey mill already has a flagstone ground floor, with glass- topped coffee table, housing the original turbines of the mill. This would make a wonderful dining hall with kitchen/breakfast room and study. On the next floor up there is space for three bedrooms, and the top floor, which is vaulted, could be a magnificent drawing room.

"The property is ready for people to model as they want," says Blanchard. "They would need to put in walls, a kitchen and bathrooms." The property, with about an acre of land, is on the market for pounds 425,000.

Hassobury Mansion, in Farnham, near Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire, is being converted into five houses. The 19th century mansion is set in 200 acres of parkland, of which the five owners will have the use of 12 acres.

Although four houses are being sold finished, the central one with around 8,000 sq ft is currently as it was when the building was a school. With a magnificent hallway and space for eight bedrooms and four reception rooms, the developers would sell it now for around pounds 500,000.

"Finished it would be worth around pounds 795,000," says Tony Mullucks, of Mullucks Wells & Associates. "This is an opportunity for someone to put their own mark on a particularly fine property."

Swannington Hall, in Norfolk is being sold almost complete but without finishing touches. "The 16th century house was restored a little by a previous owner and then bought by the current vendors, who have done more work," says Louis de Soisson, of FPDSavills. "There is a rudimentary kitchen and bathrooms, the house has been given only a basic lick of paint and there are no outbuildings."

The vendors had applied for permission to build a garage and extravagant leisure complex against an old brick wall, but this had been turned down as being too grandiose. However, simpler additions would probably be acceptable and the architect's drawings and designs for a planned formal garden are available to look at. The Grade II* listed house, which has seven bedrooms and is set in 5.5 acres, is on the market for pounds 458,000.

In central London, four buildings in Mansfield Street, which were used as the headquarters of the Building Employers Confederation, have been bought by a developer, who has split them back into individual homes.

All signs of commercial enterprise have been removed, sealed doors have been opened up and original fireplaces and ceilings have been uncovered, but nothing more has been done to the interior.

Three are now available, and planning and listed permission has been obtained for a seven-bedroom, seven-reception room house at number 16, an eight-bedroom, five-reception room house at number 18 and a six-bedder at number 20. Egerton is selling these for pounds 4 million, pounds 3 million and pounds 2.75 million respectively.

Ekins Surveyors: 01322 626700; Mullucks Wells & Associates: 01279 755400; FPDSavills: 01603 229229; John D Wood: 01962 863131; Egerton: 0171-493 0676