Jun 18, 2021
7 min read
Quirky architectural nooks, preserved period features, beautifully exposed beams and roaring open fires... they’re all part of the old house dream. It’s easy to be seduced by a wisteria-covered cottage with wonky walls and heaps of personality. But chasing this romantic ideal can be risky, with many willing to buy an old or period property without fully considering the reality that awaits.
Generally, a period property refers to one built before the First World War. You’ll also be familiar with the terms ‘Victorian’, ‘Edwardian’ and ‘Georgian’ properties, which refer to the ruling monarch when the property was built. There are also plenty of stone buildings that predate this era, whether they were built as houses or were barns and stables recently turned into lavish living quarters.
Despite the fact that a fifth of homes in the UK were built before 1919, the supply of period homes is finite, which often translates to premium prices and hot competition when they come on the market. They’re full of character, often situated in picturesque, leafy areas and they tend to retain their value well.
Properties that are English Heritage listed have extra legal protection within the planning system that generally covers the whole property, interior, exterior and structures on attached land. While many home buyers actively seek out listed buildings, you should be aware of the implications.
If the property you’ve been eyeing up is listed, it will have further challenges and restrictions in terms of what you can do to the house. If you’d want to significantly alter the layout or add an extension, you may need to get listed planning permission. In this case, speak to a conservation officer to find out what might or might not be allowed.
Some period properties aren’t listed but are situated in a conservation area, which means any structural or aesthetic changes must be in keeping with the historical setting. Again, permission is required before any work is carried out.
Much of the charm in old homes lies within their period features, and the most successful period properties are those that have been sympathetically restored. After all, there’s little point in buying an older house if the first thing you do is block up an ornate fireplace and rip out traditional coving. Though if period features are looking worse for wear, it can be tempting to throw them out. However, a short hunt around a salvage yard often throws up some period gems so you can restore and revive the space.
Sympathetic period property renovation involves sourcing knowledgeable professionals and materials while taking plenty of time and care. It’s also important to note that when homeowners preserve older properties, they preserve the past for future generations to enjoy.
Some aspects of an old house will inevitably need modernisation, especially the kitchen and bathrooms. The kitchen tends to the hub of the home, so you may consider combining a few dinky rooms into one large open-plan kitchen/diner. Extensions are a great way to update the space and allow for bigger living spaces, but you may need planning permission first.
Extra or en suite bathrooms are another popular choice, although they can come at the cost of losing a bedroom, impacting the home’s resale value down the line. Converting the loft is one way of overcoming this problem (if there’s sufficient room for a staircase).
Some buildings are more adaptable than others. For some older properties, their essence lies within the small rooms, and knocking them together to create an open space can destroy that. Similarly, removing fireplaces and chimney breasts may give you more room, but you may compromise on the room’s proportions. We’ll repeat – sympathetic restoration is key.
When you’re viewing a period property, try not to let your heart rule your head. See past the quirky features to spot what could be potential headaches down the line. A few things to look out for include:
Just like any house purchase, you need to make sure the property is structurally sound. Old buildings tend to be full of surprises, so be prepared for a blotted copybook. A full building survey is essential, and drainage and chimney surveys are usually worth organising too. With a period property, it pays to know exactly what you’re dealing with.
If your heart is set on buying an old house, you’ll most certainly have to allow for a contingency fund for repairs and renovation. More than that, you’ll need to be prepared to live with potentially crooked doors, uneven walls and the occasional damp spot. These things go with the territory.
Also note that no two period properties are alike. Caring for a medieval timber-framed house will require different upkeep than an Edwardian terrace.
Older, period homes aren’t for everyone. There’s no denying that new houses are easier to maintain, from draughts to damp to drainage, electrics and Wi-Fi. Often, furniture can’t fit into the space, lead paint needs to be scraped away, and old pipes need a complete overhaul. Renovating an older property can very much be a labour of love. Yet, provided you have the funds, time and energy, you could end up with a beautiful, characterful home.
If you’re buying a period property, the golden rule is to take heed from your head, not your heart. Charming older homes can certainly cast a spell, but don’t rush into anything and be realistic about costs.
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- The properties featured in this article were live at time of publication.