Top tips for buying a period property in London

Published: 23/10/2020

This year has made many of us re-evaluate our situation and what we want in a home, and for some buyers in London this means large oak beams, stone fireplaces, unexpected nooks and a fascinating history.  It’s easy to get swept away by the romance of owning a period property and it’s a dream of many. But before you rush in, you need to know understand that, like all properties, it isn’t always a bed of roses, which is why our team at Right Now Residential want to give you some guidance.  Here are our top tips for buying a period property in our beautiful London.

A period property doesn’t always mean beams and stone fireplaces, art deco homes with their striking angles, and geometric lines, have also made an architectural impact as are a number of post war buildings.

1. Is it listed?
Hearing that a property is listed can often make people fearful of taking it on, but it isn’t always as scary as it sounds.  Just because a property is old and has some stunning unique features, doesn’t mean it’s listed, which is why it’s always good to check before you make assumptions.  As you are no doubt aware, there are different categories of listings for period properties; the most common, accounting for 92% of listed properties, is Grade II.

With all listings, you will be able to understand what specifics of the home fall under the listing and what works you are envisioning that you will need to gain consent for. The higher the grade, the more features of the home will be classed as listed and require consent. Those properties given the highest significance, for their ‘special architectural or historic interest’, are Grade I, followed by Grade II*.

Just like every home, each listed property is unique in its own way, which is why what’s covered by the listing can vary widely.  If you have specific questions, we would advise checking with the local planning office.      

2. Costs
When you fall in love with a period home it’s essential to know what you are taking on.   A lot of old houses have higher maintenance costs than those for a new build home, whereas others have significant issues that could be a financial drain if you’re not prepared.  This is why having a survey conducted is a must for anyone considering buying such a property; the type of survey should be determined by the age and condition of the home.

Should the property need some major renovation or be listed, a structural survey will highlight any major repairs or issues. Knowing about these in advance will help you make the decision on whether this property is right for you at this time.  Depending on the age of your property and its features, the cost of maintenance and replacement due to wear and tear could be higher – that is, if you wish to keep those features alive – as you may require the skills of an experienced artisan who specialises in a specific historical craft.

3.   Structural concerns

One of the things an appropriate survey will highlight is if there are any structural concerns with the property.  These can be anything from simple fixes to more substantial issues.  From weakening door lintels and joists to roof rafters, rot can be the cause of many a structural problem.  One warning sign is when cracks and bulges appear on the walls inside and out of the house, as well as in the corners of windows and doors.   Just because the property has cracks, doesn’t mean it is a sign of a major issue – check with the owners, as they may have already had the problem assessed by an expert.

One thing many period property devotees love is their imperfections. Just because you a can see a number of blemishes, doesn’t mean the house is filled with disasters; it could just be another quirk that adds to the property’s charm and character, and another reason you want to make it your home.4.  DampIf you’ve lived in an older home, you will no doubt have experienced damp. Like structural issues, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have a major problem, so get it checked before you make any assumptions.  It could be something as simple as blocked gutters, especially at this time of year with the beautiful autumn leaves finding their way into many a drain.

5.   Energy efficiency
Not all period homes are held hostage in the dark ages; over the years, people have added modern features such as air source heat pumps and underfloor heating. So even though  it may have a year or two on its newer counterparts, the period home you’re looking at could be quite energy efficient.

But as we know, this is not always the case, and some period homes can have a very poor energy efficiency rating.  This means you need to budget for higher energy bills, especially in the colder months, unless you are able to improve the home’s thermal efficiency as part of your plans when it becomes yours.  Remember, if the property is listed, you will need to get any works approved prior to starting.

6.  Knowing its heritage
What’s the story of the home?  Every home has a history and, understanding the property’s archaeological heritage is not only fascinating but extremely beneficial.  You will get to know what materials have been used in its construction and if any modern-day techniques could be harmful to its fabric.  One of the best resources you have should your property be listed is your local conservation officer, you can also expand your knowledge by speaking to experts on the era.

7.  Let the battle begin
The biggest battle you may encounter is not with listings, surveys or experts, but something a little closer to home, your mind.  Buying any home is always a battle between your head and your heart, and we know from our own experience at Right Now Residential that this only intensifies when it comes to purchasing a period property.

Your heart will be swept away by the unique features,  the property’s charm will have hit you the minute you walked through the door, and its character has stayed with you from the moment you left.   Everything inside you says this is the one, whilst your head is screaming, “don’t ignore the costs and potential issues”.  

In many ways, you need your head to be in charge, because any home will have its challenges, but can you financially and emotionally survive this?  We’ve all seen the families on Grand Designs, Restoration Man and the like who have been dragged through the ringer because of things they didn’t anticipate or expect.  Now this is, of course, the worse-case scenario, but it’s something that you need to seriously consider.

Keep it alive
For many who take on a period property, they see themselves as custodians of our heritage. By preserving their home, they are preserving the past for future generations to enjoy.  A period home can bring you so much joy, but no matter what age of home you decide to buy, our team at Right Now Residential can offer a wealth of advice to help you find that dream home you seek.