Thinking of buying a 300 year old listed cottage. What do we need to know?

(51 Posts)
matildawormwood Mon 21-Jan-13 22:23:34

I've no experience of living in an older property, as we're moving out of a modern flat. We're thinking of making an offer on a 1723 listed weatherboarded cottage. This is not a renovation job as it seems in immaculate condition inside - upstairs floors a bit wonky but that's to be expected, beamed ceilings a bit low but we're only short!. We will have a full structural survey done but I'm a bit nervous about taking on such an old building and issues like upkeep, maintenance, cost of heating, potential pitfalls....Does anyone have any advice on things we should be asking the owners? Things to look out for? Hidden costs to be aware of? Thank you.

SizzleSazz Mon 21-Jan-13 22:28:15

IME Insurance will be more difficult to come by/expensive for non-standard (brick) construction and anything older than 1850

Extra heating will depend on insulation, you can have this retro fitted and you can get grants for loft insulation. Is it oil, LPG or mains gas?

Immaculate decoration could just be masking more serious underlying problems, but if listed and internal changes need approval then this should be less of a risk

Can you get a copy of the previous survey and works completed to rectify any issues?

Porkster Mon 21-Jan-13 22:37:38

We live in a house built in 1620.

All wonky, drafty, very low ceilings, no cavity walls etc.

Insurance is quite difficult to find, but ours doubly so as we have a river in our garden. Basically, we have stuck to the one company that gave us a policy.

Our heating costs are probably high - we have oil fired central heating plus electricity to pay for. But we have a multi-fuel burner in a massive inglenook which chucks out loads of heat.

But, aside from minor pitfalls it's the most gorgeous house with loads of character and we can't imagine living anywhere else.

stealthsquiggle Mon 21-Jan-13 22:43:08

You can search for all planning applications over the last decade or so on most local authority websites - useful to know what has been done.

Main issue - everything takes longer and costs more because there are no straight lines or right angles. I would want to know how old heating, plumbing and wiring are, and don't assume that you will be allowed to do anything to it, however sensible it might seem (like double glazing)

Buildings insurance - try the Listed Property Owners Club. You have to pay to join, but that is more than paid for by the difference in insurance cost (for us, at least)

ClareMarriott Mon 21-Jan-13 22:51:10

Are there any ancient covenants or liabilities that you might find you're liable for ?

matildawormwood Mon 21-Jan-13 22:53:22

Thank you so much. Really helpful. Hadn't thought of insurance issue.
It's gas central heating and there was a huge woodburner and underfloor heating in kitchen and bathroom so I'm hoping it won't be too cold though it could be expensive to heat.

I know the current owners extended the house a few years ago – not all of the walls are original so they were able to get permission to do this. Don't think we'd ever be allowed double glazing but I'm not too fussed. They weren't able to tell me how old the wiring was as it was in place when they moved in six years ago, which is one of the main things I'm worried about.

I'm having a head versus heart battle as I know a newer property would be the more sensible option but I've kind of fallen in love with it a bit. Just don't want to bite off more than we can chew (neither I nor DP are big DIY fans).

recall Mon 21-Jan-13 22:57:28

Go with your heart and enjoy living there. Log burners are excellent and provide a good source of heat, feels different to central heating. Things are a bit wonky but it all adds to the character - good luck !

SizzleSazz Mon 21-Jan-13 22:57:48

Ours is 1750 and we love it and have never regretted it <heart won lol> grin

matildawormwood Mon 21-Jan-13 23:07:49

Great to hear from those who love living in these older buildings. Really encouraging. I've always loved staying in this kind of cottage for holidays but am very aware that requirements for a permanent family home might be a bit different.

matildawormwood Mon 21-Jan-13 23:09:21

Good point clare, how would I go about finding that out?

DeepRedBetty Mon 21-Jan-13 23:11:50

Ours is c 1685, it is a money pit. The wiring and plumbing are massive bodge jobs, and we're in the throes of real agro with EH, they're insisting we have to exactly replace the early 19th c jerry built bit which is leaking like a sieve because it's the wrong type of render for the brick and timber older structure beneath.

Fuel bills are hell, and there's a spring in the cellar so that fills up with water in wet winters. Like this one.

I dream of a house with square corners, flat floors and no damp bits. Both DP and I were brought up in older houses, and our first two homes together were period too but this one just plain sucks.

SizzleSazz Mon 21-Jan-13 23:12:35

We have a covenant that we cannot remove a mulberry bush (it was already gone when we arrived grin) and our neighbours have a right of veto over any planning applications (never exercised this despite planning applications being made)

These were all highlighted during the solicitors searches

DeepRedBetty Mon 21-Jan-13 23:14:32

x posted. If it was just me and DP we'd manage, but I hate having damp, dodgy electrics that'll cost a fortune to fix, and all the rest of it, with children to worry about. When the plumbing last went wrong dd1 was in tears, she wailed 'I hate this house'.

ijustwanttobeme Mon 21-Jan-13 23:16:24

The only thing I'd want to know: is it haunted?

DeepRedBetty Mon 21-Jan-13 23:17:21

Anyway, must stop ranting... of course not every older house is a soggy, deathtrap money pit. Good luck whatever you decide. But be aware, it was my heart that ruled my head with this one, and DP was dragged along by my enthusiasm - he had reservations, mostly to do with things like the electrics, but I prevailed.

stealthsquiggle Mon 21-Jan-13 23:19:30

DeepRedBetty - there was a point last year when DD plaintively said "Mummy, it would be really nice to live in a house with no leaks" sad get but we are pouring money into it winning slowly noq

I was brought up in a 350 year old house, I miss it all the time.
If you are concerned about the electrics you can ask/book a specific electrical survey, they should be able to measure flow of power around the various rings around the house and would be able to talk about the age of the installation, when it would need updating and what it would most likely cost you.
I would imagine that if lots of work has been done recently essential things like power have had attention too.

You are right on the double glazing, you might want to look into secondary glazing, there are several firms around who will make this for you, bespoke for each window as they are bound to be different shapes and sizes.

Old houses creak, you will learn which bit makes what noise... I had no chance, ever, as a teenager coming home late as the stairs were almost tuneful lol!

Our home now is newer (120 years lol) brick and timber framed, our insurance is standard but from 150 years upwards fewer companies do anything affordable, have a look at NFU Mutual, they are great for things like old houses etc

Personally I think it sounds great, tbh they are like all houses, mend holes, clean the guttersnipe paint the woodwork and keep it warm and dry and you will, pretty much, be ok

SizzleSazz Mon 21-Jan-13 23:25:51

Our insurance is with the Co-op and is pretty competitive. Under £400 IIRC and with a pretty high contents value. Sadly all DH's books and not my diamond collection wink

SizzleSazz Mon 21-Jan-13 23:26:32

We started with quotes over £900 shock so you definitely have to shop around!

SaggyOldPregnantCatpuss Mon 21-Jan-13 23:26:52

You need a FULL structural survey by someone who specialises on old buildings. A good friend of mine bought a 400yo cottage. Lived with it for a few years, then decided to get a builder out to reinstate a door from the lounge to the garden. The builder who did it discovered that building work in the 70s had left the oak frame embedded in a concrete foot plate, causing serious damp, meaning that the bottom 3 ft of oak were sawdust. 2/3 of the way round the house. The only thing holding the house up was wattle and daub! Repairs cost in excess of 60k. Without the visit from the builder, the house could well have collapsed with them inside.

matildawormwood Mon 21-Jan-13 23:33:37

Goodness, plenty of food for thought here. Saggy, that's my worst nightmare! That, and finding it's haunted! Hadn't thought of that ijustwant, thanks for pointing that out wink

Toomuchtea Tue 22-Jan-13 07:52:04

Yes, as Saggy says, do get a full structural survey. Immaculate decoration all too often means money's been spent on the frilly, feel-good bits, but the actual structure completely ignored:thousands spent on kitchens and bathrooms, but the roof still leaks.

Toomuchtea Tue 22-Jan-13 08:00:06

Be prepared for the unexpected too: we had no idea when we moved in that our water supply was shared with next door, which wouldn't have been so bad had we not been on a meter. We had to pay the bill, and then try and recoup their share from next door. Nightmare.

Neither did we have any idea that our water supply actually started in a completely different road to ours, and that the chamber we thought was ours was not. That was a lot of fun when we had a ginormous leak; even more so when the water board, successive plumbers and even a water diviner all completely failed to find the leak. In the end we had to have a totally new water supply, though that did have the handy side effect of giving us our own supply.

Our house is medieval with Georgian additions, and it has been great to have the space; the character and the history. The endless demands on our wallets: not so great. DeepRedBetty, I completely sympathise with your plumbing nightmares.

stealthsquiggle Tue 22-Jan-13 08:01:44

<reads saggy's post and panics for a moment about our 1980's concrete floors>

No oak frames here though [phew]. Stone walls and no foundations All we need to worry about is all the internal, visible oak and the worm holes in it grin

We live in an old house ( about 1830 )

It is a money pit , only because the previous owner did some rather unusual improvements .

We've had central heating put in ( oil fired , no mains gas where we live )
Hot water comes from the Aga .

Our oil bill is huge ! It's quite a large house, but I think old houses take a lot of heating up , so find out about running costs

No double glazing , so draughts everywhere .

Roof looks a bit dodgy , buries head in sand

People say to me " ooooh you're so lucky , living in that lovely house " and I think if only you knew ...

SizzleSazz Tue 22-Jan-13 10:29:23

Oh yes, our water supply is shared with (at least) one neighbour. However it means we cannot be on a meter so i'm ok with that!

Saggy, we have stone walls, no foundations and holey oak beams grin

stealthsquiggle Tue 22-Jan-13 10:34:46

grin at the shared water supplies - we, by contrast, have 2 all to ourselves (took a while to work that one out when looking for stopcock...hmm). Neither has a meter, though, so we only pay one bill.

Goodwordguide Tue 22-Jan-13 11:04:33

We're about to move into an old house - 1800s. So far, we've had it checked for:

-full survey (which said that roof is fine)
-specialist brickwork (who is also checking exterior timbers & guttering)

What else should we be checking? The solicitor did the usual drains check. We haven't had an electrical survey - is that worth doing? We've had so much paperwork involved with, I'm concerned we're going to overlook something.


HumphreyCobbler Tue 22-Jan-13 11:11:45

I love my old house passionately - it was left in a will in 1653 so it is at least that old. We do need to do the electrics at some point, and a bit of the roof, but it is a comfortable, warm and dry house to live in. Not all old houses are falling down, just as not all newish houses are problem free.

We are not listed though.

mrspink27 Tue 22-Jan-13 11:15:11

We live in a Grade 2 listed house built in 1370. We joined the Listed Property Owners club and got our insurance through them. The full structural survey we have done made us shock and I wanted to run for the hills. However, the surveyor pointed out, any house of any age will have had or may have in the future issues which need to be addressed. If it has been standing a while it is probably not about to fall down tomorrow.

The main issues for us is that nothing is standard, e.g. window sizes - so no off the peg buys, door sizes etc. Also it is not the best insulated house and can be drafty, but ours tends to be warm in the winter and cool in the summer despite its' lack of efficiency! Materials you need to do any jobs may be more expensive and any jobs generally need doing by a specialist rather than any old odd jobber.

It could be a money pit if we let it...

Worth getting a very thorough woodworm check!

mrspink27 Tue 22-Jan-13 11:18:25

Oh and check for any exisiting covenants on it as well... we pay a nominal insurance in case the church of england decide they would like us to pay for repairs to the local church... about £25 for 10 years and there is also a stipulation about the height of our hedge (--which we have conveniently ignored--).
Also you do need permission from the Planning Department to pass wind change anything on the exterior e.g. window frame colour or material and also any major structural changes internally.

Toomuchtea Tue 22-Jan-13 12:22:05

Get to know your local conservation officer well before you start applying to do anything to the house. Have them round to have a look at the house, so they can give you general advice and tell you about the house (not always accurate imo, but just nod). Ask their advice on looking after the house, and take it. If you've built up a relationship with them and they already know you're not going to go sailing in ripping out the historic fabric and moaning because you can't have UPVC, they'll be much more amenable.

NaturalBaby Tue 22-Jan-13 13:52:39

We're having a second viewing at a cottage built in the 1800's this week, and our heart is winning over head.
The log burner is doing it for me!

matildawormwood Tue 22-Jan-13 13:59:58

I have to say, I wouldnt want to make any changes to the house externally, or internally really, as I love it just the way it is. It's more a case of what the eye can't see ie what's going on under that weatherboarding, is the roof about to collapse (and if it did, how much would it cost to replace). We made an offer today so just waiting to see what happens next. I love it but I'm wondering if i might just feel a bit relieved if they turn us down and I can go and look for a normal modern house!!

mrspink27 Tue 22-Jan-13 14:58:47

We went a month or so ago and looked round some new builds and whilst initially I was wooed and tempted by the thought of an energy efficient, clean, straight, new, perfect house with little or no initial upkeep or maintenance costs and the cheaper running costs and smaller mortgage and monthly saving... I must be mad none offered the living space or character we have in this house.

stealthsquiggle Tue 22-Jan-13 15:07:27

LOL at toomuchtea - the conservation officer's pompous description of our house was so completely and utterly inaccurate it made me want to scream. It wouldn't matter quite so much if it weren't for the fact that the features he is so in love with date from the 1980's conversion (immediately before it was listed) and have no historic value at all whatsoever. Mind you, this is the man who made us get a structural engineer's report to say that the brick built fridge surround wasn't structural before he would let us take it out, so we are never going to be on the best of terms hmm angry

Toomuchtea Tue 22-Jan-13 19:58:00

Ha yes Stealth - but I am aware, as I stand there nodding, that I am encouraging the pompousness... But really, 1980s stuff from yours? Having said that, ours made a big song and dance about replacing a really not that bad at all 1970s door in a thatched cottage with one that was really deeply unpleasant. Completely illogical, as the thatch had been done beautifully, with the ridge ornamented, and then it ended up with this vile unsympathetic door. So I am not that surprised with your brick built fridge surround. Mumsnet 2100 will probably be preserving them as features, I'll have you know.

stealthsquiggle Tue 22-Jan-13 20:22:02

Apparently we have a "18c farmhouse with a catslide roof" - um, no, that would be a terrace of 3 tiny cottages (1 formerly a mill, another formerly a school) completely gutted and converted into one house, with a garden room added over which the roof was then extended (very well, as it happens). The only thing I thank our lucky stars for is that it was stripped to the brick and replastered (and then artexed/covered in woodchip hmm) when converted, so even bloody idiot conservation officer can't insist on lime plaster grin

Sausagedog27 Tue 22-Jan-13 22:18:54

We aren't all pompous I promise!

Excellent advice here. Have a look on SPAB website- loads of useful info on repairs, damp etc etc.

The main thing to keep in mind is that repairs are specialised- ie you can't just plaster with modern materials etc, so will be more costly.

Things like windows- yes you will have to keep them single glazed but they don't have to be drafts- you can get them draft stripped and secondary glazing without any problems.

Good luck op!

Sausagedog27 Tue 22-Jan-13 22:20:46

Ps stealth, we do like to bang on about lime plaster, but it is for the good of the building in the long term wink

stealthsquiggle Wed 23-Jan-13 04:50:32

grin Sausagedog. That horse bolted a long time ago for our house and every plasterer we have ever met refuses to work with lime plaster

Toomuchtea Wed 23-Jan-13 08:33:32

One of our rules for living in an old house is never, ever to remove wallpaper, because it is usually the only thing making sure the lovely lime plaster is staying thereabouts put.

We did have a ceiling re done in lime plaster though (thankfully insurance job) and it is lovely. Much better than the plasterboard which infests lots of the other ceilings.

Porkster Wed 23-Jan-13 18:07:58

I would agree with that wallpaper rule.

I steamed off our dining room ceiling's wallpaper having lived with it since we moved here 10 years ago.

The ceiling then fell down.

stealthsquiggle Wed 23-Jan-13 22:03:03

trouble is, the "wallpaper" is all woodchip - so it's strip it or live with it, there is no covering it up..

4 rooms down, lots to go.

HumphreyCobbler Wed 23-Jan-13 22:27:00

and lime plaster looks sooo nice

OhIWishThereWasABook Wed 23-Jan-13 22:28:33

Buy onesies!

I love my house, but it's a bit chilly smile

catkin Wed 23-Jan-13 22:30:25

Porkster - loving the ceiling story - sounds very familiar. I am refusing to take off any more wallpaper in our 1700 cottage and am merrily painting over it all whilst pointing out to children that it makes the house warmer as its another layer of insulation grin

We did nice chats with our conservation officer and I was very blond at times which seemed to go down remarkably well wink and DH stayed out the way when conversations regarding what we would like to do happened as we had been told in advance by various neighbours that he usually had arguments with men ... Still everything we asked for was approved and we are almost done. Did have to go down the traditional materials route which is expensive and we are now totally broke, but we do have an almost lovely, very authentic cottage with lime walls etc etc and I woudn't have it any other way!

Good luck with the offer - if your heart wins just go with the flow smile

matildawormwood Wed 23-Jan-13 23:27:23

Thanks all for the great advice and good wishes. Our latest offer was declined so just wondering if we can pluck up the courage/funds to go a bit higher. But don't want to go too high as I think we'll need contingency funds from the sounds of things.

Another question for those of you who live in cottages with low timbered you find it at all oppressive or is it something you get used to? We're not tall so it didn't feel too bad at all to me and it's only really the living room where it would be an issue. But I've never spent any real amount of time in a house with low ceilings so it's hard to know...

stealthsquiggle Wed 23-Jan-13 23:58:10

Be careful of stretching. We know the people who bought one that we had an offer refused on, and we are so glad we didn't go higher to get it - they have poured a fortune into it since buying it, way more than we could ever have done, and they're not done yet. We would have been broke and the house would have been disintegrating around us.

Low ceilings - no, not oppressive (and my DH and all my male relatives are 6ft+) but it does drive colour /lighting choices. We have painted almost every room white and have added lots of lights.

GrendelsMum Thu 24-Jan-13 12:27:53

We've found there are HUGE amounts of hidden costs, not even the obvious things like needing to find the specialist heritage bricklayer and ordering in the lime plaster.

For example, the ceilings are low, so we can't use pendant lamps, so we have to put in wall lights, but its very hard to find wall lights which actually light a room to an acceptable level for working, despite the best efforts of the Mumsnet Property squad. The best ones we've found cost over £100 each.

Porkster Thu 24-Jan-13 20:33:03

Matilda, I don't really notice our low ceilings until someone really tall comes around.

One of our friends is 6ft 7 and he looks ridiculous in our house. Another one did knock himself out running out of the front door at speed, but it made us laugh so much, I can't look upon it as a negative.

I am so used to getting out of bed with my head at 45 degrees due to low sloping ceiling, that I do it even when away from home.

It's not oppressive at all, although you could never describe it as bright and airy! Our kitchen/dining area is fairly large and has many downlights, so it's actually quite bright. Our sitting room has no ceiling lights or wall lights, ultra low beamed ceiling and small windows. Candles & lamps are our friends.

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