How much is it worth?
This may sound obvious but it's the crux of the matter here: how much would the building be worth in pristine condition? If the purchase price and the cost of repairs exceed this you could end up out of pocket.
It is quite likely that the owner of the building that you are interested in has an over optimistic view of the building's worth. Don't speculate - the building should be sold at a price that accurately reflects its current condition.
Get the building valued
This will soon prove whether the owner's price is realistic, but make sure that your surveyor understands historic buildings, and has experience of estimating either the end value or the cost of repairs. It is also important to make sure your surveyor has up-to-date Professional Indemnity insurance. The Institute of Chartered Surveyors Conservation Group will be able to supply you with a list of suitable professionals. If the owner refuses to sell at a reasonable price the local authority might be persuaded to use its powers to serve a Repairs Notice with the threat of a Compulsory Purchase Order if compliance is not forthcoming.
Sometimes buildings are bought for an inflated price on the assumption that planning permission, for change of use, additional buildings, an extension to the existing building or in extreme cases consent to demolish the existing building and use its site, will be granted. The owners can be left considerably worse off with a building which no-longer serves their purposes or which they cannot afford to repair. Always check that what you have in mind for the building is acceptable to the local authority.
How to repair the building?
Inappropriate repairs can not only destroy historic fabric, they can also cause structural problems which may be expensive to rectify.
Architects and Builders
Choosing a good architect and builder is important: not only will they understand the correct way to repair historic buildings, but they will also be able to liase with the conservation officer and have an understanding of what is or isn't appropriate, helping to avoid costly delays. Some techniques used to repair modern buildings can damage historic structures, so it is important to find professionals and tradesmen who are skilled in traditional building practices.
The local authority might be able to recommend reputable practices and firms and you can also contact the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings SPAB which has an advice line and can also supply you with a list of firms (Contact Douglas Kent, technical secretary 020 7456 0916).
The Building Conservation Directory may also be useful. It lists professionals, tradesmen and suppliers. Visit http://www.buildingconservation.com/ to read it on the internet. Alternatively you can buy a copy of their annual directory from the publishers, Cathedral Communications Ltd. (Tel: 01747 871717).
If you intend to undertake the work yourself it's worth knowing that
and some local authorities produce very informative leaflets with advice on appropriate repairs and materials.
SPAB also runs very popular and informative courses for home owners and professionals which give a good, practical, introduction to the subject.
How to pay for repairs?
The cost of restoring a historic building can be high and can easily rise above initial estimates as unforeseen problems are often encountered during building work. It is important that you don't underestimate the expense only to find half way through that you've run out of money. These are a few points which need considering:
Most grants cannot be applied for retrospectively. You must establish as early as possible what, if any, financial assistance you will receive. This is a fairly bleak section I'm afraid because there simply aren't enough funds available to grant aid Grade II listed buildings.
Further comprehensive and up to date information on sources of financial support can be found on the Heritage Funding Directory run by Heritage Link.
English Heritage can only offer grants on buildings which are listed Grade I or II* (which excludes most of the buildings in this catalogue) and only on works which they have approved. Its budget is under enormous pressure and in most circumstances it will only grant aid 40% of the fabric repair costs. It would be a good idea to look at the grants page of their website for further details about how to assess whether or not your building is eligible for grant aid and also what kinds of work the various grant programmes fund.
Cadw can, in theory, grant aid repair work to all grades of listed buildings. The re-survey in Wales is not yet complete and there is a clear understanding that there may be many buildings which have yet to be listed but which deserve listed building protection. Many will also be upgraded from their initial listing. However, like English Heritage, its budget is under extreme pressure and there is no guarantee that you will get any grant aid.
Local authorities may be able to offer limited grant aid for certain works.
The role of local authorities?
Local authorities are responsible for dealing with planning applications. Most local authorities have a conservation officer whose job it is to make sure the historic buildings of the district or borough area looked after. However, with cuts to council budgets many conservation officers lost their jobs so in some cases a planning officer will also look after heritage issues. Your local council will be able to tell you if they have a conservation officer.
If you are concerned about a building at risk or a planning application affecting one speak to your conservation officer. If you are wanting to buy and repair a building at risk bear in mind that although the local authority and conservation officer are often the contact for these buildings, they are not estate agents and therefore will probably only be able to give you limited information about a building at risk. It will be up to you to do the rest of the research, but once you've identified a building they will be able to help you with a lot of the practical stuff.
The works which you are intending to do may require Planning Permission or Listed Building Consent. Check with your local council.
You do not always need planning permission. Generally speaking it is not required for changes to the inside of buildings, or for small alterations to the outside such as the installation of telephone connections and alarm boxes. Other small changes, for example putting up walls and fences below a certain height, have a general planning permission for which a specific application is not required. Government guidance can be found online
Listed Building Consent
Controls apply to all works, both external and internal, that would affect the special interest of a listed building, whether or not the particular feature concerned is specifically mentioned in the list description. Consent is not normally required for repairs, but, where repairs involve alterations that would affect the character of the listed building, consent is required.
Many listed buildings have very brief descriptions which can help to identify a building but do not always fully describe it. Most list descriptions in England can be found online via English Heritage's website, at the National Monuments Record in Swindon or through your local authority.
It is helpful to be familiar with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)
Owners of listed buildings are under no statutory obligation to maintain their property in a good state of repair, although it is in their interest to do so. Local authorities can, however, take action to secure repair when it becomes evident that a buildings is being allowed to deteriorate. Urgent Works Notices, Repairs Notices and Section 215 Notices can be very effective tools to helps secure the preservation of historic buildings. Stopping the Rot: a guide to enforcement action to save historic buildings is a useful English Heritage publication.
Emergency repairs can be carried out by a Local Authority following an Urgent Works Notice. These repairs can only be used on vacant buildings or vacant parts of partially used buildings. The cost of these repairs can be recovered from the owners. An Urgent Works Notice is most likely to be served where there is an immediate danger to the building and may involve making it secure, putting a temporary covering on the roof or supporting it with scaffolding. These repairs should be enough to prevent the building from collapsing before its future is resolved.
If a listed building is not being properly preserved the local authority can serve a Repairs Notice. This notice specifies work which is necessary to ensure the preservation of the building. These repairs should bring the building back into the condition it was in when it was listed, but the notice cannot be used to reinstate details lost before then.
If two months have elapsed since the Repairs Notice was served and the owner has taken no steps towards ensuring the preservation of the buildings, compulsory purchase proceedings can begin. The owner of the building is forced to sell the building at a price agreed by the district surveyor.
In the majority of cases the threat of a Repairs Notice is enough to persuade an owner to either repair or sell the building. In some cases the local authority would be willing to serve a Repairs Notice, and if necessary a CPO, if it could identify a potential new owner with a viable use and the means and understanding to undertake sympathetic repairs. In such circumstances the local authority and the new user can enter into a legal back-to-back agreement whereby the building is immediately resold to the new user following the CPO. This prevents the local authority from being saddled with the liability of the unrestored building. This new owner can be a private individual, although you may be told otherwise.