29th October 2021

Buying a Haunted House: Is your Dream Home Haunted by Listed Building or Conservation Area Status?

It’s spooky season! If you love a gory story – or you are desperately searching for a costume – look no further than Scotland’s spooktacular streets. In Scotland, we have no shortage of terrifying tales for Halloween and our buildings are a perfect example. Many properties throughout Scotland were built throughout different periods of history and housed many diverse families over the years.

What does this mean for you? Well, if you are looking to buy a new home, there is a fair chance you may fall in love with a period property plagued with listed building or conservation area status. For some, this idea can be just as petrifying as the prospect that the property is plagued with poltergeists! However, much like a horror film, once you know how the story goes, you can prepare yourself for what is to come – or just decide not to partake. 

So read on to make sure you know when to cover your eyes in your search for (haunted) properties.

What are Listed Buildings & Conservation Areas?
If you are planning to dress up as Harry Potter for Halloween, you probably already know that the Hogwarts Express passes over Scotland’s Glenfinnan Viaduct. What you may not know is that the Glenfinnan Viaduct is an A-listed building. Or maybe you will be more familiar with Rabbie Burns’ Tam O’Shanter who fled from witches and escaped over Ayrshire’s Brig O’Doon – which happens also to be an A-listed building. 

Properties in Scotland may be given listed building status when they are of special architectural or historic interest. Any manmade structure can be listed, for example, walls, fountains and so on. They are split into three different categories – A, B and C. Category A is considered the highest category and properties in this category will be the hardest to obtain consent to alter.

Similarly, the purpose of a conservation area is to conserve areas of special architectural or historical interest. Where listed building status is given to specific buildings, conservation areas apply to a number of properties within a given area.

There are over 600 conservation areas in Scotland. In fact, you could quite easily find inspiration for a Halloween costume by looking at the conservation area within Glasgow’s City Centre. Maybe you could go as Batman or The Flash or Indiana Jones. Each of these heroes has been seen recently within Glasgow’s City Centre. But, why?  Because the conservation area covering Glasgow City Centre limits changes to the exteriors of buildings makes it is an attractive area for production companies. 

How do Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas affect the search for my Dream Home?
Listed building status and conservation areas affect residential properties as well as landmarks or city centre areas. Most Scots will know of the Plague that ravished Mary King’s Close, leaving behind what is now known as one of Scotland’s most haunted places. What you may not know is that Mary King’s Close lies within a conservation area in Edinburgh’s Old Town which contains many residential properties.

As the purpose of listed buildings and conservation areas is to protect and conserve the special architectural or historic properties, owners are bound by certain rules and restrictions. With both listed buildings and conservation areas, the restrictions limit alterations and destruction to properties. 

If you plan on altering, extending or demolishing a listed building, you may require listed building consent from your local planning authority. The application process is similar to the process of applying for planning permission as you would with regular properties. Although you only require listed building consent for those changes or additions which change the character of the building, it is always advisable to contact the authority to check whether special consent is required. But watch out! Changes that affect the character of the building can be changed not only by extensions or demolishing the property but also by simple things such as replacing windows and doors or even cleaning the stone of the building.

With properties in conservation areas, however, special conservation area consent is required only where there are plans to demolish a property within that area. However, there are restrictions in respect of altering and extending properties in conservation areas, and additional conditions may be imposed as part of any application for planning permission or a building warrant. This means that you must observe the guidance given by the local authority on what can and cannot be done. Failure to do so could result in the local authority taking enforcement action against you and/or registering a statutory notice against the property which would cause problems if you wished to sell the property. And it is not only the building itself which must be conserved but also trees and garden grounds. If you are unsure, you should always contact the local authority for guidance.

With both listed buildings and conservation area properties, there is a general rule that traditional materials should always be used when repairing and replacing original features. For example, UPVC is not considered appropriate rather changes should be on a like for like basis which can make replacing windows and doors an expensive task.

So, BEWARE: A bill for replacement windows using traditional materials may just be scarier than a visit from an old dead resident! And remember that whatever you are planning on doing may well also need Planning Permission or a Building warrant.

If you fall in love with a haunted house – or a period property – make sure you know what you are letting yourself in for in advanced to avoid a fright night scene post purchase. Happy hunting – or should I say haunting?!

For help and advice on purchasing a property please contact a member of the Blackadders Residential Conveyancing Team working in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth and across Scotland.

Rachel Morrison, Trainee Solicitor
Residential Conveyancing
Blackadders LLP




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