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5 Ways You Can Avoid A Costly Listed Building Project

5 Ways You Can Avoid A Costly Listed Building Project

Are you worried about embarking on a listed building refurbishment project and costs escalating?

Are you feeling daunted by the prospect of the unknowns and potential horror stories through the course of the build and not clear how this can be avoided?

If you are the owner of a listed building in the UK, then you know the importance of preserving its historic character and maintaining its structural integrity.

This article considers five practical steps that can be undertaken on a listed building project to manage costs from the outset to allow for a smoother building project and hopefully take away some of the stress and fear of undertaking works to a listed building.

1. Hire qualified and experienced experts.

When it comes to working on a listed building, it is crucial to hire a qualified and experienced team of experts. The key engagement is likely to be the architect. They should understand the specific requirements and regulations that apply to historic properties. A good architect will have experience working with listed buildings and will be able to guide you through the planning and building process, ensuring that you remain compliant with all relevant regulations.

They will also be able to advise you on the best materials and techniques to use for your project, helping you to achieve your desired outcome while preserving the character and integrity of your listed building. Hiring the right architect can help you to avoid costly mistakes and ensure that your project runs smoothly and within budget.

In addition, they may advise on hiring other suitably qualified people in the team – these may include a heritage consultant and a conservation architect subject to the nature of the work that you are looking to undertake.

Quite often you may need to also hire a structural engineer earlier than you would in a typical project to establish full parameters of what is required at the outset to determine the impact structurally of what is being proposed.

The experience of your team will be invaluable as they will be able to present information in a coherent manner so as to be in a position to get listed building consent. Listed building consent will be required for any works to a listed building even if the works are not external. Contrary to popular belief, anything within the curtilage of a listed building is of significance.

As listed buildings are often quite old, you may need to hire a heritage consultant to establish the historic value and any significant changes that have been made historically that may or may not have consent.

In addition, they will be able to make a case argument of what you may are proposing and the validity of this relative to the heritage value of the building. For example, on a grade one listed building we were working on, with the help of the heritage consultant we were able to identify what was in fact original in the building and what is known as the hierarchy of the building in order to introduce a master suite where one previously did not exist and change a staircase that was in fact a later addition that allowed us to change the layout at ground floor.

2. Define exactly what you want at the outset

One of the biggest mistakes that can lead to a costly building project with a listed building is a lack of planning. Before you start any work, it is essential to plan thoroughly and early.

This means researching and understanding the regulations and permissions you need to adhere to, as well as creating a detailed project plan that includes all the necessary steps and timelines and being realistic about what this may be.

It is also important to consider any potential issues that may arise during the project, such as unexpected structural problems, or the discovery of hazardous materials such as asbestos. By planning ahead and having a contingency plan in place, you can avoid costly delays and additional expenses that may arise due to unforeseen issues.

In our experience at the moment, it takes longer to get planning permission on listed buildings; on average we would say you should allow for a minimum of 8 months – although we have had recent instances in some London borough’s where resources are stretched with conservation officers that it took 10 months to get planning on a grade two listed building.

Be mindful that in that time, if your building is in already in a state of disrepair that it may get worse and you may need to consider some adhoc temporary repairs where these are permitted particularly if you are looking at a something like a leaking roof that could result in further damage like the roof collapsing.

In parallel, when defining what you want to do, define what your budget is. We often hire a quantity surveyor who specialises in listed buildings to provide an initial budget cost plan relative to what you are looking to do – this helps to get a clear idea on potential costs at the outset and determine whether this is viable relative to what you want to do. If not, then your architect can scale back the scope before making a planning application.

Critically with a listed building, you will need to clearer about what you want to do at the beginning of the project as internal changes are also liable to consent. In tandem you may need to be very specific about what materials you are using and the conservation officer may be specific about treatment to existing walls – such as the use of lime based lathe and plaster as opposed to the type of standard plaster used in modern building works.

This can involve using a specialist team to undertake the works and this can be more expensive that a general builder. Knowing what this costs at the outset and securing the appropriate specialist will be important at keeping costs in check at the start.

3. Prepare a detailed set of tender drawings and employ a suitably qualified builder.

A detailed set of tender drawings should be considered an investment to which you can hold your builder to account – yes, they take time to produce and will mean that you have made most decisions at the outset.

In turn, it means when you get prices from a builder you know what they should have costed for and in addition you will find that a detailed set of drawings will scare off the inexperienced builders as it can take a lot of time to provide an accurate price based on detailed drawings. Once you have the prices back from the builders and you interrogate the builders you will know if they have allowed for all the specifics listed and therefore be able to filter out those that are just throwing prices at the project hoping to claw back as works progress.

Avoid these type of cost returns; even if they look attractive on first review – it is likely that costs will creep up as they realise that you have more specialist items on the tender schedule – even though strictly speaking the builder should be held to account based on what is on the tender package and is liable to provide items as listed on documents – you will likely end up at a place of conflict during the build as they realise they have not costed for things accurately and therefore they will either be looking to cut corners or be financially compromised.

This is a critical decision that can make all the difference in the success of your project, and it is essential to choose a contractor with experience in working on listed buildings – equally your architect should seek references from other architects the builder has worked with – past clients are not typically sufficiently qualified to advise if a builder builds to detailed drawings.

4. Stick to the plan

Once your listed building restoration is underway, it is essential to stick to the plan and avoid making any unnecessary changes or additions. Any alterations to the plan can lead to delays and additional costs, as well as potential compliance issues with local councils and heritage organisations.

If you do need to make changes, it is essential to consult with your architect and contractor to ensure that they are compliant with all relevant regulations and that they will not compromise the integrity or character of your listed building. Don’t forget if you make changes you may need to halt works whilst listed building consent is sought for the changes (however small they may be) as it is a criminal offence for works to be undertaken without consent on a listed building.

Halting works can be costly and you loose trades off the site – so should be avoided where possible. In a recent case, where a client did not take this advice they made changes to what had been approved after works started and as a result an additional planning submission was required midway through the works to ensure all consents were aligned with what was being built – this could have been avoidable by predefining this and sticking to what had been signed off.

5. Have a contingency

Finally, with listed buildings given you may not know the condition of all aspects at the outset – it is worth having at least a 25 percent contingency in place for these unknowns as a starting point – this ensures that you have some form of a buffer to ensure the scope of works does not need to be changed midway through if more restorative works are needed.

In conclusion, undertaking a building project with a listed building can be a complex and costly process, but by following these five tips, you can avoid common mistakes and work as a team to a successful outcome.

By planning thoroughly, hiring experienced professionals, choosing the right contractor, sticking to the plan, and keeping communication open and transparent with a sensible contingency set aside, you can preserve the historic character and avoid common pitfalls with costs creeping.