Should you buy a period home?
Updated: Nov 17, 2022
Historic homes are blueprints of the past
There are over 30m homes in the UK. More than a third were built before the second world war and are considered “period”; around two-thirds were built after and are viewed as “modern”.
The question is: should you buy period or modern?
In the same way that someone who likes Real Ale will never accept Lager, it doesn’t mean there right or wrong, it just happens that, in the UK at least, buyers tend to pick a lane and stick to what they know without exploring the eclectic mix of alternatives.
You may be surprised by what you find out on the benefits of Listed buildings. We have always thought that period properties were more attractive and characterful, and offered better prospects for price growth, however, as time marches on and technology creeps into our everyday life through our homes, modern property trends tend to take the higher ground on first choice in a modern society.
It used to be the case that if you bought an Edwardian, Victorian, Georgian, or Regency house it would always rise faster in value than anything you could build in its place. The abundance of original features, from sash windows to original fireplaces, solid oak panelled walls and flooring, attractive beams and plaster mouldings could never be replicated. For those homes that are older, notably 15thC and 16thC it is not uncommon to find original markings etched into the wood by builders that used this as a reference point when constructing the property, a bit like a modern-day Ikea flatpack puzzle that is put together piece by piece. As time marches on, older properties do require major surgery to make them suitable for modern living or have had that work already done to them by specialist developers. For those homes that are older, notably 15thC and 16thC it is not uncommon to find original markings etched into the wood by builders that used this as a reference point when constructing the property, a bit like a modern-day Ikea flatpack puzzle that is put together piece by piece.
As time marches on, older properties do require major surgery to make them suitable for modern living or have had that work already done to them by specialist developers. So, if you’re in the market to invest time and money in taking on a period home, as a custodian of a historic heritage, will it still stack up for you? That really depends on your end goal.
We’ve also advised buyers to buy on the basis that they can see themselves living in the property for a while, rather than worry about how much money they’ll be making.
The aspiration on the quality of you home environment should outweigh the potential profit gain, at least as the main driving force for buying. A rise in property price for a period home will need to be significant to compensate for all that attention and work: and do you really have the time and energy to adapt it to the way you want it to be?
If rural life appeals as it has to many since the start of the pandemic, are you really going to accept as your idyll a modern box built in the 1970s with low ceilings and plastic-framed windows? Probably not. But you might be tempted by a new barn conversion. The trend has been under way for some decades but only in recent years have architects got this right, managing to use salvaged elements or layouts to create entirely new properties that nevertheless “feel” old: with grand entrances, wonderful kitchen diners, bedroom suites with ensuite wet rooms and traditional fireplaces. Then again, a period house that’s converted into flats will often be a compromise with wasted spaces, poor sound and heat insulation and a range of flaws that either require a very expensive conversion or a lot of tolerance on the part of the inhabitant.
Converted period flats can be quite unforgiving, with neighbours noises the biggest distraction and poor built-in storage options another.
Modern, purpose-built apartments tend to have a better layout and noise insulation.
But before you rush out and buy a modern flat, what about the service charge? Are there cladding or leasehold conditions to consider? The former being a huge sticking point with lenders, surveyors and buyers alike following the horrific Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017. If the flat is new, are you paying a huge new-build premium? If the flat is more than 10 years old, is there a proper sinking fund for repairs? The upkeep, even for a supposedly “low-hassle” modern home — can still be wildly expensive.
Thinking of “modern” as one type of property is also misleading. Fashions change quickly.
Mid-century designs have become popular, providing aspects and a style of their own. The 1980s to 2000s suffered an ambivalence to taste. Since around 2007, there seems to have been a shakeup in housebuilding.
Aside from the recent horror stories about fire safety and building quality issues, generally the higher quality of design has changed the market view of what to buy and where to live, especially at the upper end (£3m+).
If you have the budget to update period home sensitively then we believe this is your better option… but don’t discount a property because it’s not from an architectural period, you desire.
Let’s take Georgian home as an example and our favourite period. The advent of wealth from the industrial age saw a desire for more area and comfort with the homes.
There was more focus on greater ceilings and natural light, as previous houses tended to be jumbled, cramped and dark. This was the age of Enlightenment, culture and cash, houses had to show this social modification and were used as a status symbol for the elite networking set who entertained.
A quirky feature of lots of Georgian period houses are bricked-up windows. These Georgian windows tell a story of 18th Century tax avoidance. The ‘window tax’ was executed in 1696 as a type of earnings tax. The more windows on your property, the more tax you pay. If you look at stately Georgian houses, you’ll see they are fronted with lots of symmetrical sash windows. An easy workaround was to just fill them in. After the window tax was raised, lots of just remained completed.
How to spot a Georgian Property
· A stucco-fronted ground floor, with exposed brickwork for the higher floors.
· Sash windows– the top floor windows will often be much smaller, as these were generally the servant quarters.
· Frequently townhouses, but nation manors would also be an exercise in proportion and included other functions like Palladian columns.
· Elaborate front doors.
· Large interior rooms with a balanced design.
Is your home Victorian?
The complete results of the Industrial Revolution created a larger and more populous middle class. This indicated buying and owning a home became a sensible possibility for numerous (not simply the landed gentry), and as a result, Victorian age homes were built on a mass scale.
Terraced real estate was a big function of Victorian houses, as they were in the Georgian era. However, Georgian terraces were typically opulent multi-storey townhouses with grand home.
Victorian terraces showed the Industrial period.
Referred to as ‘back-to-backs’, this style of house eventually became unlawful to build, but were the most common bad Victorian home.
Victorian homes for the wealthy usually included pitched roofs along with high ceilings and big windows. Internally however, there was a big shift. Houses had a narrower footprint to compensate for a rapidly growing class of homeowners.
Less expensive balconies had the typical ‘2 up, two down’ internal layout, whereas more expensive homes would be much grander with gothic functions and ornate detailing.
How to spot a Victorian home
· High pitched roofs.
· Bay windows.
· Several fireplaces.
· Elaborate detailing around patios & windows. Brickwork porches were also a common feature.
· A narrow hallway with spaces for captivating off to the side.
· Wooden floorings.
· Gable trim.
· Patterned floor tiles inside and coloured brickwork outside.
· Elaborate lighting.
· Discoloured glass windows.
Edwardian style reflected a change in attitude as easy, thoughtful style was chosen over extravagant and unnecessary functions. In a world where everything was ending up being mass-produced, there was a shift towards using more artisanal and hand-made features.
After filling metropolitan locations with Georgian and Victorian townhouses and rows and rows of terraced homes, the Georgian era saw the concept of the suburbs emerge. This gave way for more focus on personal privacy, so houses were built a brief distance back from pathways.
Is your home Edwardian?
Edwardian interiors likewise had more focus on light and area with larger spaces, additional windows, and roomy corridors. Houses also adopted Edwardian bricks, and red brickwork ended up being a common feature of Edwardian properties.
How to spot an Edwardian home
· Front gardens.
· Small sloping roofing systems.
· Wooden porch.
· Mock-Tudor features.
· Parquet and polished wood floor covering. Great deals of natural light.
· Sash windows.
· Lighter colours and flower wallpaper.
· Art nouveau glass.
· Decorative fireplaces
· Wicker furnishings.
· Georgian throwbacks.
Living in an historic house can be a constant voyage of discovery. The longer you live with a building, the more you understand it and appreciate its remarkable longevity; for it, you are no more than a brief visitor, a small part of a much bigger story.
The building speaks
We frequently advise clients to take their time in deciding how to live in their historic home. There is a natural tendency to want to shape your house to your life but often that risks diminishing what was so special about it in the first place.
Over time the building will tend to show the way to go; work with it rather than against it. The result is always much more fulfilling; it is amazing how often the feature you thought would drive you mad turns out to be your favourite element of the house.
You can inevitably find yourself spending most of your time in houses with problems, generally caused by abuse or neglect in the recent past. These are the places that can make people think that owning a historic building is more trouble than it is worth. It is true that dealing with these problems can be difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. It’s not for everyone.
But for many, the knowledge that they took charge of an important piece of the past, which was in trouble and secured its future, passing it on in a healthier condition, brings a joy all its own.
410 – 1066, Anglo Saxon.
1066 – 1485, Medieval.
1300s - 1500s, English Perpendicular Gothic (Late Gothic).
1485 – 1603, Tudor.
1550 – 1625, Elizabethan.
1603 – 1714, Stuart.
1702 – 1714, Queen Anne / English Baroque.
1603 – 1625, Jacobean.
1715 – 1770, Palladian
1714 – 1837, Georgian.
1811 – 1820, Regency.
1837 – 1901 (or up to 1910), Victorian.
1901 – 1910 (or up to 1918), Edwardian.
1925 – 1937, Art Deco.
1901 – present, Modern.
The Tudor period was the final phase of Medieval architecture in Britain and covers the era between the late 15th and early 17th centuries.
Typical features of a Tudor building may include masonry chimneys, grouped windows, half-timbering, and gable roofs.
The low Arch and some fantastic Oriel Windows are also considered classic ‘Tudor’.
The use of brick became widespread and by the end of the period, even half-timbering became common in working-class abodes.
As Elizabeth I came to the Throne of England, the architectural style was defined by the Prodigy houses. These were showy, ostentatious country piles built by the gentry that benefitted from the dissolution of the monasteries.
No new palaces were built during Elizabeth’s reign, but many new houses of the wealthy were built.
These houses were ‘more glass than wall’ as the design style moved away from protective requirements to instead make use of glasses ability to flood houses with natural light.
Queen Elizabeth would travel from London as far west as Bristol to stay in some of these opulent new buildings and these houses would need to also accommodate 150 of her closest travelling companions as well.
Italian designers had been moving to and influencing English architectural styles by book and in person from Medieval times.
Baroque architecture was popularised during the late 17th century and was regarded as a highly elaborate take on Classicism.
It infused Renaissance foundations with highly ornate overtures that were designed to be ostentatious, showy, and theatrical.
The late 1690s saw the appearance of the first Grand Baroque country houses; the most iconic figures of the movement included Sir Christopher Wren, Sir John Vanbrugh, and Nicholas Hawksmoor.
Sir Christopher Wren designed both St Paul’s Cathedral and Greenwich Hospital, with its classic Renaissance domes.
Nicholas Hawksmoor designed Blenheim Palace, the only non-royal building to hold the name of Palace. It is where Sir Winston Churchill grew up.
The Baroque style has its roots in church architecture, especially Catholic Church architecture, but its influence spread across Europe and influenced the architects of the quintessentially English country estates.
The Baroque influence was very short-lived and contemporary English Baroque houses are not abundant. There are more Baroque churches, as the style became popular after the Great Fire of London in 1666 and many Churches had to be re-built, with Sir Christopher Wren rebuilding over 30 churches in the Baroque style.
The Georgian era of architecture lasted between around 1780 and 1820. It was influenced by Roman architecture, and usually involved classical exteriors and elaborate interiors.
Walls were normally painted in a single colour and ceilings were divided into sections. Colours characterising the Georgian period included lavender, pink, pea green and light blue. Other characteristics included high ceilings and panelled doors.
Early 19th-century architecture inspired by the buildings of the era is referred to as ‘Neo-Georgian architecture’. Prior to the Georgian era, Palladian architecture had been on the rise. This movement was inspired by Venetian architect Andrea Palladio and briefly became popular amongst the British in the mid-17th century before the Civil War took place and the country entered a period of austerity. However, it once again became an architectural force across Europe in the early 18th century.
The Victorian era consisted of various British architectural styles, including Medieval and Renaissance. Tudor and mock-Gothic building styles enjoyed a revival and the early part of the period involved highly elaborate detailing. Approaches to architecture became simpler towards the end of the era.
The Industrial Revolution enabled architects to make use of glass and iron. Victorian roofs often had steep pitches, which made them ideal for loft conversions. The era is synonymous with terracotta tiles, bay sash windows, multi-coloured brickwork, sizeable mantelpieces for ornaments, white-painted woodwork, and cast-iron gates.
The Edwardian period covers 1901-1918 in terms of architectural trends. It took influence for the Georgian and medieval eras and was synonymous with ‘Neo-Baroque.’
Homes were given larger frontages and therefore extra room for halls. Colours became lighter. Patterns became less elaborate and complex. The Arts and Crafts Movement also exerted a strong influence on the Edwardian architectural style. Typical features of Edwardian buildings include small-paned leaded windows, roughcast walls, half-timbering, wooden porches, and bare floorboards with rugs sitting on them.
The Art Deco period lasted between around 1925 and 1939, and was synonymous with modernity, innovation, harmony, and simplicity.
The era had two parts: Zigzag Modern in the 1920s and Streamline Moderna in the following decade. Many courthouses, schools and other public buildings adopted this style in the era, with many Art Deco-inspired buildings not actually being unveiled until after the war. Features included small round windows, curved corner walls, flat roofs, metal railings, zigzags, and chevrons.
The 1930s saw vast numbers of people taking advantage of greater transport links and relocating to rural settings outside of towns and cities.
The homes built in this era came in a variety of different British architectural styles, with buildings taking inspiration from the Victorian era and the Tudor period. Buildings deemed to be modern in style often featured curves and uncomplicated lines and were built from steel and cement.
Most houses were smaller than older homes. Bungalows became popular during this period, including single-level bungalows and dormer bungalows with bedrooms built into the roof. Many flats were built in the 1930s. Popular features included oak doors, red clay roof tiles, false beams, and oak panelling interiors.
The initial post-war era was characterised by a break from the past with little inspiration being taken from older building styles. However, by the mid-1960s, enthusiasm for older styles had been reignited and interest in preserving older buildings was on the rise.
A growing number of old buildings were being renovated and modernised without their most charming features being dispensed with. The mid-to-late sixties was the era of Postmodern Architecture. This style was seen as an attempt to improve upon Modernism or the International Style, which was often seen as cold, ugly, and merely functional, rather than pleasant and welcoming. Brutalism also became popular in the post-war era. This movement was based on exposed concrete and retains a large number of admirers, but many buildings created in this style have since been demolished.
There are around 400,000 listed building entries in England. Listed buildings are classified into three grades:
Grade I buildings are of exceptional interest. Just 2.5% of listed buildings are Grade I.
Grade II* buildings are particularly important buildings of more than special interest. 5.8% of listed buildings are Grade II*.
Grade II buildings are of special interest warranting every effort to preserve them. Over 90% of all listed buildings are in this grade (ref.3).
The special interest of a candidate building is assessed with the greatest care. Government has set out the criteria for selection in Principles of Selection for Listed Buildings (October 2013) (ref.3).
The special interest may arise from the contribution the building makes to the architectural or historic interest of any group of buildings of which it forms part (group value). Many buildings are interesting architecturally or historically but to be listed a building must have special interest.
The Do’s of Listed Building Restoration
Know your rights on VAT! Energy performance improvement work within a renovation project triggers only 5% VAT. It’s always worth checking before you pay any bills as there is no function to reclaim VAT once it’s paid.
Ensure your home insurance is suitable for Listed Buildings. It’s well worth finding a specialist insurance company for listed buildings as, if disaster strikes, the conservation officer will insist you reinstate with similar materials to match the rest of the house and a standard policy may not cover the full cost.
Make friends with your local Conservation officer, they will be your ally and greatest friend, and will know all about other property owners in your locality who have encountered similar problems as you may.
Before buying a listed building, ensure the correct building consent has been achieved on any works carried out by previous owners. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if unapproved works were done before your ownership, you will be liable.
Stay organised. Keep all permissions and plans after work is completed, you will need these if you sell your home in the future
The Don’ts of Listed Building Restoration
Don’t Combine modern repair methods with traditional methods. The property will most likely be built with Lime Mortar and using cement in older buildings can cause irreparable damage.
Don’t remove or alter original architectural features such as doors, decorative stonework, fireplaces, or windows. They are often integral to the buildings’ listed status.
Don’t paint or render stonework, stone-clean buildings, lower or demolish chimneystacks or pots, or add new pipework, flues, or alarm boxes on principal elevations of the property.
Don’t assume your garden is yours to play with. Often walls and trees will be listed too, so don’t knock-down boundary walls or remove gates.
Don’t rush! Consider any changes you wish to make, take advice from professionals, and always speak to either the Conservation office, Historic England, or both. Spend some time in the property, it has stood for many years so a couple of months consideration time will be well spent.