Listed Building

What is a listed building?

Updated March 21, 2022

A listed building is a property or structure determined to be of special architectural and historic interest that has been included on a register of protected buildings. Listed status is intended to protect buildings from alterations that might negatively impact their characters or historic context and to ensure that they are preserved for future generations.

In the U.K., lists of protected structures are maintained by Historic England, Historic Environment Scotland, the Northern Ireland Environmental Agency and Cadw, based in Wales. Similar protective measures exist in many countries in Europe, as well as Australia and New Zealand, Canada and the U.S. and Hong Kong and Japan.

Buildings of historic significance are often "listed," meaning that there are protections in place that ensure they are preserved for future generations. Photo: JaneB13/Pixabay

In England, listed buildings make up around 2% of building stock, comprising more than half a million properties. Almost all buildings built prior to 1700 that retain original features are listed and most properties built between 1700 and 1840 are also likely to be listed.

Related Links

English Heritage

Historic England

Blue Plaques

Landmarks Preservation Commission

Modern buildings are sometimes listed if they are deemed to be of particular architectural or historical interest, either in form or through close association with significant people or events. Even objects can occasionally be listed, such as the zebra crossing that appears on the cover of The Beatles’ 1969 album “Abbey Road,” which was given Grade II listed status in 2010.

Criteria for Listed Buildings

  • Age and rarity: The older a property is, the more likely it is to be listed. Buildings constructed fewer than 30 years ago are very rarely listed, unless they are of outstanding quality and under threat of destruction 
  • Aesthetic merits: Buildings may be listed if they are deemed to be particularly beautiful or if they represent particular aspects of social or economic history
  • Selectivity: If there are lots of surviving buildings in the same style and from the same period, only the most significant are likely to be listed 
  • National interest: Buildings that represent a localized industry are sometimes listed due to their regional significance

Categories of Listed Buildings

In England and Wales, listed buildings are divided into three grades.

  • Grade I properties are deemed to be of exceptional interest and comprise only 2.5% of listed buildings
  • Grade II* buildings are particularly important buildings of more than special interest, comprising 5.8% of the list
  • Grade II buildings are the most common, making up 91.7% of all listed properties, and are deemed to be of special interest

Buying a Listed Building

Buyers thinking of purchasing a listed building will become the owners of unique historic properties that may come with certain constraints, such as a limited ability to make any changes and a requirement to undertake necessary repairs using rare historic materials or specific costly techniques. As well as standard planning permission, owners of listed properties need to apply for listed building consent to undertake any renovations or alterations and adhere to the guidance given by local conservation officers.

The first step in buying a listed property is to look it up on the register, which will include a detailed explanation of why it has been listed. This will offer some insight into which key attributes and features of the property must be preserved and maintained in their original form and any potential limitations or complications. 

Although a building may be listed on the basis of a particular architectural and historic feature, the listed status usually applies to the entire property, including the exterior, interior, fixtures and fittings. It can also cover modern extensions, outbuildings, garden walls and garden statues. 

Factors to consider when purchasing a listed property include:

  • The building will be included on a searchable national register of listed properties
  • The property owner will need specialist insurance to cover the higher cost of repairs, which may require costly materials or builders with expertise in specific techniques 
  • Buyers should use a surveyor who specializes in listed buildings and is able to fully inform the buyer of any special considerations
  • Buyers should seek specialist advice on treating damp, if needed, due to the construction materials used in historic properties
  • The property owner is responsible for the cost of undoing any unauthorized changes to a listed building, so it is important to ensure that all previous changes to the property were untaken with permission from the local authority 
  • Owners may be eligible for grants to help with repairs to historic buildings

Repairing, Renovating or Altering a Listed Building

Listed buildings can be altered and extended but any changes or additions require listed building consent to ensure that the site’s historic significance is balanced against function and condition. Additions, alterations and repairs are generally advised to be reversible, where possible. Depending on which aspects of the building are protected, it may not be possible to change the internal layout of the property or to carry out common energy-saving upgrades such as installing double glazing or insulation.