Heritage Homes

Thousands of luxury homes are being built every year in London, but period properties still retain considerable appeal as an investment.

Living as we do in a country that clings fiercely to its heritage and history, for many of us our dream home is often a period property, whether it’s an elegant Georgian townhouse or a bucolic 16th-century country cottage.

It’s a preference backed up by the figures. Research by London estate agents Kay & Co in February 2016 revealed that while new builds do attract premium prices their resale value doesn’t perform nearly as well in comparison to period properties. According to data from the Land Registry, new builds in postcodes W1 and W2 first sold between 2008 and 2011 that have since been re-sold have experienced an average annual price increase of 12.8 percent.

For second hand properties, excluding the top and bottom 10 percent (where short term leases and the benefits of refurbishment ‘muddy the waters’, according to the estate agent), there is a striking 16.2 percent average increase in values—with capital growth on second hand homes 27 percent higher than new builds in those first years of ownership.

So why have period properties retained their appeal for buyers? Often highly individual in character and boasting a wealth of eye-catching period details, they make for an aesthetically pleasing choice that offers an alternative to the anonymous style of design often seen in new builds. There’s also limited stock, which keeps their desirability and bankability high.

See also: Are you in your Dream Home?

In comparison, while new builds are initially attractive to buyers because they require less maintenance and often come with a raft of facilities like gyms or a concierge, other factors can affect their long term value. For example, space is at such a premium in London that any prime locations are usually occupied by period homes. There’s also the resale issue—a brand new luxury flat may seem highly appealing now, but what about after several years have passed, when it’s no longer the very latest design?

What would make a buyer pause before buying a period property, however, is the risk that because of the age of the house you’ll be committing to expensive and extensive maintenance duties and repairs. According to Pete Ward, owner of Heritage House (a business dedicated to the care and restoration of old properties), this can be easily avoided. Read on for some of his key considerations.

Heritage homes: what you need to know

Caring for a heritage property should be interesting, fun and inexpensive. The key is understanding how the house was built—the materials it was originally built with, and what interventions have taken place in the years since.

Make sure your house is breathable

Put simply, an old house is a solid walled building, constructed using breathable materials—this can include stone, brick, lime mortar, lime plaster and paint, or timber frame.

If you block the ability of old materials to breathe, moisture is trapped, and they degrade. Timber starts to rot and go soft within walls, stone crumbles, bricks spall, and plaster falls off. There is a very simple rule: Modern materials don’t work. If your house has cement render externally, the walls will get damp. If it has been plastered internally with gypsum, or ‘damp proofed’—the walls will get damp. Cement and silicone around windows will rot them. Modern paints on external timber rot the timber by trapping moisture.

If moisture is trapped into a wall, it will be a cold wall, as damp walls allow heat to escape rapidly. Forget insulating old houses to start with—your first priority is to make sure all of the walls are bone dry. Dry walls don’t lose heat nearly as quickly as we are told and modern research has shown that old houses are actually very heat efficient—when they are dry! Heat is lost through windows, reveals and roof areas, but these are easy to insulate, and we don’t need to indulge in external or internal wall insulation. Recent research has shown these actually cause significant damp problems.

See also: Renovation Rules: A Guide to Renovating your Property

Practical steps when renovating

Everything should be geared to returning the house to breathability. Remove modern cement, gypsum and damp proofing of any sort. Use breathable lime mortar, lime plaster, and breathable clay paints such as the Earthborn range. Concrete floors trap moisture. Consider limecrete floors, with low temperature constant underfloor heating. Use oakum caulking around windows, which is flexible and breathable—never use acrylic or silicone sealants out of tubes. Use linseed paints, not modern plastic paints (Oricalcum do a superb range of paints).

Before you start, do a ‘mini survey’—look at ground levels around the house—make sure they are at least 6 inches below the top of the internal floors. Check all drains— get them CCTV surveyed. They are the most common source of damp problems. Make sure ALL stormwater is drained away from the house and cannot splash the bottom of walls. Go out in heavy rain and watch the roof—are the gutters taking the rain, or is it splashing out and running down walls? Make sure all the joints are watertight. Make sure all chimneys and flues are swept clean, and fires have stainless steel flues. Make sure there are no blocked up fireplaces full of damp, sooty rubble. Chimneys are full of salts, which absorb water, so you need to keep them swept and clear of dust and soot.

When you are designing your renovation, look at lifestyle—how you live in the house. Where does all the steam from cooking go? Into the building fabric, or out of an industrial extraction unit in the kitchen wall? The same applies for bathrooms. Cheap extractor fans do not remove nearly enough moisture. An average family in an old house with four bedrooms and two children produces around five gallons of water a day, just by being there. This places enormous stresses on the building if it is not removed. Kitchen vents, windows, sub-floor vents, fireplaces are all natural ways of reducing moisture. We use old houses differently to the way they were built originally, so we need to introduce artificial humidity control—this should take the form of humidity-controlled extraction. There are many cheap units around, but the best are the RHL units, which are scientifically designed and work to monitor and maintain humidity at ideal levels in your home. Maintaining low moisture levels is the single most important gift you can give to your old house—it’s not rocket science, and it’s not expensive!

For more information visit: heritage-house.org

See also: How to Increase the Value of your Home

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