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Heritage home renovations explained

Mark Bristow avatar
Mark Bristow
- 4 min read
Heritage home renovations explained

Buying and renovating an older property can be an affordable and satisfying way to improve your quality of life at home, or to add more value to an investment. However, renovating a home old enough to qualify for heritage listing can bring with it a whole set of new complications. Be prepared for extra work and hassle, but also extra satisfaction!

What is heritage listing?

Buildings may be considered ‘heritage’ properties if their history and aesthetic value is deemed worthy of preserving for future generations. 

An individual building may be heritage listed, or it may be situated within a heritage conservation area.

Keep in mind that some properties may be advertised for sale with ‘heritage features’ such as high ceilings or ornate tiling, but this doesn’t necessarily mean the home is heritage listed. 

Heritage listing is managed by local councils, and in some cases the state and federal governments. Even relatively minor fixes and repairs around a heritage-listed house could require lodging a development application with the council.

You may need to engage a heritage advisor or assessor to consider the effect that renovations could make on the home’s heritage. Some local councils offer heritage advisor services, and there are also private firms that you can reach out to.

Can you renovate a heritage property?

If a house is heritage listed, you may assume that you can’t renovate the property at all. This isn’t true, though there are restrictions and limitations to consider.

You can still conduct building works on a heritage home to ensure it is a safe space for contemporary habitation. However, in doing so you must maintain its character as a heritage building.

For example, you can still replace rotted floorboards and add modern electrical systems to heritage-listed homes. However, you’ll need to make sure the works are completed in the same style and to a similar standard as the rest of the property. You may need to use like-for-like materials, so wooden window frames can’t be replaced with sturdy aluminium, for example. You may need to find specialist tradespeople capable of handling this heritage style of work, which may be more expensive than hiring everyday tradies and contractors.

You may find that you’re especially limited in the changes you can make to your home’s heritage facade – you may not be able to choose your own preferred colour or style for the paint, windows, doors, fences, and so on. This could also limit what you can do with the garden and surrounding features, as nearby trees may also be covered by the heritage listing.

Adding extensions and alterations to a heritage home is possible, though you may be limited in what’s allowed. You may have more flexibility if the proposed works are out of sight from the street, at the back of the property, and if they fit the overall integrity of the home’s style. This can be tricky to assess, so what’s allowed could vary on a case-by-case basis.

What happens if I ignore a heritage listing?

Renovating a heritage-listed property without the knowledge or approval of the local council could get in serious legal strife, and you may have to pay expensive fines.

For example, according to MoneyMag, in 2017 a Tasmanian man was fined $225,000 and ordered to pay legal costs to the Hobart City Council for illegally demolishing a listed 1890s-era house and chopping down two heritage-listed trees growing on the block.

Can you buy a heritage property with a normal home loan?

Because heritage properties may be harder to sell if you can’t keep up with your repayments, a lender may consider it a riskier mortgage. Depending on the lender, a formal valuation may be required, and you may need to pay a higher deposit of at least 20%, or even 30%, of the property’s value to apply. 

Keep in mind that councils and state and territory governments want to see heritage properties maintained, and may offer grants and incentives to owners looking to restore them, which could help to offset some of the renovation costs in some cases.

Can you insure a heritage home?

You can take out a home insurance policy on a heritage-listed home, before or after you renovate, but it may be more expensive. This is because heritage homes may not fit the assumptions that many insurers have when calculating premiums for standard policies.

In some cases, you may need to apply for specialist cover, as repairing or rebuilding a heritage building after an insured event could be much more expensive and time consuming than with a more standard property.

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Product database updated 14 Jun, 2024

This article was reviewed by Personal Finance Editor Peter Terlato before it was published as part of RateCity's Fact Check process.