What to consider if you want to buy a Georgian house

With their sense of history and fabulous proportions, it’s easy to be charmed by the elegant beauty of a Georgian house.

Influenced by classical Greece and Rome, Georgian houses have stood the test of time and have bags of character. A prestigious Georgian house is often a statement property and can make a great investment.

We take a look at the special characteristics of a Georgian house and highlight some of the pitfalls that can come with ownership for the unwary.

Grand townhouse: a magnificently restored Georgian house in Winchester.

What is a Georgian house?

The Georgian house spans a wide range of styles, from a fashionable townhouse to a grand mansion, along with rectories, villas and terraces.

Technically, Georgian houses were built between 1714 and 1837, during the reigns of George I to George IV, including the Regency years (1811-20) when the Prince Regent ruled by proxy for his father King George III. The style changed subtly over this long era; it began in the 18th century with symmetrical, simply decorated houses, which became more orate with the approach of the early 19th century. Late Georgian properties in the 19th century were built with decorative iron railings, pillars and decorative render finishes.

Bath is known as being home to some of the finest examples of the archetypal Georgian town house, along with its grand crescents. Other fine Georgian architecture can be found in Winchester, Essex, Norwich, Salisbury, Canterbury, Exeter, and London Regent’s Park and Chelsea. More decorative and opulent Regency town houses can be seen in Cheltenham, Liverpool, Chichester, Yorkshire, and Nottinghamshire.

A typical 18th century Georgian crescent in Regent’s Park near London’s West End.

Why buy a Georgian house?

  • For the space: they have large, well-proportioned rooms which are great for families and entertaining. A Georgian house was often built over several floors, offering great flexibility. Some town houses are built over five storeys, making them ideal for accommodating a growing family or creating a granny flat, annexe, or teenage room on the ground floor, the former kitchen and servants room areas.
  • For the pleasure of owning a piece of history: their size and style have a timeless appeal.
  • Having high ceilings, a Georgian house is usually light and spacious.
  • The elegance and symmetry of their architectural features, such as sash windows and decorative plasterwork.
  • Investment potential: Georgian houses are usually in high demand due to their historical significance and classical features. As there’s limited stock, they have a unique selling point and usually retain high values.
  • Georgian houses are not always listed and offer opportunities to renovate and modernise.
  • Location: they are often found in historic areas, beautiful rural settings, and city centres.
  • The classical interior of a Georgian house provides a blank canvas, making it adaptable to all sorts of decorating styles, from period furniture and fabrics to a modern minimalist approach.
  • A Georgian house in the country often has a large garden.
  • According to Savills, an 18th century Georgian house is the most sought-after property type, followed by Victorian houses.
  • Their quintessentially British style is ever popular with international buyers.
A Georgian terrace.

Typical features of a Georgian house

  • Perfect symmetry, stucco facades, Doric columns, sash and fanlight windows, porticos and pediments.
  • Tall, with three or four storeys.
  • A grand town house was often built around a small central garden square, having either a very small individual garden or none at all.
  • The kitchen and servants’ room usually occupied the ground or lower ground floor, with reception rooms on the middle floors and the upper floors designed for bedrooms and servants’ quarters.
  • Timber panelled interiors.
  • A grand entrance hall and a staircase with turned balusters.
  • Wide floorboards and stone flags on the ground floor and basement.
  • Simple but striking fireplaces; later, more detailed neoclassical designs became fashionable, inspired by acclaimed architect Robert Adam.
  • Decoration such as ceiling roses and plaster cornicing around high ceilings.
The Royal Crescent in Bath took the idea of a grand town house to a new level.

The downsides of owning a Georgian house

Previous renovations

It’s likely that renovation work will have been carried out over the years, so it’s important to investigate the quality of this work and assess whether it fits with the age and style of the house. Extensions, kitchens and bathrooms are the most frequently renovated parts of Georgian houses and period features may have been replaced by inferior fittings. Previous renovation work may result in problems such as damp and condensation if the incorrect materials have been used, such as the airtight and waterproof materials found in modern buildings: older buildings need to breathe and let moisture escape.

Specialist knowledge

Renovation costs are likely to be higher than with a modern property and require the services of specialist tradespeople. Some Georgian houses will have had extensions or additions built which may compromise the original building and result in a maze of smaller, older rooms at the back of the property. It’s not uncommon to find underfloor vents blocked and outside walls rendered or repointed, preventing the ground floor walls and underfloor void from drying out, which can lead to decay in floor joists. It’s important to use a contractor who understands how old buildings work.

Maintenance costs

Due to its age and the materials used in construction, Georgian property can be costly to maintain. Depending on how a house has been looked after over the years, it may need upgrades to the plumbing, wiring, and heating systems.

Structural issues

A full structural survey is advisable to establish whether there is any structural movement and evidence of a damp-proof course; Georgian houses were not damp-proofed when they were built, but damp-proofing work may have been carried out by a previous owner. Other common problems include subsidence, sagging roofs, and deteriorating foundations.

Structural movement is common as foundations under Georgian properties are shallower than today’s modern standards. However, sloping floors, crooked doors, and window frames may not be a concern if the movement has stopped, and walls can be braced to make the building structurally sound.

Planning permission

A Georgian house may well be listed as Grade I or II, or be sited in a conservation area, both of which may restrict the alterations you can make to it. A house may also be of historical significance; if so, the local planning department might hold details about it.

Energy efficiency

A Georgian house, along with many pre-war homes, could have an energy performance certificate (EPC) rating of E or below. Improvements to the insulation, windows, and method of heating the house may be needed.

Roof issues

As well as inspecting the slates, think about the leadwork, parapet gutters and concealed valleys with a Georgian house.

Windows

While windows may have been restored, check the quality of the replacement work as poor-quality alterations can reduce a property’s value significantly. Windows can be repaired and add great character and well-designed secondary glazing can add to their energy efficiency.

Location

Many Georgian houses are found in elegant town and city centres and command a high price, and while less expensive examples can be found in rural areas, they can be remote and far from local amenities and transport links.

Insurance

A Georgian house may be costly to insure due to its age and historical importance.

Marble Hill House, a true statement of an 18th century Palladian villa near Twickenham.

An overview of the Georgian house

The Georgian era runs from 1714 when George I became king, to 1830 when George IV died. It was a time of prosperity and much new town development, mainly defined by Classical architecture. The country mansions and fine town house development seen in the beautiful terraces of Bath, Bristol and London epitomise this time of architectural elegance and mark the high point of Georgian architecture; many are listed or stand in conservation areas. As well as being a time of grand house building, important landscapes were designed, along with civic and industrial buildings.

Palladian architecture

1714 marked the arrival of the Hanoverian monarchy and a new architectural style. Palladianism was based on neo-classical lines of proportion and symmetry and presented a marked change from the ornamental and curvilinear forms of the Baroque era which came before it. Palladian architecture is named after the Venetian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580), who was influenced by ancient Roman architecture. Famous examples of a grand house from this era include Holkham Hall, Norfolk, and Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire.

Neo-Classical architecture

Strict Palladian principles were relaxed by the mid 18th century as the neo-classical style became fashionable. It was influenced by classical architecture from ancient Greece, and the revival style is typified by Robert Adam’s ornamented walls and ceilings.

Other styles of Georgian house

While the Georgian era was dominated by the classical style of architecture, other styles were popular including Rococo, Chinoiserie and Gothic; a fine example of Gothic architecture is Horace Walpole’s grand house, Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham.

Strawberry Hill House.

Regency style

This style of Georgian house emerged in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and was influenced by neo-Classicism and Gothic Revival as well as Indian, Chinese and Tudor. Perhaps the most famous and exuberant example is the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, built by John Nash between 1815-1823 for the Prince Regent.

Brighton Pavilion.

Final thoughts on owning a Georgian house

If you’re thinking about a Georgian house, the appeal of owning a period property needs to outweigh considerations about repair costs and heating bills. If you could afford to take these things on, a Georgian house is a great option if you love history, architecture, and lots of space, and are prepared to take on board the ongoing maintenance issues as part of the deal.

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