Guide to buying a barn conversion

Are you considering a barn conversion? With their blend of old-world charm and contemporary living options, barns are a great way to create a unique and characterful home that reflects your style.

However, it’s important to understand a building’s individual characteristics before deciding to buy.

Whether you’re looking for a quiet country retreat or a spacious party venue, a barn conversion can offer the perfect combination of history, beauty, and functionality.

We explain what you need to think about.

A beautiful barn conversion in Saffron Walden, Essex.

Understanding barn conversions

A barn conversion involves turning a former agricultural or industrial building into a residential property. While it’s possible to undertake a barn conversion yourself, it’s usually best to hire professionals with experience in this area since there are many technical considerations involved.

Barn conversions can be a great way to preserve a piece of history while also creating an original and beautiful home. Barn conversion costs can vary depending on many factors relating to the structural work involved which we examine below.

What is a barn conversion?

A barn conversion might be defined as a transformation of an old barn into a modern home. However, the term can also include other types of farm or industrial buildings, such as granaries, stables, and warehouses. These buildings are often located in rural areas and may have fallen into disrepair or become obsolete due to changes in farming or manufacturing practices.

When undertaking a barn conversion, it’s important to consider the building’s original purpose and history. Many barns have architectural features that are unique to their time and place, such as exposed timbers, stone walls, or slate roofs. These original features can add character and charm to a house and should be preserved in the design whenever possible.

Types of barn conversions

While all barn conversions share certain characteristics, they come in many types, from simple agricultural structures to huge former factories. These diverse properties offer a wide range of benefits, such as large open living spaces, high ceilings, exposed beams and unique architectural details.

One popular type of barn conversion is the `party barn,’ which is designed for entertaining and often includes a large open space for dancing, dining, or socialising. Converted barns are often used as wedding venues, and they can be grand or tiny: other popular ideas for them include artist studios, home offices, holiday homes and to house a swimming pool.

A barn conversion to create a ground floor party barn.

History and appeal of barn conversions

Barn conversions are steeped in history and can provide a rich connection to our past. Barns played a key role in the industrial revolution, providing storage and workspace for factories and mills.

Today, barn conversions are increasingly popular for their aesthetic appeal and often provide unique living space – something that stands out from typical modern builds.

The pros and cons of barn conversions

Pros

  • One of their main attractions is the spacious accommodation they can offer, which is great for open plan living, entertaining and family life in general.
  • Barns are often found in rural locations where you would not normally get planning permission for a new home.
  • They often occupy a tranquil setting with countryside views.  
  • A barn conversion can be customised to suit your own taste and lifestyle.
  • They can have awkward spaces which may create opportunities to be creative; for example, mezzanine floors can be effective.
  • Investment potential: due to their limited number and unique appeal, barn conversions can make a good investment depending on location and the standard of refurbishment: the best barn conversations are sympathetic to the original characteristics but with modern facilities.

Cons

  • Complying with planning and building regulations can be complex: following many poor conversions in the 70s and 80s, many planning authorities brought in strict policies. However, in 2018, the Class Q permitted development initiative made guidelines less demanding in a bid to create more housing in rural areas.
  • Barns can be expensive to both buy and renovate.
  • They may require structural repairs, insulation and upgrades to utilities.
  • Costly to heat: gas is not usually an option, so the choices are oil, electric storage heaters, a ground source heat pump or a biomass system.
  • If a barn is listed, any renovations might have to use materials compatible with those in the original building.
  • High maintenance costs due to the age of the property and the materials it’s constructed from.   
  • The lack of windows in many barns limits natural light: alternative lighting solutions will be needed.
  • If a barn is sited on a farm, there may be space and privacy issues and perhaps a Right of Way around the building.
Once derelict barns converted into houses.

Assessing the location

As with any home purchase, it’s crucial to carefully check out the location before making a decision as this can have a significant impact on your day-to-day life.

Rural vs. urban settings

Barn conversions are often located in the countryside and it’s important to consider the practicalities of living in a rural area. While the peace and quiet can be appealing, it can also be more difficult to access essential amenities like shops, healthcare, and leisure facilities. You may also find that transport links are limited, making it more difficult to travel for work or leisure, meaning that you are reliant on a car. You may also need to consider the quality of local schools.

On the other hand, living in an urban area can offer a wide range of amenities and various transport links, with easy access to shops, restaurants, and cultural attractions. However, urban living can be noisy and crowded, and you may have less outdoor space to enjoy.

Surrounding land and views

While the building itself is a key consideration, don’t forget to think about the surrounding land. A barn conversion can give you a unique outdoor space that will need to be maintained. Do you have the time and resources to take care of a large garden or outdoor area? Also, think about the views from the property and whether they could be impacted by future developments in the area. It’s important to remember that while the views may be beautiful now, they could change in the future if new buildings or developments are constructed nearby.

A thatched barn converted into an office.

Evaluating the property

Barn conversions are known for their character features but there are other important factors to think about when purchasing a property in this category. Before taking the plunge and investing in a barn conversion, it’s important to investigate the original structure to ensure that the property is right for you.

Structural integrity and inspections

One of the most important considerations when purchasing a barn conversion is the structural integrity of the building. Many barns were built years ago and were not designed to support modern living requirements such as insulation and pipes. This is why it’s essential to hire a qualified surveyor to carry out a full building survey before purchasing a barn conversion to ensure the structure of the building meets safety standards.

When inspecting the existing structure, it’s important to look for any signs of damage or wear and tear, such as cracks in the walls or uneven floors. These issues can be indicative of more serious structural problems that may require extensive repairs or renovations.

Renovation potential and limitations

Barn conversions present unique opportunities to restore and update the property in exciting ways. However, before embarking on any major renovations, it’s important to carefully consider the renovation potential and limitations of the building to get an accurate estimate of the likely costs involved.

For example, if you’re planning on converting the barn into a family home, you’ll need to ensure that the property has enough bedrooms and living space to accommodate your family’s needs. Similarly, if you’re planning on using the barn as a holiday home, you’ll need to consider the practicalities of maintaining the property when you’re not there. If the property is near a holiday hotspot, you might want to plan a luxury contemporary interior to appeal to a high-end clientele.

Energy efficiency and insulation

One of the biggest challenges of converting a barn into a contemporary home is ensuring that it will be energy efficient and well-insulated. Some barn conversions were built from materials that don’t provide good insulation, which can mean high heating bills in the winter.

When evaluating a barn conversion, it’s important to investigate energy-efficient heating systems and insulation options for the property. This may include installing double-glazed windows, adding extra insulation to the walls and roof, or investing in a renewable energy system such as solar panels or a ground source heat pump. The best barn conversions are renovated to a high standard and have installed new technology such as underfloor heating to maximise their energy efficiency and future saleability.

Legal and planning considerations

Before investing in a barn conversion, it’s important to understand the legal and planning considerations involved.

Planning permission and building regulations

If specific protections and permissions are in place, you might need to comply with certain regulations as you convert the building. This can include obtaining planning permission from the local council, as well as ensuring that you comply with relevant building regulations. Failure to comply with these regulations can lead to costly fines and legal issues down the line, so it’s always best to get professional advice to ensure you’re aware of any regulatory constraints ahead of making your purchase.

It’s also important to consider the impact that the conversion may have on the local area. For example, if you are converting a barn in a rural location, you may need to consider how additional traffic and noise may affect the local community. Similarly, if you are converting a building in a conservation area, you may need to take additional steps to ensure that the conversion is sympathetic to the local environment. There may also be covenants in place on the building restricting further development or changes of use.

Listed building status and restrictions

If the barn you are considering is grade ii listed, you must be aware of the restrictions this imposes which could well affect your plans for the building. These restrictions can include limits on the types of materials that can be used, as well as restrictions on layout and design. It’s important to carefully consider these matters before making a purchase, as they can significantly impact the project’s feasibility and the costs involved.

However, it’s worth noting that listed buildings can also come with a range of benefits. For example, if you purchase a listed building, you may be eligible for grants and other financial support to help with the cost of the conversion. Additionally, listed buildings can often be more desirable to buyers, which can make them a good investment in the long term.

Rights of way and boundary disputes

As with buying any property, it’s essential to carefully check all issues relating to rights to access the property and boundary matters. For example, if there is a public footpath running through the property, you may need to ensure that you have adequate insurance in place to cover any accidents or injuries that may occur.

Similarly, it’s important to ensure that there are no boundary disputes that could impact the value or usability of the property. This can include disputes over the location of fences, walls, or other structures, as well as disputes over shared access to driveways or other areas.

And finally….

A barn conversion can be a great investment, but it’s important to take the time to do your due diligence before deciding to buy.

Consider each of the many factors above and consult with experts as necessary, and you’ll be well on your way to a successful barn conversion purchase and a characterful home that you can enjoy for years to come.

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