Property Notes: Buying a barn?


The real ‘wow’ factor of a great barn conversion is really only possible to appreciate in person.

Each one is unique in terms of setting, style and design so you may need to view a few before finding your dream country home.

Many are Listed, so the character of an agricultural history now blends with a stylish, contemporary interior. The typical open plan, central reception space, vaulted ceilings and exposed timbers to a great degree epitomise country life.

Layouts, primarily on one floor although sometimes with mezzanines, make them fairly flexible in use. For example, a room currently used by the existing owner as a study could equally become a child’s bedroom.

In Small Dole, HJ Burt is selling a 6 bedroom barn (£1.25m) which is set all on the ground floor bar one upstairs room, and has been stylishly converted in recent years.

“It’s been beautifully developed with no expense spared from the high tech bathrooms to a top quality kitchen,” says Robert Turner of HJ Burt in Henfield. “It might look tiny from the front but as you step into the courtyard it just keeps on going - barns are deceptive and belie what’s inside which is why it’s so important for buyers to go out and see them. This particular barn is likely to suit someone like a young family, perhaps from Brighton, looking for the country life, but barns do attract a wide range of buyers.”

Andrew Finch of the Steyning office of HJ Burt, adds: “There are definitely quite a number of people who aspire to a lovely rural setting and particularly a barn. We sometimes hear from people downsizing from a substantial country house or estate who are looking for a similar rural setting.

“People do like barn conversions and they are always in demand but there are few about,” adds Andrew. “Generally there are two distinct types of buyers, those who want everything ready to move straight in to and those who want to take on the work of the conversion. Quite a lot of people are looking for projects. Location is always important with either a lovely rural outlook or land, possibly for equestrian premises alongside.”

HJ Burt gives advice to landowners who are considering selling their barn(s) to ensure the best outcomes for such buildings. Andrew Finch, who is RICS qualified, has been with HJ Burt for some 14 years. The firm’s history goes back about 129 years with a strong background in rural surveying which still proves valuable when working with land and property owners across towns & countryside in West Sussex.

“If buying a barn with planning consent, go with a good builder, architect and surveyor. Take the best possible advice that you can. A Listing can make the conversion more expensive, whether Listed in its own right or by being located near the farmhouse.”

A full structural survey is recommended for peace of mind or to highlight any potential problems and your solicitor will want to see full Building Regs to check the design complies, together with Listing approvals and any warranties for the conversion work.

Barns present certain specific challenges when it comes to converting into a 21st century home, as Horsham Chartered Surveyor, Colin Durham, explains, “It’s important to look carefully at details such as whether drainage and services are available as you may need special systems. Insulation is a considerable issue which needs to be incorporated into walls, roofs and windows, and foundations must be checked as barns were sometimes built on a single stone slab or even just onto the bare earth.

“A timber faced barn needs a proper structure and foundations, all while retaining the character. So if you are thinking of converting a barn, check the details of planning consent and bring in the specialists.”

Good local materials, a practical design which allows for flexible living spaces and where you can change a light bulb without having to erect scaffolding to reach it up in the apex all adds to the value of the property.

Improvements in insulation mean that more recently converted barns hold the heat better, an important consideration given the cavernous central spaces usually found. In design terms, living and bedroom areas can be disproportionate depending on the layout, but it’s the ‘wow factor’ of the living space which is usually the starring attraction.

The real success of a barn conversion depends on the location and the extent to which the design incorporates rural character and practicality to create a really inspired blend of old and new in the countryside.

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