A Step-by-Step Guide to a Profitable Barn Conversion Investment in UK

Barn conversions are a long-time favourite in the UK market. There are both emotional and financial reasons to consider investing in a barn conversion. It is an investment that has a great potential of profitable return no matter if you decide to convert a barn for your own family home or with the pure intention to sell it for profit.

In order to make a great deal, the investor should be familiar with the main factors that make a barn conversion appealing to home-buyers and know the main steps involved in this type of investment. The guide below will take you through the process of a profitable barn conversion deal.

Short history of UK barn conversions

Living in a barn conversion is a dream for many people in the UK as it is associated with peace, authentic atmosphere and a pinch of modern feeling.

You are wrong to believe that barn conversions are an invention of the last few years. Actually, they became popular back in the 70s and 80s. The conversions at that time, however, left UK with a legacy of nostalgic buildings with PVC windows and inappropriate paving and interior design, which are a real loss to the UK rural heritage.

Fortunately, the authorities noticed the problem and now are quite strict with issuing permissions for barn conversions. The permits are quite specific when it comes to what can be done with a barn and what is strictly forbidden. Now the local authorities are looking for a way to preserve the beauty of the old buildings by instilling new life in them. They are often converted into community centers or school with a very low rate of barn conversion for individual dwellings. That makes this type of property even more attractive on the market and a potential lucrative investment.

Why a barn conversion is a profitable investment

Barns are an attractive property with lots of potentials. They are usually impressive structures built with local materials that give them unique beauty and a distinctive regional style. Quite often barns are located on attractive plots in a commuting distance from the big city, which makes them a secluded and peaceful place to live, while still in a comfortable distance from all the modern-day amenities and services we need. This is one of the reasons that make a barn conversion quite attractive to both younger and older generations.

There are fully converted barns that are offered on the market but if you are looking for a good investment, you shall consider those that need to be converted from scratch. A barn with great potential and excellent location and/or rich heritage may be listed for sale for a 6-figure sum, especially if it has all the necessary documentation facilitating conversion.

Depending on your ability to convert a barn into an attractive dwelling, you can earn a solid profit since demand for barn conversions in the UK is still steady.

11 simple steps for a successful barn conversion

There are certain specifications and pitfalls associated with barn conversions. No matter if you are a new or experienced property investor, it is always good to have a trusted partner on your side when choosing the best investment for you.

In order to make your barn conversion a profitable investment, it is a good idea to follow these simple steps:

1. Find a barn conversion

In order to make a profit, you need to find the right barn for your investment. As the general rule is to buy the worst house on the best street, you can apply this criterion here as well. Determine the location first and then start looking for deals. There are different types of barns offered on the market – some are fully converted and modernized and ready to move in. This is not the investment you are looking for. Choose a barn that needs renovation and has a great location – proximity to town or other amenities such as schools, etc.

Contacting a local estate agent is one of the options to find a barn conversion but keep in mind that they may offer more finished homes rather than barns waiting to be converted. A good idea will be to check the local newspapers for barn conversions or even explore the area by yourself. General property websites may also offer some options or you can look for more specialized sites focused on barns and renovations.

Working with a trusted property investment consultant such as Seed Property Consultants is the best way to minimise the risk while maximising the profit.

2. Secure your financing

If you have decided to invest in a barn conversion, make sure that you have the necessary finances to complete the project. Keep in mind that conventional mortgages are not suitable for conversion projects as usually, you get a mortgage only for a property that is considered “habitable”. Look through other financial products that are suitable for your project such as a bridging loan, for example. Consult a financial expert to find the most appropriate option for you.

3. Research building and permission rights

When it comes to converting non-residential property into residential one, there are certain rules and procedures that need to be followed. The good news is that the legislation in the UK concerning barn conversions was relaxed in 2014. The amendment to the General Permitted Development Order allows certain barns located on agricultural land to be converted into residential property without planning permission.

Certain barn conversions are considered permitted development and there is only a “Prior Notification” procedure that needs to be followed. Still, there are significant restrictions into what a conversion may include such as the rule that the floor space of the converted dwelling shall not exceed 450m2. If you are planning changes to the roof height, inserting new windows or rebuilding a significant part of the barn, you will have to apply for a planning permission as the permitted development does not cover such interventions.

Note that permitted development rights apply only in England at present and do not cover listed buildings and designated zones such as national parks and conservation areas. If you plan to invest in a barn conversion elsewhere in the UK, you will need planning permission.

Hence, it is very important to be fully aware of the status of the barn you are purchasing. If you can convert it as a permitted development that will cost you much less and give you more chances for a higher profit.

You can also opt to purchase a barn that already has a planning permission but bear in mind that it will cost much more. Make a good and detailed cost analysis to see if this option is better than getting a permission on your own.

4. Get the barn surveyed

Complete information about the structure and stability of the barn you have selected for conversion is essential in order to decide whether the project is viable or not. Keep in mind that barns were initially built for storing produce or as a shelter for animals and not as a dwelling for humans. Hence, the construction may not be as stable as you might think.

Get a surveyor, structural engineer or an architect to check the structure and stability of the barn prior to purchasing it. The survey will provide you with important information about roof structure, foundations and load-bearing walls. In case the structure is not solid enough to take the renovation, you may need to take it down and build almost everything anew, which is not the purpose of your investment.

5. Hire an experienced barn conversion architect or designer

The fact that you already have a building doesn’t mean that you do not need the services of a professional architect. On the contrary, sometimes it is even more complicated to reconstruct an already existing property, especially when it wasn’t initially meant to serve as a residential building. Choose an architect experienced in barn conversions, who will be able to maximise the potential of the building.

You may also consider hiring an interior designer who can give precious advice as to the internal layout of the barn that can retain its original character while turning it into a practical living place.

6. Take care of services and utilities

It is fair to accept that the barn you are buying is not connected to the water main, electricity or drainage, let alone gas. Take into account the cost of connection as it may add thousands to your budget renovation. Get quotes from utility suppliers at an earlier stage if possible.

It is a good idea to opt for reusable energy supply such as solar panels or heat pumps, which may keep the bills low while making the property more attractive.

7. Plan proper insulation

One of the main purposes of a barn is to keep the produce dry and hence a good ventilation may be required. This is just the opposite to what you need for a residential property. In order to meet the thermal performance standards of your barn conversion, you need proper insulation.

To keep the building attractive is better to preserve its original external cladding made of stone, timber or brick. Your best choice is internal insulation. Choose breathable material that can be covered with plasterboard afterward. One of the options is to batten sheep wool between the studs, which is often chosen for barn conversions.

8. Choose the right heating option

When you are choosing a heating option for a barn conversion, you need to take into account the peculiarities of the open-plan usually vaulted spaces. Underfloor heating is one of the best solutions for such places as it emits radiant and even warmth throughout the place. It is also a plus on the aesthetics, keeping the atmosphere as authentic as possible.

9. Provide more natural light

Barns are usually built with large swinging doors but quite small windows. Your aim while converting it to a comfortable living place is to provide more natural light. The problem with adding more or larger windows, however, lies in the permitted development right you have. Changes especially at the principal façade are not allowed as they are seen as ruining the barn’s initial rural appeal.

There are a few options to consider in order to maximise brightness inside a converted barn:

  • Use conservation-style rooflights
  • Try to subtly widen the already existing windows
  • Install glazing in cart openings – thus you will make the place brighter while keeping intact this authentic feature
  • Use a lot of mirrors, combined with glass and metal elements in the interior design that can reflect light
  • Paint the walls in pale colours

10. Consider barn conversion layout and adding more space

One of the trickiest parts of a barn conversion is how to make the space functional and yet aesthetically pleasing. The natural construction is more suitable for an open-plan layout rather than for partitions and corridors. Vaulted ceilings will add to the overall effect of the barn. It is a good idea to locate the bedrooms in the upper story if one can be incorporated into the construction. Otherwise, put them at either end of the building at the mezzanine level.

It is also possible to add some more space by a simple lean-to. Keep in mind that it shouldn’t be something large and that it can be a make it or break it point in your barn conversion.

11. Retain the barn’s character

When you start the conversion, remember that it was the original barn’s charm that first attracted you to this place. Make sure to keep its main assets visible. Try to expose timber cladding, old beams or stonework. Choose the new materials carefully so that they match the overall character of the barn.

Keeping the authentic look of a barn, while adding modern furniture and equipment inside will reveal the full potential of your barn conversion and attract more interest.

A barn conversion is not a cheap undertaking but can make a great investment. It is true that at some point you may end up spending more per m2 than if you were building from scratch. The final result and the unique character of the building, however, will appeal more to potential buyers. Always work with high-quality materials and with renowned experts, so that you can get the very best results from your investment.

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