What to consider when buying or renovating a heritage home

heritage building

Australia is proud of its rich history and heritage architecture. Much-loved religious landmarks like St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne (built between 1848–1940) and St Mary’s in Sydney (built between 1866–1928) embody the longstanding traditions and history of Australia’s Catholic community. While iconic, historic buildings, like the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building and Flinders Street Station, capture the stories of a city, its people and an era.

For similar reasons, many Australians are drawn to heritage homes for their charm and character, and want to preserve them. In this article, we look at what to consider before buying or restoring a heritage house.

Is it heritage-listed?

Before you buy a historic house, it’s important to know whether it’s heritage-listed, and if so, at what levels. Properties are heritage-listed on either a local, state, national, or Commonwealth register. You can check this by contacting your local council or state heritage body.

How a house is listed will dictate the regulations around how it can be managed, maintained and developed, with rules often differing between the states and territories. It’s important to note it doesn’t mean that renovations or changes can’t be undertaken on a listed property. Rather, that they may need to be approved or meet specific criteria beforehand.

You can undertake works to modernise the property. For example, the Heritage Council of New South Wales, states that “the approvals process promotes sympathetic changes to retain the authenticity of heritage places. Listed places can be converted to new uses and upgraded with approval. New bathrooms, kitchens and living space are commonly approved changes.”

These regulations may impact the budget, timing and nature of a build, but are in place to ultimately preserve historic properties and protect them from demolition.

Owning a heritage-listed house also has benefits. For example, in NSW, owners of listed homes can apply for heritage grants and loans, access free heritage advisory support from local councils and state register bodies, and sometimes, depending on the property, receive concessions on both local rates and land tax.

Planning ahead

Before you start renovations or restorations, be sure to:

Research, research, research

Learn as much as you can about the history and original use of the house and the architectural period it was built in. This will help you better understand how it was constructed and the styles of the period.

Contact the local council. Ask the realtor and previous owners what they know about it. Visit the local and state library to see if any information exists on their archives. The websites of heritage bodies, on a local, state and national level, can also be wonderful resources.

Work with people that understand heritage

From your architect to your builder to the tradespeople you recruit – work with experts that understand heritage homes. They’ll likely bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the restoration or renovation.

Seek out heritage homeowners you know who have undertaken renovations for referrals. Getting the advice of a heritage consultant in the early stages of planning may also be beneficial. For example, Melbourne-based Secret Design Studio offers a service called Dr Retro House Calls, a one-consultation service where they visit a client’s mid-century home and offer insights and solutions on some of the key issues they may face.

There is also a range of Australian heritage groups, such as the Art Deco and Modernism Society of Australia (ADMSA), dedicated to the preservation of heritage buildings that may also be able to assist with resources and referrals.

Don’t rush it

Live in the house for a while and get to understand what you like and don’t like about the space. This will better inform any changes or renovations you might like to make. Seek out a variety of opinions and be confident in your choices before any work begins.

While restoring a heritage property may take little more time and consideration, you can create a functional and truly unique home, while also preserving the history and character of the property and streetscape.


Whether you’re a landlord or the owner of a heritage home, CCI Personal Insurance can help protect your property. Find out more about our Landlord or Home and Contents Insurance policies or get a quote today.