Have you ever wondered when your house was built? If so, you’re not alone. Many homeowners are curious to find out more about their property’s history and previous inhabitants. There are also practical reasons for finding out how old a property is, particularly when maintaining and insuring it. For this reason, it’s vital information for landlords as well.
In this article, we provide you with a thorough guide to discovering the age of your home and look at some of the benefits this information can give you.
- Why is it important to know what year my house was built?
- How do I find out when a house was built?
- What other ways can I find out when a property was built?
- What’s classified as an old house?
- How accurate is the ‘year built’ data?
There are lots of good reasons for knowing when your house was built. Firstly, knowing the age of your home can help you choose the right materials and methods for repairing and renovating it. Secondly, it can help you understand your home’s true rebuild cost. Insurers will normally ask the approximate age of your house for this reason. Generally, you’ll pay a higher premium to insure older properties as they are normally more expensive to rebuild. Finally, learning more about your home’s history, how it has changed over time, and its place in your community can be interesting.
If you want to find out when your house was built, there are several ways of going about it. However, the more modern your house, the easier it will be to track down accurate information. We suggest you try the following to discover how old a property is.
1. Check on HM Land Registry
In England or Wales, your first port of call will normally be HM Land Registry. You can search for your property using this tool.
What is HM Land Registry?
HM Land Registry maintains a public record of land ownership and property transactions in England and Wales. Its primary function is to accurately record property ownership, rights, and interests in land. It maintains one of Europe’s largest property databases, comprising 26 million titles that cover 88% of the land mass of the two countries.
Working out the age of your property
Once you’ve located your property using HM Land Registry’s online search tool, you can consult a free property summary. This tells you its address, the tenure type (e.g. freehold or leasehold), when it was last sold (and for how much), plus an indication of whether the property is subject to any restrictive covenants (things you can’t do with the land) or easements (rights of one piece of land over another, such as rights of way).
However, if you want to find out approximately how old your house is, you’ll need to download the Title Register for a small fee. The register will not list the date your property was built, but if it was first sold by the developer who built it, the date of this first sale will be documented. This will give you an approximate age for your home.
What about property in Scotland and Northern Ireland?
You can consult two property registers in Scotland: the Land Register and the Sasine Register. The Sasine Register is the world’s oldest national public land register, dating back to 1617. It is currently being replaced by the Land Register. You can find details about how to search both registers here.
Northern Ireland also has its own Land Registry. If your property isn’t registered, you’ll need to consult the Registry of Deeds. This comprises paper records from 1923 and digital records from 1st January 1990. Searching land records in Northern Ireland can be complex – you will normally need to visit one of five Land and Property Services (LPS) offices or, to consult deeds before 1990, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.
How much does it cost to look for property information using the different land registries?
You can download a Title Register from HM Land Registry for £3. You can order a hard copy for £7, if they can’t be downloaded online.
In Scotland, you can purchase a Title Sheet for £3 + VAT. There are different fees if you need to search the Sasine Register.
You can find fees for searching and copying Land Registry documents in Northern Ireland here.
2. Check your title deeds
If you have access to your title deeds, they will give you information that you’ll find in a Title Register or Title Sheet. However, if you have a mortgage, your lender will normally hold the deeds. While you can ask to see your deeds at any time, it’s normally simpler to check online with the relevant land registry.
3. Check the details on your home survey or mortgage offer
You may have paid for a survey of your home when you bought it, or your mortgage lender will have completed one when determining the property value. This document will normally tell you either the exact or approximate date that the property was built. If you still have your mortgage offer documents, they may also contain this information.
4. Contact your local authority
If your house is relatively modern, your local authority may be able to help you pinpoint when it was built. Since 1st July 1948, new developments have required planning permission. Many councils have digitised more recent records and put them online, but for earlier ones, you’ll need to contact the local planning department for information. Once you know when planning permission for your home was granted, it’s likely that building began shortly afterwards.
5. Talk to the previous owners or neighbours
The previous owners of your home may have documents that can tell you when the property was built. If you are unable to speak to them, neighbours may be able to help, especially if their home was built at the same or similar time.
Sometimes, you can draw a blank when trying to find out when your home was built. This is more often the case with older homes built when records were sparse or non-existent. In these situations, there are still ways you can find out approximately when a property was built.
Maps can help you deduce when a property was built. Comparing historical Ordnance Survey Maps may help you discover when your property was mapped for the first time. Your local library service may hold historical maps of your area. You can also try historical map deposit libraries such as the British Library, The National Library of Wales, or the National Library of Scotland. Fire insurance maps at the British Library can be helpful if your home was built between 1886 and 1930.
2. Timber sampling
Timber sampling uses tree ring dating (dendrochronology) to work out the age of your building. Patterns in the wood taken from samples in your property can be used to work out the year the tree was formed, giving you an idea of when your property was built.
3. Listed building registers
If your home is a listed building, you may be able to find out when it was built by consulting the relevant register. You can search online using the National Heritage List for England (NHLE), the National Historic Assets of Wales or the database maintained by Historic Environment Scotland.
4. Census returns
Censuses have been taken every ten years from 1801, although personal details were not officially recorded until 1841. These records can help you narrow down when your home was built. For example, if your property is listed in the 1881 census but not in the 1871 survey, it’s highly likely to have been built between those dates. You can search census records for England, Wales and Scotland up to 1921. Unfortunately, due to a number of historical reasons, only the complete 1901 and 1911 censuses are available for Ireland and Northern Ireland. A limited number of records survive for the three Irish censuses between 1821 and 1851.
5. Try local archives
Local archives are often a good place to find documents that may help you put a date on your home. Local authority archives are a good place to start, but remember that many universities and other archives hold land and estate records. You can search for archives by country and region here.
6. Use visual cues
Houses built during different periods of the past often have common features that help you to identify them. There’s an excellent guide to British architectural house styles on the First in Architecture website, but we’ve provided a summary of architectural periods and styles below.
Generally speaking, an old house is considered to be one that was built before the Second World War. These are the key architectural periods and some of the features to look out for. Note that some of them overlap, such as the Regency period, which is often considered a distinct part of the Georgian era.
- 1485 – 1603 (Tudor). Tudor architecture is characterised by half-timbered houses, steeply pitched roofs, and ornate chimneys. It often features intricate woodwork and decorative details.
- 1550 – 1625 (Elizabethan). Elizabethan architecture includes timber framing, mullioned windows, and elaborate decorative elements.
- 1603 – 1625 (Jacobean). Jacobean architecture continued the use of timber framing but incorporated more classical elements. It featured larger windows and simpler designs compared to the Elizabethan era.
- 1702 – 1714 (Queen Anne). The Queen Anne style is known for its restrained elegance and use of brick or stone. It features symmetrical designs, large sash windows, and curved gables.
- 1714 – 1837 (Georgian). Symmetry, classical proportions, and materials like brick and stone characterise Georgian architecture.
- 1811 – 1820 (Regency). The Regency style is a subset of Georgian architecture emphasising elegance and refinement. It features decorative elements, stucco facades, and large windows.
- 1837 – 1901 (Victorian). Victorian architecture encompasses a wide range of styles, from neo-Gothic country houses to small brick cottages.
- 1901 – 1910 (or 1918) (Edwardian). The Edwardian style is similar to the Victorian, though houses were often broader and featured wider halls.
- 1918 – 1940 (Post WWI). Post-war architecture encompasses a wide range of styles. It often features clean lines, minimalist aesthetics, and new materials like steel and glass. More modest dwellings are usually made of brick or pebbledash and have a fairly simple design.
The accuracy of any ‘year built’ data you find will depend on its source. If your home is relatively modern, it’s likely you’ll be able to locate the exact year it was built. For older properties, you may be able to narrow down a window of time in which it’s likely the property was built (such as by using map or census data). For very old properties, you may have to use an approximate date based on the architectural style of the property and any early records you may uncover.
What is the oldest house in the UK?
Saltford Manor House in Somerset is often considered England’s oldest continually occupied private house. The house was originally built in the Norman period, and although it has very early features, it was extensively remodelled in the 17th Century.
The undisputed oldest house in the UK is the Knap of Howar in Orkney. It’s a Neolithic farmstead that is possibly the oldest preserved stone house in Northern Europe. It was occupied as early as 3700 BC.
What if I can’t find out when my house was built?
If you can’t find out when your house was built from records, you will have to date it from its architectural style and features. An architecture expert may be able to help you do this relatively accurately.
Will the age of my property affect my insurance premiums?
Yes, the age of your property is likely to affect your insurance premiums. Your sum insured is based on the rebuild value of your property, which is partially determined by its age and the construction methods used. The sum insured is one factor affecting the premium you pay.
Why are older properties more expensive to insure?
There are many reasons why an older property is likely to be more expensive to insure. They may be built of materials that are more susceptible to damage and cost more to replace. If the property is listed, repairing the damage may rely on specialist materials and craftspeople. This can be expensive, so many owners opt for specialist listed building insurance. In addition, installing some security and safety features can be more difficult (or impossible), making them more susceptible to fire or theft.
Talk to an insurance broker
As you’ve seen, there are many techniques for finding the age of your home. If you are a homeowner, you’ll need this information to get an accurate quote from a home insurance broker. It’s wise to have insurance that reflects the true cost of rebuilding your home, as being underinsured when you need to make a claim can be costly.
Landlords also need to know the age of the properties they let. This is not only to secure appropriate landlord buildings insurance. Older properties are often less secure, so the age of a property will impact premiums for cover such as unoccupied property insurance.
Whatever the age of your home or your rental properties, Alan Boswell Group can help you find the right cover for your needs. Whether you need cover for your own house or your buy-to-let portfolio, our team of experts is on hand to help. Speak to us today at 01603 216399.