Buying an unusual property

If you can’t find what you’re looking for in a residential property, there are other options. Pubs, lighthouses, chuches, warehouses and even water towers can be converted into homes. Jennifer Newton explains what to expect when taking on an unusual project.

Pubs, lighthouses, churches, warehouses or even water towers – the choice is endless if you’re looking for a challenging renovation project. Converting an unusual property offers the potential for creating a truly individual home, plus there’s the bonus of tax breaks.

There is zero-rated VAT on building a new home, plus a reduced VAT rate of five per cent if you convert a non-residential property into a home. These are great savings when you consider that the standard rate of VAT is 20 per cent. However, always check the rate of VAT with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs ( before buying a property.

If the property you want to buy doesn’t come with planning permission to convert it, you’ll need to ask your local authority for guidance. Peter Bolton King, chief executive of The National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA,, says: ‘Such conversions are not simple, and it is essential to thoroughly evaluate the work involved beforehand.’

The internet is the best resource for finding property. Search on Google, or go to websites such as and For possible pub conversions, try specialist sites like, but if the property is being sold for residential use it is just as likely to be offered through estate agents or auction houses. You can also ask your local council if it is selling old utility buildings, or visit the area you want to live in and look out for properties.

Buying a property to convert

The NAEA offers this advice:

  • Weigh up the cost of a conversion versus a new build. Fitting out an existing property might seem a cheaper option, but commercial space often requires skilled labour to comply with standards for residential use, adding to costs.
  • Consider access and look out for parking restrictions or other limitations that could make a home less desirable to live in or sell on.
  • Get a feel for the surroundings, which may not be residential, and make sure you would be comfortable living there.

*All property prices and estimates correct at time of publishing