5 Essential Tips for Buying a Traditional Home

Scotland has many beautiful stone buildings that are full of charm and character. Built from natural materials they look great and fit perfectly in the landscape. Inside, the tall windows cast a calm, soft light into elegantly proportioned rooms. Its a dream form many of us, but if you are not prepared the reality can be disappointment or heartache.

While the process of buying a home in Scotland may have become fairly standardised, the type of home you buy and the potential outcomes will vary wildly.

Living in a modern house is all about power showers and duvet’s. They are efficient, perform well and reinvigorate you. As Le Corbusier once put it, a modern house is a machine for living in. We don’t have any particular attachment to them and recent statistics reveal that in Scotland, people mover home every 7 years, on average.

Living in a traditional house is about warm baths and cosy blankets. You luxuriate in it. You immerse yourself in it and it wraps itself around you, providing relaxation and comfort. Traditional homes are individual, quirky and unique. You develop a relationship with them and they become part of the family, sharing memories.

When you are ready to make the move, remember these tips;

 Traditional highland cottage


Tip 1 – Don’t be seduced by kerb appeal

The front of the building is always the one that grabs our attention. It is where most effort is made to keep things neat and tidy. Inside, everything will usually have a fresh coat of paint. With all the blemishes covered and concealed.

The back of the house is often more revealing. This is where the property is likely to have been altered or extended. Drainage may have been moved about, unsuitable modern materials may have been introduced at some point in the past. Maintenance may have been a bit less rigorous.

The back of the house can give you a lot useful information, about when major work was carried out and what you might expect to find hidden underneath the surface of the building.

 Back of  traditional property


Tip 2 – Check neighbouring properties

If these properties were built at the same time, they may give clues to some of the issues that may have been, or may yet be, encountered within your property.


Tip 3 – Do your own research.

The Single Survey / Homebuyers Report was introduced in Scotland a few years ago, to facilitate the home buying process. It is a standardised document that reports all properties in the same way. It may note some degradation or weathering of materials or components, but in the context of a traditional home, there is unlikely to be enough detail to give you a real understanding of the condition of the property or the extent of work that is needed. The simplified grading system that is used to evaluate the building fabric can give a misleading impression, with little in the way explanation of any points noted, or indication of the cost of carrying out any necessary investigation or repairs.

Importantly, traditional buildings and materials are not the same as modern construction materials. They need to be understood and treated in a different way. We would recommend you speak to tradesmen and professionals that have recognised expertise in traditional building conservation about the property, so that you can get a better understanding of the potential issues.


Tip 4 – Get your budget right.

Whether you are buying a new property or an older one, there will always be work needed. (something that people in modern homes often don’t appreciate.) Make sure you include the cost of repairs when preparing your financial projections. 

The big mistake to avoid is to approach any repairs in a piecemeal fashion, as and when you notice that something needs attention. If you do this, you will find the situation getting out of control, as you end up tackling the symptoms of a problem rather than the cause, with costs spiralling.

A regular builder, joiner or roofer, is not a good place to start. You need to speak to a professional who understands older properties and has the expertise and skills need to give good advice on how to repair and maintain them properly.

If you are buying a traditional property, you are committing for the long term. You need a thorough understanding of what is ahead of you. You need to understand the whole of the building and all of its potential issues. You will then be able to take control of the situation and manage the process in a cost-effective way.

Understand the costs before you purchase. Develop a plan to address the issues and stick to it.


Tip 5 – Give it time.

Traditional homes don’t respond well to sudden, rapid change. When you first move in, things will start to go wrong. Different patterns of living, will lead to different heating regimes and patterns of usage that will unsettle the natural materials, causing them to expand or contract.  Expect things to break, stick, creak and drip.

Don’t panic. After the initial adjustment period, you and the building will relax into a wonderful and rewarding relationship.

Traditional properties are built from high quality and extremely durable materials like stone, lead and slate. However bad things may appear, they can almost always be repaired and brought back into top condition ready for another 100 or 200 years of service.


MAAC studio are chartered architects accredited in the conservation of traditional buildings by the RIAS.

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