Barn conversions: Everything you need to know

Posted: September 23, 2019



What is a barn conversion?

A barn conversion is the development and subsequent conversion of a farm building into a habitable building for commercial or residential use. With high ceilings, rustic exteriors and generous proportions, they are extremely desirable pieces of real estate. The combination of ultra-modern interiors and traditional exteriors providing a wonderful juxtaposition of comfort and history.

The Stables barn conversion in Cowlinge, Suffolk

A history of barn conversions in the UK

Barn conversions in the 1970s and 80s

Barn conversions are not a new concept. As their usefulness as farm buildings decreased following a rapid decline in farming since the 1950s, alternative uses were sought for these large structures. As conversion to residential properties provided the highest income, this became increasingly common throughout the 70s and 80s. However, due to laxer planning rules, these buildings were changed significantly, with the addition of multiple PVC clad windows and doors, dormers in the roof space, and extensions, such as conservatories or garages.

This negatively impacted on the aesthetics of building, and as such, stricter planning laws were implemented.

Modern barn conversions

Because of these stricter planning restrictions, conversions in the 90s and 2000s tended to retain much of the exterior appeal of the original building. Planners often insisted windows could only be placed in existing openings, so full height windows were introduced, adding to the overall look rather than detracting from it.

Whereas 80s homes were often segregated into multiple rooms frequently found in other housing from the time, a desire for open plan living has meant less segregation in 21st century conversions. This means less windows are required to light the building, and what could sometimes be a cramped space becomes open and free.

Additionally, due to advances in building materials and methods, modern conversions can be much more energy efficient than their early counterparts.

Since 2014, restrictions were eased with the introduction of Class Q permitted development. This was then updated further in 2018 to allow the development of 3 homes up to 465 sq.m.;5 smaller homes, each up to a maximum of 100 sq.m.; or a mix of both.

Using the prior notification method, the local council is aware of the proposed change of use, and the conversion is agreed in principal before large sums are spent on architects’ fees.

Converted barn in Suffolk

What to know before buying a barn conversion?

Before buying a barn conversion, it pays to do your homework. Check when the property was converted, as this could have a big impact on the energy efficiency rating of the building, and thus your heating bills.

Being farm buildings, it’s also important to check out any covenants, such as rights of access across your land, which neighbouring farmers may retain for their farm vehicles.

If buying an unconverted barn with planning permission, check whether the building is listed or not. Having to use specific materials during the conversion may add extra, unbudgeted costs, which can turn a conversion into a more costly outlay than first thought.


What are the key selling points of barn conversions?

  • Located in beautiful rural locations with stunning views
  • Modern conversions come with modern finishes, such as underfloor heating, mezzanine floors and large areas of glazing
  • Impressive exteriors
  • Double height rooms
  • Open plan living

Other types of converted property

If the rural life is not for you, more community-based, urban buildings which have been converted may provide more appeal. As the need for their original uses decrease, churches, factories and pubs are increasingly converted into residential dwellings.

Even water towers can be converted, creating multi-storey dwellings of some beauty.

Unconverted Barn

Barn conversions for sale in Suffolk, Norfolk and north Essex

Known for its farming heritage, East Anglia is home to many converted and unconverted barns with potential. Many of the barns built in East Anglia between the mid-18th and early 20th Century are clay lump, a mud block combining clay, straw, dung and chalk. Local timber and weatherboarding are also prevalent. These local buildings methods and materials add to the character of the property you’re buying.

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If you are looking for converted barns to buy, or barns with conversion potential, we have several properties available throughout Suffolk, Norfolk and north Essex, including:

Barn conversion in Cambridgeshire

Olmstead Green, Cambs - £1,200,000

This substantial detached barn conversion set in a stunning rural location incorporates a range of practical outbuildings including a summer house with kitchen garden, tennis court with the grounds and paddocks extending to 21.5 acres. The property would be ideally utilised for equestrian purposes with 2 separate driveways and borehole on the grounds of the paddock land.

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Barn conversion in Woolpit, Suffolk

Woolpit, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk - £450,000

A unique detached conversion in the village centre by well renowned local barn specialists MexHomes who specialise in small prestigious developments converting disused barns into luxury homes of character.

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Assington, Sudbury, Suffolk - £265,000

A Grade II listed barn/outbuilding offered with the benefit of planning permission and listed building consent under application number DC/18/04077 at https://planning.baberghmidsuffolk.gov.uk. Planning permission is for the conversion of the existing building into two x four bedroom semi-detached properties.

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