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Heritage Houses in Victoria: 4 Key Rules to Know

State and local-listed historical homes—a basic guide for homeowners

Victoria’s heritage houses not only hold historical significance, but often have an abundance of charm. Whether you’re thinking of buying a heritage home or already have the privilege of owning one, there are some important rules and factors to be aware of. We also answer some frequently asked questions that prospective buyers and homeowners have about requirements for maintaining and renovating a heritage home.

Top 4 important heritage house rules you should know

Here are the basics that you need to know if you either own or are considering purchasing a heritage home.
Richmond extension, internal and external alterations - view of fireplace

1. Heritage Overlays

Homes that are subject to a heritage overlay will not necessarily require a town planning permit for minor maintenance tasks or repairs. Whether swapping out rusty guttering or restoring a worn-out verandah, small changes can usually be handled without additional paperwork. 

Malvern extensions and renovation - outside of house from the pool, looking in

2. Renovating heritage facades

Local councils pay close attention to the potential impact of larger-scale projects on the overall look of the neighbourhood. For instance, heritage colour schemes are quite specific and can vary from one area to the next. The facade includes everything from windows and doors to ironwork and intricate decorative details that maintain both the appearance and the unique charm of the neighbourhood.
A home renovation in Malvern, Melbourne, filled with unique and colour furnishings, enhancing the vibrant living space.

3. Heritage-listed residential properties in Victoria

Heritage-listed homes can come with a higher price tag and a set of complex rules. It is sometimes assumed these regulations mean that no alterations are allowed to the property, but this is not necessarily correct. Improvements to heritage-listed homes may be accepted to ensure proper upkeep and suitability for a modern lifestyle, including practical ways to improve energy efficiency in an older home.

The key is understanding which aspects of the original structure are needed to maintain its unique character. If the property is listed by the state government, it’s generally a more significant building with stricter controls.

Engage a skilled builder to guide you through the design phase and liaise with the council on your behalf. You may qualify for incentives when making home improvements to a heritage home, including complimentary advice, a loan subsidy or a grant.

4. Heritage extensions and alterations

When you’re thinking about extending or making changes, a few factors come into play, including how noticeable the changes will be from the street and the materials you plan to use. 

Homeowners generally have more freedom to make changes at the rear of the property where they are less visible than alterations to the front.

When adding anything new to your heritage home, you need to ensure that any additions complement the original building. However, it is generally a requirement that new work is clearly identifiable as being new. A qualified builder with experience in heritage home additions or renovations will be able to guide you.

Hawthorn extension and renovations - diagonal view of the kitchen and sun-filled dining area
Richmond home in heritage overl;ay

Heritage protection levels: State or local listing

Before you purchase a heritage property, check the address to see if it’s a state or local heritage listing. 

For properties listed under the local heritage overlay, the local council is the go-to for heritage approvals and to help answer your questions. For properties listed on the Victorian Heritage Register, you must contact your local council to discuss any planned changes as well as getting a permit (or exemption) from Heritage Victoria.

Possible insurance requirements

Homeowners may not need specific home insurance for a heritage home unless there are particular circumstances–like if the home will be empty, needs rewiring, or will be used for business. 

Sometimes, Heritage Victoria may request reconstructing the property using the same materials or replicating the same features. The condition of the property is often the most essential aspect for insurers to understand–they generally focus on maintenance issues, such as the plumbing and electrical wiring.

If your builder has experience in extending or making alterations to heritage homes, they will be able to provide you with some general advice about insurance requirements. Please note however, that it is important for you to obtain independent expert insurance advice before proceeding.

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10 frequently asked questions and answers about buying a heritage home

A heritage property has historical, aesthetic or social features that have been deemed worthy of preserving for future generations. While people often think of heritage properties as grand, century-old structures, even homes from the 1970s may hold heritage value. A property’s heritage value can also include outbuildings, gardens and broader surroundings.
Victoria’s two main types of heritage protection are state or local. A number of private dwellings are recognised for their historical significance at a state level and fall under the protection of the Victorian Heritage Act 2017. These properties are listed on the Victorian Heritage Register, and any alterations—whether inside or out—require a permit (or permit exemption) from Heritage Victoria.

Just under 10% of all properties in Victoria hold historic significance, and a heritage overlay safeguards them through the local council or shire. Building in a heritage overlay often means applying for a planning permit from the council for visible changes, such as demolition, building construction or external alterations. Generally, permits are not required for ongoing maintenance, repairs, or repainting the structure using the same colour. For clarification on the requirements in your area, speak with your builder or local council.

Suburbs near Indigenous culturally significant areas are protected by cultural heritage sensitivity controls. Places like Port Melbourne and Middle Park fall under this umbrella. If you’re a homeowner there, you may need to put a Cultural Heritage Management Plan in place before making any major changes or developments.
A simple way to check if a property is under a heritage overlay is to use the Land Use Victoria website, or other sites such as Landchecker, a trusted partner at RACV. This online hub is your go-to source, offering in-depth information on hundreds of thousands of properties across Victoria and NSW.
There are legal obligations to keep your heritage home well-maintained and prevent it from falling into disrepair. Heritage Victoria may issue a repair order if these requirements aren’t met, and failing to carry out the necessary repairs can lead to a penalty. The specific rules for maintaining properties under a heritage overlay may vary between local councils, with many municipalities having local laws to address issues related to neglected buildings.

Yes. Home renovations and changes can be made to a heritage-listed property as long as they are approved by Heritage Victoria. Usually, the heritage protection extends to the entire property, so if you’re thinking of removing trees, demolishing outbuildings, or relocating a fence, you’ll need a permit.

Heritage Victoria suggests that it is best to contact them as early as possible in the design and planning phase for a smooth renovation journey. This helps clarify what’s permissible and allows you to tap into the expertise of their heritage architects and other specialists.

While heritage listings tend to cover both land and buildings, a heritage overlay typically focuses on regulating changes to the external parts of a structure. Routine maintenance of the property’s exterior is usually permitted. However, permits might also be necessary for internal adjustments in some instances. Sometimes, a permit may also be required for smaller projects, such as constructing a fence or tearing down a carport.

Failing to apply for the necessary permits can lead to hefty penalties. The local council can issue infringement notices, ‘stop work’ orders or take the breach to court. Non-compliance could land you a six-figure fine.

If your property is listed on the state heritage register, the consequences can be higher, with fines of up to several hundred thousand dollars or even imprisonment. It’s best to check the fees and penalties on Heritage Victoria’s site.

Absolutely. Investing in heritage homes can be a unique venture that may require some extra TLC. But, overall, when heritage properties are maintained well, they are highly valued and sought-after–which means they are often in demand.
Malvern extensions and renovation - outside entertainment area with bar area and lounge

Spacemaker: Your builder with heritage homes and overlays expertise

If you’re considering home renovations in Melbourne for your heritage property, Spacemaker can help. Our qualified team has over 50 years of experience in custom renovations and extensions, including historical homes and homes with heritage overlays. 

Our skilled builders are well-informed and familiar with the rules and regulations of locally listed and state-listed heritage properties in Victoria. We take away the stress about legal requirements by liaising with local councils and acquiring the necessary permits for you. Speak to a Spacemaker consultant today and let us take care of the entire process for you from start to finish.

*All information correct at time of publication. Any information provided here is of a general nature only. Please check the rules and requirements for your heritage listed property directly with your builder and local council and if in doubt, seek independent professional advice.

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