She said insurance cover for heritage properties was often more expensive and restrictive than premiums for modern homes.
“Heritage properties are more challenging to insure because they can be more expensive and complicated to repair,” she said. “Unlike a modern home, which can be serviced by a wide range of trades and suppliers, a heritage building may require bespoke skills as well as specialist or rare materials.”
This situation faced Sonja Morgan when her former home in Chatswood was heritage-listed without her knowledge.
When Ms Morgan discovered her home had been listed as a heritage item by Willoughby Council and contacted her insurer, she was told her insurance would be “null and void”.
“If the house had burnt down in that three or four year period, we would not have been insured,” she said.
Ms Morgan was then told the heritage listing of her Victorian-era home would result in a 100 per cent increase in her insurance, later reduced to a 50 per cent premium hike.
“I thought it was outrageous,” she said.
She believes the heritage listing knocked at least half a million dollars from the value of her property when it was sold in 2016. “If it was not heritage listed, we would have got a hell of a lot more for it,” she said.
An estimated 100,000 properties in Australia have a heritage listing, according to the Insurance Council spokeswoman, and restoring these properties may take longer and involves issues not encountered with a modern home.
“These issues can significantly inflate the potential cost of a claim, and this is reflected in the premium,” she said.
Older buildings may also not comply with modern construction codes: windows, waterproofing, guttering, wiring, roofing, plumbing, heating and fire separation may not meet today’s standards: “The level of compliance with modern standards is considered as part of a premium calculation.”
An NRMA insurance spokesman said the company may accept a heritage-listed property provided it meets criteria such as the home is structurally sound, well-maintained and watertight.
“Customers’ premiums will vary depending on their individual property information, such as location, the age of the building and construction materials,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Suncorp said there were risk factors for properties older than 80 years “given the increased cost of managing claims associated with these types of homes”.
“For example, sourcing the unique materials used or potentially needing specialist repairers,” she said. “Generally, on applying for cover, we would ask additional questions to ensure the property has been re-wired and a safety switch fitted.”
She also said underinsurance was a common issue because the cost of rebuilding a heritage home can be “significantly higher”.
“If a property was heritage-listed without the homeowner’s knowledge, it wouldn’t void the policy,” she said. “Provided all other acceptance criteria is met, we would continue to provide cover.”
Andrew Taylor is a Senior Reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.