If you’ve found your dream home but it’s showing signs of movement, you’re probably asking yourself ‘should I buy a house with subsidence?’.
It’s a common question as many houses in the UK do show signs of subsidence. However, you’ll be pleased to know it’s often not as big a deal as you may first think.
We’re going to take a look at the key things you need to know to answer the question ‘should you buy a house with subsidence?’.
So, let’s start with the obvious first question…
What Is Subsidence?
Subsidence is when the walls of a building have moved since they were built.
The movement often causes cracks to appear along the walls. When subsidence is severe it can lead to significant structural issues for properties.
That’s why when house hunters discover a property they want to buy has subsidence, many immediately pull out of the purchase.
However, subsidence is more common than you may think and doesn’t always require expensive repairs.
How To Tell If A House Has Subsidence
There are a number of telltale signs that a property has subsidence, including:
- Significant cracking of walls
- Sloping floors
- Twisted window or door frames
Knowing how to tell if a property has subsidence is key if you are to understand the consequences of buying a property with subsidence.
In short, vertical or horizontal cracks tend to be the most serious, though stepped cracks can be an issue too.
If a crack is visible on both sides of the wall or is wide than the thickness of a 10p coin then it indicates potentially serious problems.
Sloping floors and twisted window or door frames are usually only serious if significant.
What Causes Subsidence To Houses?
There are several possible causes of subsidence in houses and other properties.
Areas with a history of mining commonly experience subsidence. This is due to movements in the ground below from the mining works.
Different ground types can also cause movement as the ground compacts or swells up due to variances in the moisture levels.
Trees and bushes close to the walls of a property can also cause issues with movement and subsidence, while leaking pipes or guttering can cause soil to wash away and foundations to move.
Subsidence can also be caused simply by a structure having inadequate foundations.
There are, therefore, several different reasons why you may notice cracked walls and evidence of movement in a property.
Establishing what has caused subsidence in a property is the first step towards fixing it.
Conducting Surveys To Identify Subsidence
If you are considering buying a house with subsidence, you should seek the advice of an expert before you proceed with the purchase.
A good chartered surveyor will be able to check on the severity of any subsidence and advice you on any necessary remedial work that will be needed.
This will be done via a property survey of which there are a few to choose from.
It’s, therefore, important you understand the difference between a homebuyers report and a full structural survey.
What you are ideally looking for are the magic words ‘long-standing and non-progressive’ as this will mean only cosmetic work is required.
However, if the surveyor thinks the subsidence is recent or still progressing, they will still advise on the likely costs of repairing the problem.
Can You Get A Mortgage On A Property With Subsidence?
The short answer is yes, though it will depend on how severe the subsidence is and whether it affects your ability to get insurance on the property.
Most mortgage providers will insist that you hold valid buildings insurance for the duration of your mortgage. This is because it helps to protect their investment.
Therefore, if the subsidence is so bad you can’t get insurance, you’ll probably find it hard to mortgage the property.
However, this is rare since most subsidence is solvable and many insurers will still insure you but just with larger excesses on subsidence claims.
A good mortgage advisor will be able to help advise you on the best way to get a mortgage for a property with subsidence.
How Long Does It Take To Underpin A Property?
When subsidence is considered to be causing structural issues to a property, underpinning is often the best solution.
This involves digging down below the foundations of the property and pouring in a concrete mix. Sometimes beams are also used but the aim is the same – to provide added support and strength to the building to prevent further movement.
While underpinning can be an expensive process, it is often less costly than people imagine. In fact, underpinning has something of an unfair reputation for being both costly and intrusive.
While it can be expensive, it isn’t always a deal breaker so it’s well worth getting some quotes for the work if your dream property happens to have subsidence issues.
The exact cost and length of time it will take depends on a number of factors.
For example, if the wall the needs underpinning is surrounded by thick concrete or deeply rooted trees or bushes, this will add to the amount of time it will take.
In any case, the underpinning process can be slow as only a small area can be worked on at any one time to avoid further weakening the structure during the works.
A typical underpinning job will take several weeks to complete. More complex issues can take a month or more.
In most cases, you’ll be looking at paying around £1,000 for each metre of wall that needs underpinning.
Do You Have To Declare Subsidence When Selling?
When selling a property there are certain issues that you need to declare if they are likely to cause issues for the new owner.
This is now part of the conveyancing process as you will be asked to complete a Property Information Form.
On the form, you’ll be asked several set questions for which you must provide full and accurate answers. Failure to do so can result in legal proceedings if it’s suspected you deliberately withheld the truth.
However, it goes further than this. Even if an issue isn’t specifically mentioned on the form, if you’re found to have deliberately hidden the issue (such as temporarily covering up subsidence cracks), you could also be in legal trouble.
If an estate agent or potential buyer asks you about subsidence, you must be honest with them to avoid any potential legal consequences.
Therefore, you should keep this in mind when buying a property with subsidence. At some point, you’ll likely need to sell the property and declare the subsidence.
So, Should You Buy A Property With Subsidence?
Overall then, when asking yourself the question ‘Should I buy a house with subsidence?’ it’s important to understand a number of things:
- How severe is the subsidence?
- What remedial work will be required?
- How much will it cost to fix?
- Will you still be able to get a mortgage?
- What impact will it have on selling the property in the future?
Once you can answer all of the questions above, it will make it much easier to decide whether to buy a property with subsidence.
Just remember that while many people run a mile at the first mention of ‘subsidence’, it’s often nothing to worry about.
They key is simply to know exactly what you are getting yourself in to before reaching the point of exchanging contracts and committing to buy the property in question.