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Can you sell and should you buy a property with subsidence?

 14th August 2019

Whether your property had subsidence some years ago or you have only just found out there is a problem, it can be a huge worry if you are hoping to sell and move on.

And with the hot weather over this summer, you may have seen more cracks appearing, especially if your property is built on clay. That’s because a combination of the heat in the air and nearby trees and shrubs absorbing all the water in the ground is drying it out, causing the property to move.

The key thing is not to panic. Subsidence comes in all shapes and sizes and, as property professionals, we know there is always a way to get it fixed.

This year, we have bought 5 properties with subsidence issues. They have ranged from minor problems to the most serious that require extensive underpinning and structural repairs. One property we bought in Nottinghamshire needed major work, including underpinning and putting in ties to fix the wall in place, followed by a complete external cosmetic overhaul, right through to repairing and re-laying the drive. The property is now completely sound and looks great, but I appreciate it is not work everyone wants to have to deal with!

How do you know if a crack is something to worry about?

Most properties – even new ones – are likely to have a crack here and there but in most cases it is simply settlement or natural movement over time and nothing to worry about.

You only need to worry if:

In these cases, you should call a professional to help diagnose the problem, but it may be easy to fix. For example, it could be that a drain underneath the property has collapsed, causing the building to ‘slip’. That’s a one-off problem that can be fixed for a few thousand pounds.

Cracks can also be caused by trees or large shrubs being too close to the property. Once they’re removed, the problem is solved.

Or it could be that when new windows or doors were put in, lintels weren’t added and, as a result, the bricks at the above have started to bow and crack.

What do you do if there is a crack?

I have seen people post a picture of the crack online and ask for opinions on what might be wrong. By all means, share your experience with others, but you most definitely need a professional diagnosis! And that isn’t something that can be done by a builder. Their job is to fix subsidence, working from a professional brief; it’s not to diagnose the problem themselves. If they get it wrong and go ahead with works that later fail, it can cost you dearly.

You need to have a local building surveyor or structural engineer visit the property to carry out a proper inspection. Most are likely – and have to - charge, which could be anything from around £60 to a few hundred pounds. The reason is any verbal advice they give you has to come under their insurance, so is never ‘free’.

You can also call your buildings insurance company as most policies will cover the cost of fixing a new problem or an existing one that they were already aware of. Bear in mind that not all insurers will cover future issues and you are likely to see an increase in your premium as a result.

But insurance can be very helpful if you are in the process of selling and only find out about subsidence once the transaction is underway. It may be possible to pass the insurance policy from you to the new owner and the cost of fixing the problem covered that way.

Is it a lot of work and expense to fix subsidence?

This depends on the cause and the solution. It may be an easy fix that your insurance company will pay for, especially if it is the result of a one-off issue. Bear in mind that you (or your buyer) will have to declare any findings and works to insurance companies in the future.

Don’t forget that when you sell the property, you also have to declare any works carried out to the agent and the buyer, so make sure you secure the following paperwork:

Also, find out whether the guarantee will still stand if the company closes down or goes bust.

If there is a major problem and the whole property needs mass concrete underpinning, this is a huge job, which is very messy and costly. It is likely to involve:

There is another solution called ‘piling’, which can be quicker and less invasive, but it depends on what the surveyor or structural engineer recommends.

The impact of subsidence on insurance

Once subsidence has been diagnosed or if a property has previously had subsidence it will affect your buildings insurance premiums.

Many companies won’t actually insure a property that has had major problems. Because there is very little competition in this specialist market, you will have a higher premium and also pay a higher excess for any future work required, which could run into thousands of pounds.

As such, if you are buying a property that has suffered from subsidence, it’s worth investigating if you can ‘take over’ the existing buildings policy or whether a new policy would be better value.

In short, buying or selling a property with subsidence isn’t a complete ‘no-no’ but it is something that needs diagnosing correctly by a professional before proper remedial works are carried out.

Sell a problem problem with subsidence

If you are struggling to sell a property because of issues with subsidence, we can help. We don’t shy away from this kind of problem because we know it can be fixed. We will commission a survey from a structural engineer and then make an offer based on the list of works required, the cost and the timescale. To find out more about how we can help you move on, please contact us today for your FREE cash offer.

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