Any mention of subsidence strikes fear into homeowners and homebuyers alike. If you've just found out your property has subsidence, you probably have a million questions running through your mind. Let's start with the most important...
Can you sell a house with subsidence or are you stuck with this problem property for life?
You can sell a house with ongoing or historic subsidence, but it can be much harder and take a lot longer than selling a problem-free property. For many, selling by auction will be the best solution. It can offer a faster and more certain sale and potentially a better selling price.
Over the last few years I have spoken with and helped many dozens of people with both ongoing and historic subsidence issues of different severities and causes. I have distilled my knowledge and experience of selling properties with subsidence over the years into this article to help guide you through the process.
The good news is there are things you can do to speed up the sale of a property with subsidence and even improve the price you achieve. This article sets out my 7 top tips to improve your chances of selling a house with subsidence.
(If you want to jump right ahead and see what your options might be, I designed this free 60-second quiz to help. Simply tell me a bit about your property and priorities and I'll have a set of recommendations tailored to you. It's totally free - hit the red button below to get started).
1. What is subsidence?
Subsidence occurs when the ground beneath a property begins to sink downwards.
Subsidence can be caused by both natural events and human activities. Some of the most common causes of subsidence include:
- Clay soil. Properties built on this type of soil are particularly prone to subsidence issues. Clay soil shrinks during hot, dry summers and expands during wet weather. This can make the ground unstable and can cause the foundations beneath a property to shift.
- Tree roots. Trees planted close to a property can pull water from the ground, especially during particularly dry spells. This causes the surrounding soil to dry up and contract. The Association of British Insurers found in their recent survey that the trees most often involved in subsidence incidents are oak, willow, ash, poplar, plane and sycamore trees.
- Leaking drains. Damaged or leaking pipes and drains can soften and wash away soil from underneath a building's foundations. In an article on loveproperty.com, ground engineering specialists Mainmark said "the formation of puddles around the perimeter of your home...can indicate a problem with drainage".
Subsidence puts your home at serious risk of structural problems. The foundations, no longer supported by the ground beneath, can become misaligned. The lack of structural integrity causes walls and floors to move and crack.
If you want to learn more about the causes and signs of subsidence, read our article Subsidence: Absolutely everything you need to know here.
1.1 Can you sell a house with subsidence?
The good news is you can absolutely sell a house with subsidence. Selling a house that has subsidence problems is always going to be more difficult, but that doesn't mean that it's impossible.
Inevitably you will have to accept a lower price for your property, and it can take considerably longer to find a buyer. A lot depends on the type of subsidence – historic or ongoing – and the complexity and cost of any remedial work.
So, aside from the entire ordeal sounding rather worrying, why is it so difficult to sell a house with subsidence?
2. Why is it difficult to sell a house with subsidence?
You will be faced with a different set of challenges if you are trying to sell a house with ongoing subsidence problems vs a house with historic subsidence issues.
Let’s explore each set of challenges in turn below…
2.1 Why is it difficult to sell a house with ongoing subsidence?
Ongoing subsidence problems are a massive red flag for potential buyers for the following reasons:
- Property is uninsurable. Buyers won't be able to insure a property with ongoing subsidence until the remedial works have been signed off, which in turn makes the property unmortgageable.
- Property is unmortgageable. Even if a buyer falls in love with your property and is willing to take on the work, it's highly unlikely the buyer will be able to find a mortgage provider willing to lend to them. This means you will only be able to sell your house to cash buyers. The problem with this is there are fewer of them so there's less competition to drive up the price. Cash buyers tend to be investors who will be looking for a good deal and will therefore pay lower prices.
- Subsidence can be expensive to fix. The average cost to repair subsidence is around £6,000-£14,000. However, costs can be drastically higher for more severe cases of subsidence that require underpinning, sometimes reaching as high as £50,000.
- Insurance claims can take time. A subsidence issue can take over a year to resolve when you factor in the time you'll spend waiting on structural reports, gathering building quotes and negotiating with your insurance company.
- Limited pool of buyers. If you're trying to sell a house with ongoing subsidence, you'll be faced with a dramatically limited pool of buyers. You'll only be able to sell to cash buyers as the property will be unmortgageable in its current state.
- Will affect the future saleability of house. Even if the ongoing subsidence issues are fixed, the vast majority of buyers will be put off if they find out a property has suffered from subsidence. On average, from my experience and speaking with estate agents and auctioneers over the years, subsidence devalues a property by around 20%.
2.2 Why is it difficult to sell a house with historic subsidence?
The house is structurally sound and has been signed off by a structural engineer. This means potential buyers can now obtain a mortgage and insurance policy, albeit at a higher price, for the property.
In theory, selling a house with historic subsidence should be relatively straightforward. Right?
Unfortunately, the stigma of subsidence lingers like a bad smell and brings with it the following challenges:
- Property is difficult and expensive to insure. The property will be more expensive to insure, with higher premiums and limited insurers willing to offer potential buyers cover.
- Risk of future subsidence issues. Depending on the cause of the subsidence and the treatment used to fix the problem, the property may be at risk of subsidence problems in the future. This can put off potential buyers who would rather avoid the dormant threat of hassle and stress for their future selves.
- Buyers pulling out after getting cold feet. Even if a buyer falls in love with your property and is willing to overlook the historic subsidence initially, friends, family and third parties can always plant seeds of doubt. All you need is Aunt Sharon telling your buyer about all those subsidence horror stories she's read online, and the next minute they've pulled out after having second thoughts.
- The "S" word carries stigma. Aunt Sharon isn't the only one to run a mile when they hear the word subsidence. Unfortunately, the word subsidence has a lot of negative connotations. Even when the problems are fixed, the stress and expense associated with the "S" word are difficult to shake off.
- Limited buyer pool. Even though the pool of potential buyers has expanded because the property is now mortgageable, the number of buyers who are willing to take on a house with historic subsidence will still be limited.
Now we know the challenges you might face selling a house with subsidence, let's look at what can be done to improve your chances of a sale...
3. Top tips for selling a house with subsidence
Before we dive into our 7 top tips for selling a house with subsidence, my general advice would be to try to adopt a patient mindset.
If you decide to carry out remedial works before selling, assume that fixing your subsidence problem could take a year to resolve. If it's quicker, that's a bonus. But setting your expectations appropriately will help manage your stress levels if the process does start to drag on.
If you decide to sell through an estate agent, be prepared for a long and bumpy road ahead. Sales can fall through at any point and take a very long time to complete.
If you don't have the luxury of time, there are quicker and more certain ways to sell your house with subsidence. We explore these below, but if you want to see which sale method might be best for you, check out the free 60-second quiz below.
For now, here are our 7 top tips for selling a house with subsidence...
Tip 1: Consider selling by auction
My number 1 tip if you are trying to sell a house with subsidence is to consider selling by auction.
This is especially true if you can't face carrying out the necessary remedial works before selling, as "problem properties" are the perfect type of property suited to auctions.
You'll have an audience of experienced and motivated buyers and property developers who will have cash or auction/bridging finance and will be ready to take on a house with subsidence.
Auctioneers spend much more of their time working with problem properties. This means they'll have considerably more experience selling properties with subsidence than estate agents, who may even end up putting buyers off.
Auction also offers a greater deal of certainty and speed than selling through an estate agent. Less than 1% of auction sales fall through after they've been agreed and you can complete in as little as 8 weeks from start to finish.
Tip 2: See if your insurance claim is transferable
If you are trying to sell a property with ongoing subsidence, buyers are going to have to factor in the costs of covering any remedial works. For example, if it's going to cost the buyers £15,000 to fix the issue, that's £15,000 less they can offer you for the property.
Your insurance might be able to offer you a solution, even if you are selling the property right away. Here's how...
If your subsidence claim is approved by your insurer, you should contact them to see if you can get your insurer's authority to transfer the claim to the new buyers.
The buyers will be spared the costs of the remedial works and can offer you a higher price in return, meaning more cash for you. You'll just need to agree who pays the insurance excess.
Tip 3: Keep all documents relating to the subsidence, repairs and surveys
You should keep copies of all documents relating to the discovery of subsidence at your property, any remedial works carried out and the associated completion certificates.
The paperwork will come in handy when you come to sell the property as you'll be able to reassure buyers that the property is now structurally sound.
If you decide to sell the property before carrying out remedial works, it's still useful for buyers to know the extent of the subsidence problems so they can budget accordingly.
You should present the following documents to any prospective buyers:
- Certificate of Structural Adequacy (CSA). A CSA is typically issued under the guidance of the Institution of Structural Engineers, following completion of repairs and a monitoring period. The certificate details the cause and extent of the structural damage, the repairs undertaken and a statement confirming the affected part of the property is now structurally sound.
- Formal Completion Certificate. This certificate is issued by the Council if underpinning has been carried out at the property. The certificate confirms that the Local Council Building Control Officer has inspected the property and signed off the remedial works.
- Structural engineer's report. You should provide a copy of the report from the time the subsidence issue was discovered and a second report following the completion of any remedial work (if relevant) to prove the property is now structurally sound.
- Ongoing monitoring reports. Provide any ongoing monitoring reports if available to prove there is no further movement.
- Details of remedial work. It would be beneficial to provide a description of the works undertaken, with details of the company that carried out the works.
- Details of your current insurer. As I said above, you should try to get your insurer's authority (in writing) to transfer the subsidence insurance claim to the new owner. Prospective buyers will be more willing to take on the property if they know the costs of the remedial works will be covered by insurance.
Tip 4: Be up front and honest
It is the buyer's responsibility to assess your home before purchase - "caveat emptor", or buyer beware as the saying goes. However, there is little point trying to conceal subsidence problems.
Buyers will inevitably find out about any ongoing or historic subsidence issues through their due diligence at some stage in the transaction.
The discovery that you have tried to hide the problem can cause a breakdown of trust and may even cause the buyer to walk away.
Disclose remedial work
Even if you have had remedial work done, and this has solved the problem, you're still obliged to disclose this information to buyers.
The Seller's Property Information Form (TA6) is a legal document completed by the seller to give prospective buyers detailed information about the property.
Section 5: Guarantees and warranties
Section 5.1 of Form TA6 specifically asks sellers to provide details of any building works carried out, including underpinning (5.1(h)) and other remedial works (5.1(i)).
You must also provide copies of all available guarantees, warranties and supporting paperwork relating to the subsidence remedial works to the buyer.
Section 6: Insurance
Section 6 of Form TA6 will also be relevant if the seller has made a previous claim or is dealing with an ongoing insurance claim for subsidence.
You'll need to let the buyer know if any buildings insurance taken out by you has ever been:
- subject to an abnormal rise in premiums
- subject to high excess
- subject to unusual conditions
You'll also need to disclose details of any claims made on your buildings insurance for underpinning or other subsidence remedial works.
Tip 5: Get a quote for costs of remedial works
Getting a quote for the work required can be a good way to show prospective buyers what they are taking on and help them to adjust their offer in a fair and reasonable way.
However, you should expect their offer to be reduced by more than the potential cost of the repairs to compensate them for the time and trouble involved.
Tip 6: Be prepared to drop your asking price
As a very general rule, in my experience subsidence problems will cut the value of a property by around 20%. Serious defects can devalue your property by as much as 30%.
Historic subsidence will still have an effect on the value of your home, even when the problems are fully solved.
Keep this in mind when you are considering offers from buyers. Even when the problems have been fixed, you may still not be able to achieve the full market value for the property pre-subsidence.
Unfortunately, even if you are prepared to drop your price when selling a home with subsidence, you could still be in for a long wait.
Tip 7: Some buyers may request a structural engineer's report
Most buyers will get a house survey done as part of their due diligence, and some may request a structural engineer's report if the house survey flags subsidence as a potential problem.
If you are selling a property with subsidence, you can be proactive and get a structural engineer out to the property to prepare a report. This will prevent any hold ups and will show you are a transparent seller.
The structural engineer you choose should be local, as they will know the common causes of subsidence for the area (such as clay soil). You can find a structural engineer using The Institution of Structural Engineer's search tool here.
Otherwise, be prepared to go halves or cover the cost of the buyer obtaining their own structural engineer's report.
4. Selling as is vs carrying out remedial works before selling
Faced with the choice of costly repairs, or an even more costly drop in price and lengthy wait to sell, it can feel like there's no light at the end of the (subsiding) tunnel.
It may be tempting to arrange to have subsidence problems repaired before going to market, in the hope of attracting a wider range of buyers.
However, there is no guarantee that this strategy will produce a buyer or increase your property asking price.
Subsidence still carries a lot of stigma amongst homebuyers. Given the choice of two similarly priced properties, buyers will always choose the one with no history of subsidence, even if everything has been put right.
It is also easy to underestimate how long it takes to fix subsidence. The building work needed to fix subsidence can take as long as 6 weeks, or as little as two days. Timeframes vary on a case by case basis and depend on the extent and severity of the problem.
However, a subsidence issue can take over a year to resolve when also factoring in the time spent waiting on structural reports, gathering building quotes and negotiating with your insurance company.
If you can't face the stress of carrying out remedial works, there are alternatives to selling with an estate agency that can get your home sold much quicker and for a reasonable price.
So what are the alternative ways of selling a house with subsidence?
5. What is the quickest way to sell a house with subsidence?
The quickest way to sell a house with subsidence is to sell directly to a house buying company.
The house buying company I work with can offer you a formal, guaranteed offer within 24 hours and can buy your house in as little as 7 days or a timeframe to suit you. This can seem extremely appealing if you want to escape the subsidence nightmare and move on quickly.
BUT I would not recommend selling to a house buying company if you are trying to sell a house with subsidence. Here's why...
You are going to suffer a "double-whammy" effect on the price you receive:
- The subsidence is devaluing the property - perhaps by as much as 20-30%.
- A genuine company who buys your house will need to buy for 15-20% less than that.
- The end result is a very, very low offer.
Let's look at an example.
There is a much better way to sell a house with subsidence, and that's via auction.
6. What is the best way to sell a house with subsidence?
For many, the best way to sell a house with subsidence is by auction.
Problem-properties, such as houses with subsidence, are perfectly suited to auctions. You'll have an audience of experienced buyers and property developers who:
- Won't be put off by the "S word", as they've likely dealt with this kind of problem before;
- Will be ready to take on a project like this, with the contacts and means to undertake any remedial work that is required; and
- Will have cash or auction/bridging finance (because a property with ongoing subsidence won't get a normal mortgage).
6.1 Benefits of selling a house with subsidence by auction
There are plenty of other benefits to selling a house with subsidence by auction, over selling with an estate agency or to a house buying company...
Auctions are the second fastest way to sell a house, behind selling to a house buying company. Auction sales can be completed in as little as 8 weeks from start to finish.
Selling by auction is also a much faster option than repairing subsidence, which can take over a year to resolve.
A more likely sale
Auctions might not be as certain as selling directly to a professional buyer, but they're still pretty certain.
According to data from EIG (the industry standard for property auction data), over the past 12 months around 78% of properties that went to auction sold successfully.
By comparison, only around 51% of properties listed with an estate agent sell successfully.
A whopping 25-40% of sales agreed through an estate agent fall through! If your house has ongoing or historic subsidence, you can expect to be closer to the upper end of the range.
By comparison, less than 1% of auction sales fall through after they've been agreed. This is because buyers are contractually bound to complete the purchase once the hammer falls and have to pay a hefty deposit upfront. If a buyer later decides to pull out of an auction sale, they'll forfeit the deposit or reservation fee and may have to cover the other side's costs and any other losses they incur as a result.
Houses sold at auction tend to achieve on average around 85-90% of their market value.
If you're willing to take a risk and set a low reserve price, you can attract a lot of interest. This leads to more competition with buyers and can ultimately lead to a higher selling price.
There are plenty more benefits to selling a property at auction. Read about them in my article: 17 Benefits of selling your house at auction.
7. You're not alone
It is important to know that you're not alone when it comes to dealing with subsidence problems.
Just recently, I was contacted by Sian whose house sale fell through due to suspected subsidence. The structural report confirmed the subsidence but the seller lives in Australia, so couldn't carry out the remedial works. Sian initially contacted me about house buying services, but I was able to suggest auction as a better option. I connected her with the best auction house for her situation and Sian's property sold for £62,000 more than the "home buyer" option.
You can read more about Sian's story here: Auction Case Study: Finding out your property has subsidence...when you're 9,000 miles away.
When I speak with homeowners like Sian we work through a set of questions we've developed over a number of years. We've consolidated these into a free online quiz you can use now. Simply hit the red button below to get started, and I'll share some recommendations based on your property and priorities.
By Matthew Cooper, Co-Founder of Home Selling Expert