If a house on the market has ongoing subsidence, it can mean that getting home insurance is impossible for buyers. Buyers will also struggle to get a mortgage on the property.
It’s therefore important to know if your dream home has subsidence before you sign on the dotted line. So, how can you tell if the house you want to buy has subsidence?
The best way to find out if the house you want to buy has subsidence is by obtaining a structural engineer’s report. A structural engineer can diagnose the cause. Other ways to discover if your dream home has subsidence is to look out for signs of subsidence at a house viewing and speak to your estate agent and conveyancer.
In this article we look at three of the ways you can tell if your dream home has subsidence to enable you to spot the signs early, avoid disappointment and save time and money in the long run…
If you're actually trying to sell a house with subsidence, try this free quiz we've designed for you:
1. Look out for signs of subsidence at the property viewing
The first way to tell if your dream home has subsidence is at the property viewing. This isn’t a failsafe option, but it can mean the signs are spotted early and enable investigations to get underway.
The signs of subsidence to look out for at your property viewing include:
- Large, distinctive cracks. Subsidence cracks are usually more than 3mm wide, diagonal in shape, wider at the top and slimmer at the bottom, and visible both externally and internally. They tend to be found close to doorframes and windows.
- Rippling wallpaper with no signs of damp. Look out for wallpaper creasing or rippling where the wall meets the ceiling and cracks in grout or gaps appearing between tiles in the bathroom or kitchen.
- Sinking and/or sloping floors. Sinking or sloping floors can indicate the ground beneath the property is collapsing.
- Doors and windows sticking. Doors and windows that are difficult to operate or are misaligned could be a sign of subsidence. Look out for any cracks or unusual gaps around the window and doorframes.
- Cracks near an extension. Cracks in the adjoining wall where an extension meets the main property can also be a sign of subsidence. This might be common in older properties with new extensions, as there may be a lack of consistency in foundation depth and the building materials used.
- Noticeable leaning of a house. If the house is noticeably leaning, it is time to contact a structural engineer to assess the situation.
You can’t expect to spot all the signs of subsidence on your own though. Not all homebuyers are qualified structural engineers after all! So, I would always recommend obtaining a Structural Engineer’s Report before proceeding any further with the purchase. More on this below…
2. Speak with your conveyancer & estate agent
The second way to tell if your dream home has subsidence is to speak with your estate agent and conveyancer.
2.1 Speak with your estate agent
It is worth speaking with your estate agent if you suspect your dream house may have subsidence because:
- it may have been disclosed to them by the seller,
- they may have listed the house in the past,
- they may know the area is prone to subsidence, or
- they may be aware of previous prospective homebuyers that have pulled out because of subsidence-related problems.
Pick up the phone to your estate agent and ask them to get the full picture from the seller. It may be that the problem is historic and has been fixed, or it could be the first time the seller is hearing about it!
2.2 Speak with your conveyancer
It is the buyer's responsibility to investigate a home before purchase - "caveat emptor", or buyer beware as the saying goes.
As part of these investigations, the buyer’s solicitor will carry out a number of searches, raise enquiries and ask the seller to fill out various forms to provide information about the property.
There are plenty of opportunities for you to discover that the property suffers (or has suffered) from subsidence during the transaction, including:
- Property searches. Your solicitor will undertake several property searches to uncover any potential issues with the property before you commit to the purchase. The “Environmental Search” and “Mining Searches” should flag any risks of subsidence and prompt further investigation.
- Property Information Form (TA6). Form TA6 is a legal document completed by the seller to give prospective buyers detailed information about the property. Part of the form requires sellers to disclose details of any building works carried out, including underpinning. Sellers must also disclose details of any claims made on their buildings insurance for underpinning or other remedial works.
- Conveyancing enquiries. The buyer’s solicitor will raise a number of conveyancing enquiries (aka pre-contract enquiries) with the seller’s solicitor before exchange of contracts to make sure you know what you’re buying. If the survey has flagged signs of historic subsidence, your solicitor should request more information plus the supporting documentation from the seller to verify that the building is now structurally sound.
The seller should be able to provide you with the following documents to verify that the building works have been signed off and the home is structurally sound:
- Certificate of Structural Adequacy (CSA). 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 (if property has been underpinned). The certificate confirms that the Local Council Building Control Officer has inspected the property and signed off the remedial works.
- Guarantees, warranties and supporting paperwork relating to remedial works. Make sure you check the terms and conditions of the guarantees and warranties. Some may only protect the person who had the work carried out. You should contact the company that gave the guarantee or warranty to establish if the company is still trading and if the terms will apply to you.
3. Obtain a Structural Engineer’s Report
The third way you can tell if your dream home has subsidence is by obtaining a Structural Engineer’s Report.
It is easy to get confused between house surveys and structural engineer reports. Let’s quickly look at the difference to clear up any confusion.
3.1 What is a house survey?
Although not compulsory, it is always prudent to get a house survey before you commit to purchasing your dream house.
A house survey is an expert inspection of a property’s condition carried out by a Chartered Surveyor.
A house survey should flag if the surveyor suspects subsidence but will not determine the cause of the problem or the treatment required.
Chartered Surveyors cannot say for definite in their report that the property suffers from subsidence as they’re not qualified to do so.
3.2 What should you do if your house survey flags subsidence?
If your house survey flags subsidence as a potential issue, you should appoint a structural engineer to visit the property to carry out an inspection. Structural engineers are qualified to diagnose subsidence and provide advice on structural matters.
A Structural Engineer Report will tell you:
- If your dream home has subsidence.
- If the defects are historic or if there’s evidence of more serious ongoing structural problems.
- The cause of the subsidence*.
- How to remedy the defects.
- An estimate of the cost of repairs.
*Sometimes further investigations are required to find out the cause of the subsidence. This can include a period of monitoring (which can be up to 12 months) to determine whether the home is moving.
You can find a qualified structural engineer using The Institution of Structural Engineer’s “Find a structural engineer” tool.
I would highly recommend using a local structural engineer. They will know the area and therefore be familiar with common subsidence causes for your dream home’s location.
4. Should I buy a house with subsidence?
Buying a house with subsidence may mean that you are able to snap up a bargain, but it comes with some associated risks. The risks will vary depending on whether the subsidence is “ongoing” or “historic”.
The important thing is that you gather all the information you need from your conveyancer, estate agent, structural engineer and the seller to make an informed decision.
Read my article “Should I Buy A House With Subsidence? (Best Questions to Ask)” here to find out more. The article covers the questions you should be asking and the problems you may face to help you decide if buying a house with subsidence is viable and right for you.
5. Can you sell a house with subsidence?
If you are thinking about buying a house with subsidence, you also need to consider how easy it’s going to be to sell in the future.
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.
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.
It’s always surprised me that I receive as many calls from home sellers struggling to sell a property with a historic subsidence issue as I get from those with a current and ongoing issue.
Just be aware that 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.
If you have a house with subsidence and you want to explore how to sell it, check out the short free quiz I designed for you below. I can help you determine the best way to sell based on your property and priorities, and it only takes 60 seconds.
By Matthew Cooper, Co-Founder of Home Selling Expert