It is always prudent to get a house survey before you commit to purchasing your dream house. But will a house survey tell you if your dream home is suffering from subsidence?
A house survey will not tell you definitively if a house has subsidence. Chartered surveyors are only qualified to give you an indication of whether they suspect subsidence. You will need to arrange for a structural engineer to visit the property to get a definitive answer.
In this article, I cover what you should do if your home survey comes back and flags subsidence as a potential risk. I’ll also cover how much you can expect to pay for different types of house surveys and a structural engineer, and how long you will have to wait to get a definitive answer.
Want to sell your house as-is, without worrying about subsidence surveys and repairs? Hit the red button below to learn more.
1. What is a house survey?
A house survey is an expert inspection of a property’s condition carried out by a Chartered Surveyor. The surveyor will prepare a report based on their findings after they have visited the property.
The survey report will identify any problems with the property to a homebuyer in varying detail, depending on the type of house survey carried out.
Homebuyers should commission a house survey once their offer has been accepted to highlight any serious problems and any specific risks with the property before committing to the purchase.
You should ensure that the surveyor you commission is a member of one of the two main accrediting bodies:
- RICS – Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. To find a RICS-accredited surveyor, visit https://www.ricsfirms.com/ and use their “find a surveyor” search box.
- RPSA – Residential Property Surveyors Association. To find a RPSA-accredited surveyor, visit https://www.rpsa.org.uk/Property-Buyers/Get-A-Survey-Quote to request a quote from an RPSA member.
2. Types of house survey
The type of house survey you’ll need will depend on the age, condition and type of property you’re buying. Your surveyor will be able to help you choose the right survey for your property if you aren’t sure.
RICS surveyors provide three “levels” of survey:
- RICS Home Survey – Level 1. This was previously called a “Condition Report”. It provides a very basic overview of the condition of the property and is best suited to modern, standard construction properties in good condition.
- RICS Home Survey – Level 2. This was previously called a “HomeBuyer Report”. It provides a mid-level visual inspection of the property, its grounds and services. The inspection is non-intrusive, so only “surface-level” issues will be identified. It is best suited to homes in reasonable condition. This survey is also available with a valuation.
- RICS Home Survey – Level 3. This was previously called a “Building Survey”. This is the most thorough survey and provides detailed advice on the condition of the property. It identifies potential or hidden defects and the probable causes. This survey is best suited to properties that are 50+ years old, of unusual design and/or in poor condition.
The RPSA provide five different types of survey (including the Buy To Let Survey, New-build Snagging Survey and Home Review). The most common RPSA surveys are:
- Home Condition Survey. This is a mid-level survey, equivalent to the RICS Level 2 survey. It is best suited to smaller, modern properties of standard construction.
- Building Survey. This is a comprehensive survey, equivalent to the RICS Level 3 survey. It is best suited to higher value, larger, more complex homes and homes that are older or have been extended.
2.1 Does a survey check for subsidence?
The following surveys will seek to identify if there is a risk the property suffers from subsidence:
- Level 1 RICS Home Survey
- Level 2 RICS Home Survey
- Level 3 RICS Home Survey
- Home Condition Survey
- Building Survey
The surveyor will be looking for cracking, movement and other signs of subsidence during their inspection.
However, the surveyor cannot say for definite in their report that the property suffers from subsidence as they’re not qualified to do so.
2.2 House survey costs and timeframes
How much does a house survey cost?
The costs of your house survey will vary depending on the size, type and location of the property. You can expect to pay anywhere from £290 - £1,390 on average.
How long does a house survey take?
How long a survey takes to complete and the report turnaround times will depend on:
- the level of survey you choose
- the individual surveyor’s availability
- the size of the property, and
- the complexity of the report.
We’ve put together a table setting out the different survey costs and timeframes for you below.
Although it can seem like a high price to pay, it is worth spending the money before committing to a purchase to make sure you’re not overpaying or about to buy a home with significant problems.
I've personally spent over £40,000 on surveys over the years and would always recommend getting one to check for any issues.
3. My survey results are back and flag subsidence – what do I do?
If your house survey results come back and flag subsidence as a potential risk, don’t panic!
As I mentioned earlier, surveyors are often not qualified or insured to confirm if a property suffers from subsidence. Their reports will only ever flag if, in their opinion, there’s a risk of subsidence.
You don’t need to walk away from your dream home just yet. But you will need to spend a few hundred pounds to get to the bottom of the issue.
3.1 Appoint a structural engineer to visit the property
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.
Once instructed, a structural engineer will visit the property and carry out a visual inspection of the cracks and any other signs of subsidence flagged by the surveyor. The structural engineer will then produce a report with their expert advice on the cause of the problem and their recommended next steps.
The structural engineer may need to carry out further investigations in order to find out the cause of the subsidence. This may include a period of monitoring (which can be up to 12 months) to determine whether the building is moving.
How much do structural engineers cost?
The cost of a structural engineer will vary depending on the location and size of the property and the complexity of the project.
Checkatrade.com has provided a useful breakdown of the average structural engineer costs, as follows:
- Average cost of a structural engineer per hour = £100
- Average cost of a structural engineer’s inspection = £250
- Average cost of a structural engineer’s report = £1,175
It is worth speaking with the seller to see if they would be willing to split the cost of the structural engineer with you. If not, they may be willing to buy the report from you if there is subsidence as the seller will need to forward this to their insurance company to support their claim.
How to find a structural engineer
You can find a structural engineer near you on the Institution of Structural Engineers’ website.
If you’re hiring a structural engineer, the Institution of Structural Engineers recommends that you “seek one who is professionally qualified: that is either a Chartered Technician or Associate-Member of the Institution of Structural Engineers…and/or registered CEng, IEng or EngTech with the Engineering Council”.
I would recommend finding a local structural engineer. They will know the area and soil types and therefore be familiar with common subsidence causes for your location.
4. How to sell a house with subsidence
If your buyer has just dropped out of your house sale because their house survey or structural engineer’s report has flagged subsidence, I can help find a solution that’s right for you.
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.
Selling a house with subsidence can be much harder and take a lot longer than selling a problem-free property. But it’s not impossible.
For many, selling by auction will be the best solution. It can offer a faster more certain sale, and potentially a better selling price.
Take the quiz below to start exploring what the best option might be for your situation.
By Matthew Cooper, Co-Founder of Home Selling Expert