Selling a House with Subsidence: What to Do

selling house with subsidence

Few words can strike fear into the heart of a house seller — or buyer for that matter — than “subsidence”. If a survey has revealed evidence of subsidence in your property, don’t despair. All is not lost. Although selling a house with subsidence can be tricky. 

Subsidence will only worsen with time, so the best approach is to act as soon as it is discovered. This will give you the best chance of selling your house fast.

What Is Subsidence?

If the ground underneath your house begins to collapse or sink, you have a subsidence problem. The subsiding land will ultimately pull the foundations of your property down with it (if left untreated). It’s a complex issue and one that requires expert intervention. 

Many buyers will be put off by subsidence because it can be extremely difficult and expensive to remedy. 

However, subsidence is just one form of ground movement. There are three other types:

  • Heave

If the soil underneath a house expands, it can push the ground upwards.

  • Landslip

This occurs when there is a downward movement of sloping ground.

  • Settlement (or “consolidation” or “compaction”)

This occurs when the weight of a building causes the soil underneath it to be compressed, resulting in a downward movement. Settlement only occurs within the first ten years of construction.

A qualified chartered surveyor will be able to identify if you have a problem and what the nature of it is. Understanding the problem you’re facing is the first step towards resolving it. 

What Is Subsidence Caused By?

Several factors can cause subsidence, including:

  • Clay soil shrinking, cracking or shifting — clay soil can change significantly when exposed to different weather conditions. If it shrinks, cracks, or shifts the ground underneath your property, it will become unstable, increasing the risk of it sinking.
  • Trees planted close to your home — trees can drain the moisture from the soil underneath your house. When soil dries out, there is a great risk of it sinking. This is one of the most common causes of subsidence. 
  • Drought — can dry the soil out, which increases the chance of subsidence. 
  • Leaking pipes — if there is a leak in the pipes that run underneath your house, this can wash away soil particles, reducing the volume of soil beneath the property. As a result, the foundations of your home may begin to subside.
  • Mining — if your property is built on or very near to a former quarry or pit, there is a greater risk of subsidence because the material used to fill the site may shift over time.
  • Shallow foundations — older properties may have shallower foundations than new builds, which puts them at greater risk of subsidence issues.
  • Solution features — a common problem in chalk and limestone areas that results from an escape of water or a rise of the water table, creating an underground cavern. If this gives way, it can result in subsidence.
  • Poor ground or poor preparation of the ground — can exacerbate soil compaction and lead to an increased risk of subsidence.

What Are the Signs of Subsidence? 

So, how do you know if you have a subsidence problem? You can only know for sure by enlisting the services of a qualified surveyor. However, there are a few telltale signs that should raise your concern:

  • Diagonal cracks in the walls that are wider than about 3mm
  • Sinking floors
  • Doors and windows sticking (which may suggest warping)
  • Separation of an extension from the main building
  • Rippling wallpaper around the joints of the room
  • The property begins to lean

How to Reduce the Risk of Subsidence

  • Plant trees a reasonable distance from your house. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) provides a list of safe distances for planting the most common tree species near your home.  
  • Monitor and maintain gutters, pipes and plumbing to reduce the risk of leaks.
  • Use water butts to collect rainfall, which will help to prevent the soil from becoming waterlogged.

Properties in a clay soil area are much more susceptible to subsidence, and there is only so much you can do to prevent the problem from arising, but the above will help minimise the risk.

What Do I Do If I Think I Have Subsidence?

Act fast! The worst thing you can do is ignore the problem — it won’t go away and the problem is likely to get worse (and cost you more to rectify).

  1. Contact a qualified surveyor to investigate your property. They will initially conduct a visual inspection but may also need to monitor the property over an extended period to determine if there is any significant ground movement and the nature of the problem — heave, subsidence, landslip or settlement. A survey to check for subsidence costs almost £1,000 on average, although it can cost as little as £450 and as much as £1,500, depending on the work required. 
  2. Inform your home insurance provider. Share the survey report and any recommendations for fixing the problem. This will ensure that you can claim financial compensation as soon as possible. Your insurance provider will arrange for a loss adjuster to visit your property to assess the problem and determine whether you are eligible to make a claim. This can be a lengthy process. Your insurer may decide that they need to monitor your home for a period before they come to a decision and even if they agree to pay out, this can take several years.
  3. Treat the problem. The treatment required will depend on the nature and severity of the problem. If tree roots are causing the subsidence, the tree will need to be carefully removed by a qualified tree surgeon. Pipework treatment will be required if there are leaks under your property. The most time-consuming and expensive treatment is “underpinning”. This is only necessary in the worst cases of subsidence and involves installing a structure beneath your property to add strength and stability to the foundations. This can cost tens of thousands of pounds, although only around 10% of properties with subsidence need this level of treatment. 

Few buyers will persist with a purchase if subsidence is revealed, so treating the problem before selling is likely to be your best option. 

How Does Subsidence Affect a Property’s Value? 

Subsidence can be a time-consuming and expensive issue to fix. Consequently, it is a huge deterrent to even the most eager buyer. This will inevitably drive the price of your home down and probably make it very hard to sell.

Any buyer who remains interested in your property, despite the structural issues, will probably deduct the estimated cost of repairs from their offer. This could mean that your property’s value drops tens of thousands of pounds. Furthermore, many people who buy properties with subsidence are developers looking to do them up and sell them at a profit, which could mean that you receive an even lower offer. 

Historic Vs. Current Subsidence

If your property is currently showing signs of subsidence, this will need treatment and will likely significantly impact the final sale price. 

Historic subsidence describes a property that has previously suffered from subsidence that has been treated. It is not a current problem; however, the potential for the issue to recur is likely to deter some buyers and reduce the property’s value — although not by as much as an ongoing problem.

Selling a House with Subsidence

Unless you find an eager property developer or a cash buyer with a passion for renovation works, selling a house with subsidence will be a challenge. Not only is the amount and cost of work involved in treating the problem off-putting to most buyers, but also getting a mortgage on a property with current subsidence is impossible. 

If your property has historic subsidence or you invest in treating the problem, buyers will be able to secure a mortgage provided that a survey shows the issue has been treated in accordance with the standards set by the Building Research Establishment. However, some buyers will remain cautious about purchasing your home and may try to drive the sale price down.

A Quick House Sale Vs. Treating Subsidence

If you need to sell your house fast, perhaps you are relocating for work or need to release the equity in your home to pay off debts; spending the time and money to treat subsidence may not be an option. Or maybe you just don’t want the hassle and stress of having extensive repairs completed on your home. 

Whatever your reason for wanting a quick house sale, House Buyer Bureau can help. We have the cash to buy your house fast, and we buy properties throughout the UK, regardless of condition, type or location. Our offer will be below market value, but there are no estate agents or legal fees to pay. Contact us to find out more and get your cash offer.

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