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Should I buy a house with subsidence?

Joe Minihane
Written by  Joe Minihane
Jonathan Leggett
Reviewed by  Jonathan Leggett
5 min read
Updated: 01 May 2024

It's vital to be abreast of subsidence concerns when you're buying a property, which can impact on a home's value and whether lenders will approve a mortgage. Here's everything you need to know...

What is subsidence?

Subsidence is a form of ground movement, where the ground beneath a property shifts downwards.

When this happens, the foundations on which a property is built are no longer sufficiently supported by the ground underneath.

This can in turn lead to cracks in walls and floors and, in extreme cases, buildings leaning to one side.

While some small movement is natural, downwards movement that causes subsidence is a major problem. Failure to rectify it can cause huge damage and lessen the value of a property, making it hard to sell.

For first time buyers, subsidence should be an issue that is taken into consideration when buying a new home.

Mortgage companies are unlikely to offer a loan on a property with ongoing subsidence.

What causes subsidence?

There is no single cause of subsidence, with reasons varying depending on a property’s location.

A common issue is tree roots extending deep underground, taking water up during dry spells, which can lead to the ground drying and contracting. This happens when trees are planted too close to properties.

Clay soil is another culprit. Properties built on this kind of soil may find the ground contracts in the summer when it’s dry and then expands when it’s wetter during winter. The result is downward movement.

Leaks from pipes can also lead to damage below ground, which can in turn cause subsidence.

Houses built on unstable hills and along coastlines may also be susceptible to subsidence.

What is the difference between ongoing and historic subsidence?

When buying a property with subsidence, it’s essential to know whether it’s ongoing subsidence or historic subsidence, as there is a key difference.

Ongoing subsidence

As the name suggests, ongoing subsidence relates to subsidence that is happening at the time of sale. It is being caused by downward movement that is ongoing and requires immediate repair.

In almost all cases, buying a property with ongoing subsidence will require a full cash payment or an expensive bridging loan, as mortgage companies will not be willing to risk loaning funds on a property in such poor condition.

Historic subsidence

Historic subsidence relates to properties which have had issues with subsidence in the past but that have since been repaired.

Such work requires extensive underpinning, which in many cases can mean these buildings are very safe as any work will have had to be signed off by a qualified structural engineer.

If this is the case, sellers are obliged to tell buyers about any work and provide any related certificates and documents.

What properties are affected by subsidence?

Properties that can be affected by subsidence can be found anywhere. However, there are some that are due additional consideration. This includes:

  • Homes built near or in woodland, where tree roots can cause downward ground movement

  • Properties in old mining areas, where disused shafts and open areas can lead to sudden subsidence

  • Properties along unstable coastlines

  • Houses built in areas with clay soil, which is known to expand and contract between periods of wet and dry weather

How can I find out if a house has subsidence?

The best way to find out if a house has subsidence is to engage the services of a structural engineer.

They will produce an in-depth report that will tell you the extent of any subsidence, what repairs are required and how much they will cost.

Concerning signs of subsidence include cracks in walls, windows and doors sticking and becoming hard to open, floors starting to drop to one side of a room are all telltale signs of subsidence.

Look out for these when you are buying a property. And be aware that if this is an ongoing issue, you won’t be able to get a mortgage for that house or flat.

Should I buy a house with subsidence?

Whether you should buy a house with subsidence or not comes down to the type of subsidence found at the property.

If there is ongoing subsidence, you should not look to buy that house. Primarily, that’s because you won’t be able to get a mortgage.

If you have access to cash to cover the cost of the property and the required repairs, you may find the cost to be lower than buying a property not impacted by subsidence. But the work and stress mean it’s unlikely to be worth it.

However, a property with historic subsidence may turn out to be a good option. While mortgage companies will want to know the details of any structural engineers report and may wish to see a copy, this doesn’t mean they won’t approve a loan.

In many cases, a recently underpinned house will have excellent new foundations. It can also be the case that properties with historic subsidence may offer good value for money.

All that being said, many owners of homes with historic subsidence find it hard to sell their home.

That’s something to consider if you think you’ll be looking to move in the medium term.

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