Selling a house with subsidence: What is it & how do you repair it?

Image of a cracked wall which may put off a house buyer and stop a property from selling on the open market

Subsidence is a word that will chill the heart of any homeowner, especially if you’re buying or selling a house. Subsidence can potentially affect a home’s value and safety – so it’s absolutely worth knowing the warning signs of subsidence, your options for repair, and if you can continue selling a house with subsidence.

In this guide:

What is subsidence?

Subsidence is the term for when the ground under your house sinks, either suddenly or gradually. As the ground sinks, it can pull your home’s foundations down with it. This causes walls and floors to shift, which can destabilise the entire property’s construction.

What causes subsidence?

Subsidence can be caused by several things, and the root cause can be tricky to determine. But some of the most common causes of subsidence include:

  • Clay shrinkage: If the ground your home is built on contains clay, nearby trees or even very hot summers can dry out the clay in the ground, causing it to shrink or crack, shifting your home’s foundations.
  • Trees: If you have large trees or shrubs too close to your home, the plant’s roots can drain the moisture from the soil – again, causing it to dry out and sink.
  • Age and construction: Some older homes have shallower foundations, which can leave period properties at risk of subsidence. However, even new-build homes aren’t exempt – if the wrong materials are used, new foundations can end up shifting below the property. Period homes tend to be made from brick and lime mortar, which are more flexible and protect them from the ground shifting.

How to check for subsidence

To recognise if your home has an issue, you need to know the signs of subsidence. Some of the indications that your home has subsidence include:

  • Cracks appearing in plasterwork, or in external brickwork and mortar
  • Windows or doors that stick for no apparent reason
  • Wallpaper ripping or peeling – underneath your wallpaper there could be cracks in the plasterwork, which causes wallpaper to shift and peel

Of course, there are lots of other home issues that can cause some of these problems – peeling wallpaper can also be a sign of damp, if a home isn’t properly winter-proofed. But cracks in particular can be one of the early signs of subsidence, and it’s one you definitely need to keep an eye on.

Identifying subsidence cracks

Not all cracks in walls are caused by subsidence – most are harmless and nothing to worry about. However, identifying subsidence cracks can be a little easier if you know the tell-tale signs. The cracks caused by subsidence can often appear around doorframes and windows, and may be wider at the top than at the bottom. If you can see a crack on both sides of a wall, or external cracks in brickwork, these could be due to subsidence. If you see cracks like this forming around weak spots like windows, doors, or where extensions have been added onto the house, it might be worth getting an expert to check your home and see if subsidence is an issue.

Subsidence repair costs

Repairing subsidence will depend on the cause of the shifted foundations – sometimes it can be a long process even initially identifying subsidence cracks, as shifting cracks have to be monitored for months or even years. Subsidence can be fixed, but subsidence repair costs can be very expensive. There are some modern solutions which involve injecting material into the ground under your home to stop the shifting, but if the problem is serious and you find you need to underpin the house’s foundations, it could cost up to £50,000. Luckily, most home insurance policies have a subsidence policy which will help to protect you.

Selling a house with subsidence

Fixing subsidence can be expensive to repair. Subsidence repair costs will depend on the cause and type of subsidence, as well as the materials your home is made from. But if you’re ready to move and don’t fancy paying hefty repair costs, you might be wondering just how much does subsidence devalue a property?

How much does subsidence devalue a property?

There’s no exact number on how much subsidence can devalue property – it really does depend on lots of factors, from the extent of the existing damage to the area where you live. And while you might find a buyer who’s happy to purchase a property with a manageable subsidence issue, it will make your home harder to sell.

How long do you have to declare subsidence?

If your home has subsidence issues, you should declare them when you’re selling. There’s no date of limitations on declaring subsidence – if it’s historic and it’s been fixed, you should let your solicitor and prospective buyers know so this can be taken into consideration. You shouldn’t hope that a potential buyer won’t notice subsidence issues – if it comes to light, then it could cause a sale to fall through, and even cause a chain to collapse.

Buying a house with subsidence

If you’re thinking of buying a home and you suspect that there may be subsidence issues, you should get a full structural survey rather than the more basic survey that some mortgage lenders offer. If the survey spots signs of subsidence and you still want to go ahead with the purchase, get a chartered surveyor to work out the subsidence repair costs, and reduce your offer to take those costs into account. You should also be aware that a house with these issues can be harder to insure – so bear that in mind before buying a house with subsidence.

If you have a house with subsidence and you’re concerned about selling it on the open market, we can help. With Good Move, you can sell your house fast and not have to worry about sales falling through or collapsing chains. For more home and property guides, head to the Good Move blog.

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