Subsidence? What you need to do before selling your home

Are you planning to sell a home that has subsidence? What should you do to maximise its marketability and reduce the risk of the sale falling through?

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Wall with subsidence

What is subsidence?

Subsidence occurs when a property sinks into the ground. It maybe either the whole property or part of the property that subsides.

Subsidence if typically caused by:

  • Inadequate foundations
  • Clay soil which can swell when it is wet and shrink when dry
  • Nearby trees whose roots suck up moisture in the soil
  • Leaking drains causing the ground to swell
  • Mining activity where there may be tunnels under the property

How do you know if your home has subsidence?

A minor crack in a wall does not necessarily mean subsidence. Houses can be subject to minor movements. settlement or shrinkage without subsidence being the cause.

Typical visible symptoms of subsidence include:

  • Cracks that are wider than 3mm appearing on each side of a wall and zig-zag cracks appearing in external brickwork.
  • Doors and windows sticking and getting worse over time, rather than just seasonally or in wet weather.
  • Door and window frames becoming visibly out of "true", or frames becoming detached from adjacent walls.

Subsidence can be remedied

Subsidence can occur for various reasons, but it is usually possible to remedy it.

Buildings insurance generally covers damage from subsidence so the first step will be to contact your insurer. Failing to contact your insurer as soon as you spot the signs of subsidence may lead to the insurer voiding any subsequent claim. Your insurer will arrange for a surveyor to inspect the property.

The surveyor will determine whether subsidence is present and what works are necessary to remedy the issue.

In many cases, the surveyor will confirm that any movement in the property is historic. This means that the property is unlikely to continue to subside and that further remedial action to fix the problem is not required.

If the survey does reveal that the subsidence is ongoing, or has resulted in more than merely superficial damage, the seller will need to take remedial action. If you are planning on putting your property on the market you must address the subsidence issue or risk trying to sell an unmortgageable, unsaleable property.

How can the subsidence be fixed?

The remedy will depend on the type of subsidence you have.

If the subsidence is historic, it may be that the problem was already remedied by a previous owner.

If a nearby tree is a problem, it can be removed and the subsidence can then be monitored. Leaky pipes can be fixed and drainage improved.

In the most serious cases, a property can be 'underpinned' which involves excavating around the footings of the property and beefing up the foundations.

What if I just ignore the problem?

Some sellers think they can get away without mentioning the subsidence problem. Papering over cracks or repainting the exterior of the home before going on the market is not unheard of.

However, hoping the buyer won't spot the issue is a short-sighted strategy and can have legal repercussions.

The buyer's surveyor will spot the signs of subsidence, which could lead to:

  • the buyer pulling out
  • the buyer losing their mortgage offer
  • the buyer significantly reducing their offer.

It is far better to square up to the problem. Often the best outcome will be to delay putting the property on the market while the defect is investigated and the cost of repair is worked out.

TA6 Property Information Form

Sellers are required to complete various forms which will be sent to the buyer's conveyancing solicitor.

The TA6 Property Information Form asks for details of any building works carried out, which would include underpinning and other remedial works. The seller will need to supply copies of any warranties or guarantees for underpinning and other remedial works.

To avoid delays once you have an offer, it makes sense to address the questions raised by the TA6 form before you put your property on the market.

You can download a copy of the Law Society TA6 form here:

What if I carried out the work?

If work has been carried out during the time you have owned the property then you should find all the relevant paperwork and send this to your conveyancing solicitor when you send in the completed SPIF from.

What if a previous owner carried out the work?

Where you think that subsidence occurred sometime before you purchased the property then you should ask the solicitors who handled the purchase conveyancing for you to provide any relevant information about underpinning and supply supporting documents (unless you already have them).

Is your home subject to a high insurance premium excess?

An insurance claim will usually lead o higher premiums and an increased excess. Further, post remedial work cover may even be refused.

The TA6 form asks whether existing building insurance:

  • is subject to any high amount of excess
  • if the premiums are abnormally high
  • cover has been refused altogether

Can you sell a property affected by subsidence?

You may suspect that your home is affected by subsidence that has not been remedied, or that the property has been underpinned and further subsidence has occurred. Under either of these circumstances, you could try to sell the property "as is".

Disclosing everything you know about the subsidence to potential buyers and making it clear that the issue is reflected in the asking price is one option.

You could obtain a builder's quote for fixing the problem. This approach removes any uncertainty and enables potential buyers to factor the cost of the works into their offer.

Misrepresentation

If you inform a buyer (either via the TA6 form or elsewhere) that there are no defects and the buyer later discovers that there are issues, you may face a claim for misrepresentation. A claim is particularly likely in cases of subsidence, as the impact on the property's value and the cost of repair can both be significant.

You would be expected to pay the new owner damages reflecting the losses they have incurred, on top of any legal fees.

Your next step

If you are buying, selling, remortgaging or transferring equity in a home, we can help you find an expert conveyancing solicitor.

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Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher

Author:
Gaynor Haliday, Legal researcher