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Structural movement in thatched house -- insurance ideas?

(14 Posts)
atalantis Mon 23-May-11 14:50:53

DH and I are in the process of buying a part-thatched cottage (grade II listed). We had a full structural survey which picked up structural movement in the oldest (thatched) part of the house. The survey suggests that the movement is probably caused by roof spread which, in turn, is probably caused by over-thatching. It recommends tying-in the property.

We're really worried because we love the house (and we know that preserving the fabric is going to come with a price ticket) but suspect that insurers will run a mile at the prospect of movement, even if it's not caused by subsidence/heave/landslip. Does anyone have any experience or advice to offer?

We're also wondering whether tying in is going to be absolutely necessary. When we re-thatch (which we'll need to do more or less straight away), then the problem of over-thatching that is causing the roof spread will, presumably, be removed. Of course, that might not stop the movement, but we suspect that it would be worth waiting a while to see if it does before going for expensive and potentially damaging intervention through strapping. Again, are there any engineers/owners of old homes out there with any experience?

GrendelsMum Mon 23-May-11 16:07:31

You're probably better off on the PeriodProperty website for a specialist query like this. Might also be worth contacting SPAB for their advice (you may need to join, but with a grade II listed cottage you'll find it well worth it).

On PeriodProperty, the word is usually that the NFU will insure almost anything (and are extremely nice when you need to claim). IIRC, there's only been one building mentioned on there that NFU wouldn't insure, and that was a collapsing 1970s extension on a historic house. They are certainly happy to insure our GII house, which we bought with a severe damp problem and various rotten timbers.

sharbie Mon 23-May-11 16:13:11

my parents house has had subsidence (not thatched though) and was underpinned before they bought it.
the only way they can get insurance on the building is to stay with the company they have always been with - that company are obliged to give a quote to continue cover,other companies do not want to know.

Pendeen Mon 23-May-11 19:52:28

To me, the key is in the phrase "...movment is probably caused by roof spread..." The surveyor was being very careful here as it is almost imposible to establish the exact mechanism of failure without a great deal of careful investigation. Simply introducing ties and hoping for the best is likely to be either a waste of money or insufficient to remedy the problem (or both).

Re thatching may remove the additional loading but if the structure has been over stressed then the problem will still be there.

You need the advice of a structural engineer experienced in this type of construction. As Grendelsmum says SPAB are a useful source of information but in the end an engineer's advice is what is really required.

Their institute offers a 'Find an Engineer' service at:

atalantis Mon 23-May-11 20:24:11

Many thanks for all the help and advice. Alas, the NFU (who have always done our contents, but not our buildings) have turned us down, as have Reedways, the specialist thatch insurance broker. They say that their underwriters are just not prepared to take on the risk. Our current cover is arranged through the AA, but I don't think they're going to be interested in a wobbly thatched place. We're just devastated as we thought we were days away from exchange. If anyone comes up with any other ideas, we'd love to hear them!

sharbie Mon 23-May-11 22:11:10

you need to find out who is insuring the property NOW op - with the current owners - they are the company who are obligated to provide ongoing cover.afaik it is a (legal?) requirement for the ins co to provide cover.

Pendeen Tue 24-May-11 09:47:30

Sorry to hear OP, it's heartbreaking when this sort of thing happens.

I suspect the current owners will be equally horrified if this has now made their property virtually unsellable. The fact is, insurers are becoming ever more wary of anything outside their normal risk profile unless you can find a company that will take this on, but only for a huge premium and an equally horrendous excess.

atalantis Tue 24-May-11 11:31:42

Sympathy and advice much appreciated. We've got the name of the current insurers from the owners and have sent off the relevant bits of the survey this morning. Just waiting to see what they say now...

GrendelsMum Tue 24-May-11 14:54:45

Oh dear, what a shame. Sorry to hear about that.

sharbie Tue 24-May-11 18:23:05

good luck atalantis

OfflineFor30Seconds Tue 24-May-11 18:30:27

Have you tried going through a broker? They might have an idea of who is willing to take more risk. Some of the insurers wouldn't cover us because they weighed up various factors such as distance from fire station, height of chimney, type of straw and deemed them as too risky altogether. In the end we went through Higos who managed to get us a couple of quotes, and even got them reduced with a gentle prod.

atalantis Sat 28-May-11 17:24:45

Quick update -- the current insurers (small independent broker in Norwich) will take us on at a price that I think is not too horrendous. Just waiting now to see whether mortgage offer includes retention for the work to be done, but just to have the insurance sorted is a huge relief! Thanks for all the support and advice.

atalantis Sat 28-May-11 17:25:19

Insurers say that their underwriters take a 'pragmatic' view to defects in old houses. Who ever heard of such a thing?!

coloursoftherainbow Sun 29-May-11 21:41:46

My advice (speaking as someone who has dealt with a nightmare of a problem with property movement) is to instruct a qualified structural engineer. Do not proceed to exchange until you know exactly what the problem is and how much it will cost to rectify. The fact that this movement is identified in the surveyors report will mean it is a pre-existing condition for the purposes of any insurance contract you have. You may need to consider whether you have to reduce your offer if work is needed.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings - but I know from an extremely bad situation

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