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Buying a property with subsidence (due to tree roots)?

(33 Posts)
CityDweller Sat 13-Jun-15 22:33:02

We've seen a house we like, but the agent told us that there have been 'movement' issues (I presume he means subsidence) due to an oak tree in the garden. Tree has been cut down (is now a stump) and agent says it's 'covered by the insurance'. He showed us the cracks...

Is this just a complete no-no in terms of buying this house? I presume the insurance company is in the process of monitoring the movement in the house and/or fixing the problem. So if we were to buy the house getting buildings insurance would be hard/ we'd be restricted to the current insurance company?

Is there a way to find out more info about all this before putting in an offer/ getting to the survey stage (other than asking the agent, who didn't seem to be all that clued-up)? Is it just generally a really bad/ stupid idea to buy a house that has/ has had subsidence?

chippednailvarnish Sat 13-Jun-15 22:35:07

I doubt you would get a mortgage, for a very good reason...

CityDweller Sat 13-Jun-15 22:36:23

Why? Because of insurance issues? I'm really clueless about subsidence (as you can tell). Is it just one of those non-fixable problems then?

Magicalmrmistofeles Sat 13-Jun-15 22:38:37

I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole. The roots can still cause issues, and I think a mortgage company would take the same view.

lordStrange Sat 13-Jun-15 22:39:59

I wouldn't touch it with a bargepole.

You will have no idea the problems going on sub level. The owners really need to get it sorted out, no more cracks, subsidence settled before selling on. I would not buy this.

CityDweller Sat 13-Jun-15 22:41:45

Ok. Thanks! House is on a hill too, which I'm guessing will only exacerbate the issues. Shame, as it's a lovely house!

chippednailvarnish Sat 13-Jun-15 22:45:31

I don't mean to sound harsh OP, but this is probably the most expensive thing you will ever buy. You really need to start investigating this properly, not asking random people on the internet.

You wouldn't be able to get a mortgage as a mortgage company will be reluctant to lend against a property that needs a lot of expensive work that could affect its value and could potentially be uninsurable. No insurance = no mortgage.

HereIAm20 Sun 14-Jun-15 09:10:34

Even if you were able to get a mortgage why not go on to a comparison site for buildings insurance and get a quote for that address saying yes to subsidence and then another saying no to see the response. Many insurance companies will not even insure the others will hike up their premium. See what the difference in premium is and see whether you want that aggro every year.

CityDweller Sun 14-Jun-15 10:54:13

Ok, thanks chipped hmm, but the very thing I ask in my OP is how to start 'investigating the property' prior to putting in an offer and paying for an expensive structural survey. Especially when the agent seems a bit clueless. If it's a complete no-go then we don't want to waste time/ money by progressing with an offer/ survey. However, if it's something that's potentially not such a big deal (e.g. it's not progressive, was minor and has been sorted out) then we might considering proceeding (cautiously) with an offer and survey.

So, back to my original question. Is there a way to find out more info before deciding whether to put in an offer? Current owner is elderly person who's moved into a home and the house is being sold by her children on her behalf.

Unescorted Sun 14-Jun-15 11:08:49

If you are serious about it get a structral engineer (chartered) to have a look. It may be remediated by underpinning - the cost of this is a bit of a piece of string question. It depends on the soil structure, foundations and house construction type. Once you get the work done (make sure you get warranties) there is no reason for a mortgage company not to mortgage it.

To secure a mortgage before the work done will require a valuation for the property in its current state and an undertaking by you to get the work done.

I would be wary of taking the EAs word about it being covered by insurance as the work hasn't been done to date by the vendors insurance and I doubt an insurance company would insure it on a new policy knowing that you were going to put a claim in for underpinning work. Best just knocking the cost off the valuation.

As further security make it a condition of sale that there is an indemnity insurance policy on place (vendor pays) for subsidence if the work is carried out by the vendor (on top of the warranty issued by the contractor for the work carried out by them) so you are covered for mis specification of works by the vendor.

Hope that makes sense.

Unescorted Sun 14-Jun-15 11:13:18

Sorry - that didn't answer the question. You could do a rough desk top study - check for old mines on maps, have a look at the soil structure (tree roots are more of a cause in clay soils than sand). Look at the foundations or the plans ... some old houses just rest on the soil surface.

It will be a case of elimination really - if it is in a mining area, shallow foundations or on sandy soil the tree roots may be a bit of a red herring.

CityDweller Sun 14-Jun-15 11:26:17

Thanks Unescorted that's really helpful.

A couple of questions:
- Is underpinning always required? I'm pretty sure this hasn't been done. Rather, the offending tree cut down and the internal cracks monitored. Don't know yet the conclusions from the monitoring or how long it's been monitored for. Will ask EA for more info on this.
- Re. 'desk top study'. Is there an easy way to get that info - especially re. foundations and plans? Somewhere this stuff is logged that is publicly accessible?

CityDweller Sun 14-Jun-15 11:27:24

Oh, and not mining area or sandy soil. I'm guessing clay soil (it's in London suburb). But might have shallow foundations as built in 1910s.

Viviennemary Sun 14-Jun-15 11:34:03

I think it would be a bad idea. One reason is because if it's a problem for you then it will certainly be a problem for any future buyers when you come to sell. But I suppose only a structural survey will give an accurate answer as to whether or not the problem is a serious one. But they are expensive. And personally I wouldn't trust what an Estate Agent says about it. They're acting for the seller.

Floggingmolly Sun 14-Jun-15 11:34:49

I'd be extremely wary of "it's covered by insurance"... Why haven't they rectified the problem, in that case?? Our buildings insurance is quite clear in the fact that there has to be actual movement of walls in order for a subsidence claim to succeed, basically; the house has to literally on the verge of collapse to be covered. Cracks in walls would be considered purely cosmetic, irregardless of their actual cause.

Autumndays14 Sun 14-Jun-15 11:42:06

Please avoid. Our previous place had been underpinned in the past so we were restricted to very specific insurance companies. It's more expensive but that's not the main issue. The issue is cracks opening up again, arguing with the insurer about paying for the work. Trust me, you will be staring at the walls every day looking for the slightest sign of cracks! You say it's london so you presumably have neighbour issues too. If the tree causes damage to a neighbouring house too (roots are huge) they will come after you for it too. Just because the tree has been killed doesn't mean the end of it necessarily. Especially on clay soil. We managed to sell to a developer who took a view on it but most people who were buying as individuals were totally put off!

thinkfast Sun 14-Jun-15 11:53:44

Cutting down the tree could make the problem worse as the roots will now shrivel and die

If you really love the house you will need to ask your mortgage broker if it's mortgageable, find out if it's insurable, get a proper survey of the problem and the cost/time it would take to remedy.

Personally I wouldn't touch it but if you love the house you will have to spend some time/money investigating all aspects

CityDweller Sun 14-Jun-15 12:25:33

Indeed Flogging - whether or not they've rectified is the basic question I need to the answer to before even thinking about going further. If they haven't (or it's still just being monitored by the insurers), then it's an absolute no-go for us. I've asked the EA to get more info from the sellers.

And good point about potential, unpredictable future problems and issues for neighbours Autumn - that all makes me shudder.

thatstoast Sun 14-Jun-15 12:33:01

If the estate agent volunteered the information I would assume it's quite severe. Have they had a recent survey which have led to a sale falling through? Might be worth asking if you're interested.

Personally I would just move on and look at other houses.

CityDweller Sun 14-Jun-15 12:39:29

It was the first thing the EA pointed out to us once we were inside the house, but in a very 'this has all been taken care of, nothing to worry about' kind of way. He wasn't evasive when I pushed for more details at the viewing, just said that he didn't know much about the precise details or technicalities.

There was a sale that fell through earlier this year. EA said it was for other reasons, but does make one wonder.

Oh dear... Not sounding good is it? It's not that our hearts are set on this house (only seen it once), but we do like it a lot (enough to even be bothering to ask these questions) and I guess I'm reluctant to completely dismiss it before I have some more info about the exact situation.

Unescorted Sun 14-Jun-15 12:48:43

Soil - look at a soil map and take a look at the soil. Mine workings - old maps. You can get both on line or at a university library.

Foundations from old plans and or digging down next to the house. If it has a basement then it will have foundations. Any newish build will have foundations.

thatstoast Sun 14-Jun-15 12:52:37

Ha ha, yeah. When I was viewing a house near a primary school the first thing the estate agent said was "There used to be parking problems at school drop off but it's all resolved now." hmm nice try estate agent, nice try.

HawkeyeInChaos Sun 14-Jun-15 13:25:47

My DF had subsidence under his detached garage (house unaffected). It was sorted under insurance and he has a certificate to show it was resolved. He has been stuck with the same insurer ever since because none of the other insurance companies will offer cover at any price.

As a result I would run from any property with even a whiff of subsidence issues. Sorry.

yearofthehorse Sun 14-Jun-15 14:05:39

We've done this. Beautiful house on highly desirable road which we would never have been able to get without the huge cracks in some rooms and small cracks everywhere else. It was sorted under insurance the year after we bought it and no major problems since. (The double glazing units seem to get fogged up rather quickly.) The only downside is that we can only get house insurance with our mortgage company. We've been living here for nearly 9 years now and sometimes still can't believe it's ours.

CityDweller Sun 14-Jun-15 14:52:04

Any issues with remortgaging yearofthehorse. Have you had to stick with original mortgage provider when your deals have expired? Or been forced onto their SVR?

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