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Is subsidence a massive deal in London?

(41 Posts)
SecondaryBurnzzz Tue 26-Nov-19 20:05:00

Just got the survey back on our new house, stating that we should get a structural surveyor in to check for subsidence. There are cracks around the bay. It is a 1910 house and is on London clay.
If it is subsidence, do we find out how much to underpin?
Is underpinning always the best treatment? the cause would probably be the clay, as no trees near by.
Not sure whether to be freaked out by this and think about pulling out, or whether it is a just a fact of London life, and go ahead anyway.
What do you think?
Thanks in advance.

superram Tue 26-Nov-19 20:06:30

I live in London and don’t have subsidence. Can you get a mtge without the check?

foxatthewindow Tue 26-Nov-19 20:07:19

What kind of survey did you have done? On a house that age I would always get a full structural report done. We are not in London but our local searches flagged the house as being in a high risk area for subsidence, but the map showed the whole city as being at risk. Cracks on a bay could mean many things. Probably best just to get the experts in!

cabbageking Tue 26-Nov-19 20:14:05

Get a structural survey and then renegotiate on any remedial work needed.

If it needs 20k spending on It then you want this taking off the price or they can do the work and evidence this along with a guarantee.

It is because the house is on clay rather than being in London.

SecondaryBurnzzz Tue 26-Nov-19 20:40:39

Thanks all - It was a homebuyers survey (level two) and the original mortgage survey didn't flag anything up.
Good idea @cabbageking I have seen that a structural survey could cost £500, so we might need to gauge whether they are willing to adjust the price based on the findings before going ahead.
As so much of London is on clay, you would think that this kind of subsidence would be quite common?

JoJoSM2 Wed 27-Nov-19 07:59:15

I’ve never heard of subsistence in London so presume it’s rare.

I’d also say that more buyers would run a mile when they hear about it so I’d expect a heavilly discounted price for the property. I think that even when you’ve done the remedial work, you’ll need to disclose that to future buyers (and it’ll put people off or they’ll want a massive discount).

SurveyorScott Wed 27-Nov-19 08:21:14

You should refer back to the surveyor who carried out the original survey. Ask for more detail and suggest that you'd like a structural engineer to take a look.

Most surveyors aren't structural engineers, hence why the term Full Structural Survey was changed to Building Survey quite a few years ago.

As for the cracks, bays of that age often don't have foundations. This means that they can easily crack at the abutment with the main wall, especially on the upper floor. The bay has been there for over 100 years and will likely continue to move but underpinning may be the solution.

The trouble with clay is it can absorb lots of water. When it does it expands, pushing on foundations and floors, called heave. The opposite happens in the summer, it dries out and shrinks, potentially causing subsidence. This continual seasonal movement is common, especially after some of the recent hot dry summers.

Hope that helps.

NemophilistRebel Wed 27-Nov-19 08:28:00

If you can fit a coin in the crack and they are following a diagonal line along bricks they say it’s a sign of subsidence

If it’s a rendered house and just has cracks appearing it’s just a sign they need filling and redecorating as render will crack over time

Clay does expand and contract, the times when clay can cause bad enough subsidence to require underpinning or other remedial work is if there are trees too close that could be isi g all the water in summer otherwise the general expansion and contraction over the seasons aren’t anything to worry about

I had an insurance assessor to my house at the beginning of the year for a leak claim and we got chatting.

She told me that in our area (Hertfordshire border of London) the highest number of claims is for subsidence .

I was surprised but she said it was due to the really hot summer we had had before and the clay earth in the area.
I said it sounds horrific and so much u see pinning.
She then told me that they didn’t use underpinning to fix any of it.
It was some sort of internal and extraneous stitch fix along the wall.
Less invasive and quicker and obviously cheaper.
Made it seem like something not as scary.

SecondaryBurnzzz Wed 27-Nov-19 09:35:21

Thanks everyone, that's quite a range of responses.
You're explanation NemophilistRebel makes complete sense and bears out articles I have read on the subject. ie what SurveyorScott says about clay is changing throughout the seasons, and that. underpinning isn't always the solution.
JoJos reaction is one that I would assume that our future buyers might have, and worries me.

I will speak to the surveyor and get a building surveyor to have a look, just so we are forearmed.
Thanks everyone.

FanDabbyFloozy Wed 27-Nov-19 09:43:09

Just adding to what @NemophilistRebel says. It is common in North London/Herts. You see it in the houses from Highgate to Hadley Woods.
However do check if it'll affect the house insurance. I've seen a case where no-one except the company who paid for the underpinning would quote and they kept the premium high to recoup costs, even though in effect that horse had bolted.

Lightsabre Wed 27-Nov-19 10:59:44

Definitely pay for a structural survey (circa £800) in London. If it has subsidence, I'd walk away personally. You might have a problem getting buildings insurance (which would affect getting a mortgage if you needed it) or it might be very costly to fix and you'd need to declare it on selling which would put a lot of buyers off.

SecondaryBurnzzz Wed 27-Nov-19 14:28:45

We're meant to be moving before Xmas - I think this is going to set us back quite a while.

CottonSock Wed 27-Nov-19 14:33:07

Our Victorian semi has some signs and next door was rebuilt as a result of subsidence. We got a full survey and went ahead with purchase. It's insured, but I think a high excess so might be worth checking this if you are worried.

GrumpyHoonMain Wed 27-Nov-19 14:33:24

It is a problem in many parts of London. Suggest you get the full survey first but back out if it does reveals subsidence - buildings and contents insurance is expensive already in many parts or London due to crime: add on a structural problem and you could end up paying thousands a year (if you can be insured at all).

IheartNiles Wed 27-Nov-19 14:43:44

There are lots of Victorian properties that have had subsidence due to shallow foundations and clay soil. We bought one of them some years ago. The work had been done so as far as we were concerned the property was in better shape than neighbouring properties that were not yet done. I’m sure we’ll take a hit when we sell it but it’s since doubled in value and it’s a nice area so I’m not too concerned. One downside is we’ve stuck with the original insurer, should probably try and get a specialist insurer to quote but we didn’t bother. So buildings insurance is more expensive, which seems odd as the problem is fixed. If a house needed underpinning I’d probably walk away but if the work was done and insurer willing to continue then I’d buy it. As long as in sought after area. But you do get people who don’t know much who would panic about it. So I’m sure it limits the market when selling.

TabbyStar Wed 27-Nov-19 14:56:40

My house has a bit of subsidence, lots of houses around our area do, though it's not London. Mine is partly because of a tree. It's not actually that much of a deal living here, old houses have all sorts of cracks, and I read that in a seller's market it doesn't necessarily affect the price. Having said that the uncertainty about whether it is going to be an issue when I sell is a bit crap, so not sure I'd actually but something with subsidence. Though the bay coming away at the front of the house without anything else being wring isn't something I'd worry about, it's really common.

SecondaryBurnzzz Wed 27-Nov-19 15:20:13

Thanks everyone. I've called the surveyor and waiting for him to call me back

minipie Wed 27-Nov-19 15:37:23

On a 1910 house in London (ie high value) it’s definitely worth a full structural survey.

Subsidence - depends how much, what cause, etc. Not necessarily a massive deal. First step is to ask the vendors if there is any history of subsidence or suspected subsidence including insurance claims, investigations or remedial work. Then when you have your survey, ask the surveyor for as much detail as possible about the cracks, their cause, how old they are etc.

LBOCS2 Wed 27-Nov-19 15:41:07

Our Victorian house in SE London had subsidence. Likewise a lot of people we knew in that area. It took us a long time to sell and people did run scared on it.

UnfamousPoster Wed 27-Nov-19 16:36:21

Pretty much the whole of north London is built on clay and I'm not aware of anyone that's had an issue (it's a bugger to do the gardening in - you literally get a clump on a shovel that looks like you can put it straight on a potters wheel!).

I had a property there too which I never had a problem with but I remember it being flagged as a possibility.

Given there are some cracks already though, I would recommend having a full survey, just in case.

missl1 Wed 27-Nov-19 20:23:18

In answer to your original question it's not a big deal in the sense that it's a common problem across London due to clay soil. I don't know much about North London but it's certainly a problem in South East London particularly around Crystal Palace area. We live in South London. There's a reasonable crack in our back wall which came up as nothing to worry about on our survey eight years ago. Also after the last two very hot summers a hair line crack has developed in the ceiling across our front bay window. It's often just movement rather than subsidence (as in the place is falling down). Full survey is always a good idea in any case.

dontcallmelen Thu 28-Nov-19 19:09:07

Yy with miss also Forest Hill & Brockley dont know if it’s due to being hilly as is Crystal Palace or if south east London is generally more susceptible.

SecondaryBurnzzz Thu 28-Nov-19 20:47:47

Spoke to the surveyor and the cracks aren’t quite where he would expect to see them. That’s why he thinks he R’s with getting the structural engineer in, so tomorrow we’re going to book an inspection. Got to be worth it I think.
Thanks everyone smile

SecondaryBurnzzz Sun 01-Dec-19 07:23:18

Structural engineer bought and paid for, going in next week hopefully. so If it is subsidence, do we ask for the cost off of the asking price, or will it always be bad for future buyers. I would feel quite comforted by a underpinned house, but I doubt everyone would....

NemophilistRebel Sun 01-Dec-19 07:37:58

It wouldn’t worry me too much and like you a previously underpinned house would be reassuring

Not to say that’s the same for everyone though

Chewbecca Sun 01-Dec-19 07:45:24

If there is subsidence and you re negotiate the price, you don’t want to just look for the cost of repair to be covered, rightly or wrongly, the house also has a lower value, an underpinned house has a lower value than one that’s not been underpinned.
I live on clay in Essex and you do see a reasonable amount of subsidence but I would avoid buying a previously underpinned house, it knocks maybe 1/3 off the value IMO.

IheartNiles Sun 01-Dec-19 07:51:17

That is crap @Chewbacca it might knock a third off if needing doing (and no insurance) but not if fixed and in desirable area. We’ve had loads of underpinning down this way and all the houses have sold at the same price.

Chewbecca Sun 01-Dec-19 07:51:58

It’s what I have seen in this area.

FusionChefGeoff Sun 01-Dec-19 07:58:48

We had a house once that had been underpinned due to a burst water pipe that caused slippage / subsidence.

We were naïve and didn't really know what it meant until we tried to get house insurance!! Bloody nightmare. So if you can avoid underpinning as a solution that saves a lot of issues in that area.

We sold pretty easily I think and for a good price in a relatively slow market so it didn't seem to have too much impact but, as it was a good 'starter' home it may we'll be that others were as ignorant as we were smile

Zebrasinpyjamas Sun 01-Dec-19 08:00:58

I live in South London where subsidence is common on particular streets. We pulled out of a house that had signs of it. Next door had been underpinned but not "our" one.

Its a bit odd as theoretically an underpinned house is more stable and should be fixed but for us the worry was not being able to get insurers (our solicitor warned us to get buildings insurance before we exchanged in case we couldn't get someone to take it on. We couldn't even get insurance quotes online for example) and the problems with selling it on later. It was too much of a risk for us as 1st time buyers.
The house we pull out of did sell though so clearly not everyone feels the same as us.

NemophilistRebel Sun 01-Dec-19 09:14:55

North London / Herts border here and a lot of the old Victorian terraces have had underpinning to their bays.

It’s all been done so long ago that most people don’t know

A neighbour recently was extending and their builder found the underpinnings.

Luckily for them it doesn’t affect insurance for them

TreesRUs Sun 01-Dec-19 16:36:43

I’ve never heard of subsistence in London so presume it’s rare.

Gosh! Most of London is built on London clay which is variously unstable. If you’ve ever had a structural survey on a house in London the risk of subsidence is usually marked as raised - really surprised by this! it’s a very well known thing IME.

stucknoue Sun 01-Dec-19 16:39:27

They might just be covering themselves. A house that old will have cracks, when I sell my house it will take this into account pricing it so not all sellers will drop the price

Southwest12 Sun 01-Dec-19 17:50:32

My house in south east London had been historically underpinned when we bought it. It then needed underpinning again, insurance paid out no problems, moved me out for 12 weeks while it was done. Both my neighbours were underpinned, so all three of us within a two year period. The insurance monitored it for almost a year before they decided to do the work. When
the floors came up there were huge cracks in the dried out clay, really deep too.

Didn't stop me selling six months later, buyers paid double what we'd paid for it 8 years earlier. The history of subsidence had no impact on the sale price at all.

SurveyorScott Mon 02-Dec-19 08:45:27

Just to add some context, most of the UK has clay geology smile

You need more than just clay to get subsidence on your home though, but recent warm/dry summers have made it more common again.

SecondaryBurnzzz Mon 02-Dec-19 10:34:35

Thanks everyone again, still waiting for the SE to go in - god I hate all of this waiting!.
I'll let you know what they say.
The area we're moving to will (hopefully) be the happy recipient of a Bakerloo Line extension, so maybe by the time we move, the place may have gone up in price a bit any way.

I am vacillating between panicking and wanting to pull out and thinking "f it" every house most of the houses in the area will be affected the same way.

I will just have to be patient and see what the experts advise.

BubblesBuddy Tue 03-Dec-19 10:44:10

If it is subsidence it is far better for the existing owner's insurance to pay. You may not get this covered on your insurance as it is a known fault. You could ask for money off but the owners should claim. That is what insurance is for: if they have it. They really should get this sorted out before they sell. I would not buy a house where it has not been sorted. If the claim is agreed by the owners and their insurance, and the repair is going ahead, that is acceptable.

If a house is underpinned, or structurally repaired, it is a much better purchase than one that has not been. Buyers can be certain of what they are buying and only foolish buyers do not see the advantages of effective structural work having been carried out.

The situation you now have will delay the purchase and you must get this agreed before you buy and getting money off is not the answer. An owner would be very silly to agree to that if they have isurance.

Clay soils can lead to subsidence and heave. London Clay is a culprit like any other clays. Poor foundations are also to blame and lack of accounting for trees.

BubblesBuddy Tue 03-Dec-19 10:45:20

No. Most houses will not be affected. Many houses will have the correct foundations, not have dessicated soil and could even have been reapired.

SecondaryBurnzzz Wed 04-Dec-19 14:15:51

The structural engineer has just called to say that the cracks are 'fine' and that he does not think there is any evidence of subsidence.
PHEW!
Thanks so much for all of your advice, I really appreciated it.
Now need to get on with packing!

NemophilistRebel Wed 04-Dec-19 16:36:36

That’s brilliant news! Good luck with the rest of the sale 🥳

SecondaryBurnzzz Wed 04-Dec-19 16:46:37

Thank you NemophilistRebel grin

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