What Causes Property Subsidence And How To Identify Subsidence?

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    property-subsidence

    Property Subsidence deters most of the investors buying a property that they would love to purchase as an investment.

    In all honesty, while I purchased a property with minor subsidence and fixed it, I also have walked away from another that was offer accepted and the survey revealed major subsidence.

    However:

    This subsidence question came up again last week when an ex-mentee called up to check if he can buy a property with subsidence.

    For most of the investors the nervousness to buy such a property comes from the fact that it needs a lot of money to fix and the complexity involved as well.

    So here it goes:

    This post explicitly helps to understand property subsidence and what causes it.

    What Is Property Subsidence?

    Property subsidence is sudden or gradual sinking or downward settling of ground’s surface with little or no horizontal motion.

    That’s by definition.

    Property subsidence can be a result of the natural settling process of the ground or can occur due to human created scenarios like mining.

    Shrinking soil has been identified as the main reason for pretty much 70% of the subsidence cases within UK.

    While most of the ground would have settled by now across the country, there are some hotspots still identified as per a study conducted by GeoBear based on cases reported in 2013-17.

    Here is the link to understand the map at a very high level.

    How To Identify Property Subsidence?

    You would want to be in a position as an investor to identify the initial sings of subsidence when you view the property.

    So:

    Here are the six signs that you can verify the property against to assess subsidence.

    1) Visible Cracks

    Visible cracks are the first sign of subsidence if you are viewing a property.

    However:

    Not all cracks can be treated as a result of subsidence.

    The cracks are usually more than 3mm wide.

    If the cracks are flowing top to bottom or vice versa then they are the vertical cracks and usually are thicker in width at the top.

    Stepped cracks occur when the building moves and the cracks follow the line of mortar to creating the steps.

    Likewise, you will also see horizontal cracks within some buildings impacted.

    subsidence-cracks

    2) Uneven and Tilted Floors

    Did you experience the unevenness and the tilt when you walk on the floor in some of the properties you may have viewed as an investor?

    Well, when the ground moves impacting the building its built on, you experience those tilted floors.

    That’s another sign of subsidence.

    3) Water Runs In Wrong Direction

    In a bath tub or shower or on the floor if you notice water is flowing to the other side of the bath as opposed to the drain, you have got another clue.

    4) Building Structure Appears Tilted From Outside

    The very first thing you as an investor will view is the external surroundings of the property.

    If you get a feel that the building is tilted externally, then that’s another sign.

    Look out for the road if there are any cracks on the road outside the house and also 3 houses to the right and left of the property.

    If you find similar signs then that’s something that should push you to get it investigated further.

    5) Sticking Of Doors And Windows

    The subsidence results in tilting the door and window frames pushing them out of the square/rectangle shape.

    When this occurs, the doors and windows will stick to the edges and you would not be able to open and close them with ease.

    6) Extensions To Main Building Crack Separation

    If the building has an extension and separates itself from the main building via noticeable cracks or tilt, it warrants to be referred to further survey.

    What Causes Property Subsidence?

    1) Soil Shrinking & Swelling

    We always learn that two things that destroys property in UK are moisture/water and fire.

    Well, its that moisture again.

    Soil on which a property is built on swells and shrinks based on moisture content within the area.

    So:

    If an area is exposed to uneven conditions like extreme heat or water based on the weather conditions, you see subsidence impacting the property.

    2) Trees

    While a garden is great for a property, not so much if you have plans to plant big trees or buying one with lots of trees.

    The roots of trees expand to reach the water source when the moisture is on the lower side. Since this moisture is absorbed, soil will shrink and adjust itself causing ground movement.

    3) Mine Shafts

    The historic coal mining have left open spaces within the ground which over a period of time led for ground movement while settling.

    This has been an issue for decades and is an important aspect of the survey process within property conveyancing.

    When such ground movement occurs, subsidence is the result within all neighbouring properties.

    4) Damaged Drains

    Water accumulation or absorption into the ground resulting from damaged drains is another concern that may cause soil swelling resulting in property subsidence.

    5) Construction Work

    Two scenarios in which you may see property subsidence are:

    • When the foundations of a house have not been laid on the soil that is not treated.
    • When you have a major excavation that has been done near by for developments and has not taken into account the resulting soil movement.

    It’s not in your hands as an investor to control such developments.

    But:

    You can keep an eye on approved construction around your house and check what kind of measures are being taken to avoid impact to near by houses and land.

    Must Read: 10 Powerful Tips To Choose Your Property Investment Area

    Buy Or Not To Buy A Property With Subsidence?

    I posted this question as a poll on our Facebook group and the response sounds to be to remain on cautious side and look for another deal.

    However:

    In my opinion, the decision within the wider market is driven by sentiment of fear to take up such projects than complexity of resolution to the issue.

    It definitely is a bit risky and costly to fix such issues.

    Within our experience at Limitless Monks, we have got the issues analysed and fixed the ones which were not severe with simple solutions like Wall ties for minor problems with a 30 year warranty.

    In another scenario we have walked away from the deal since we were not comfortable with the issue.

    Its subjective.

    If you are who does not mind taking a bit of risk than usual, here are few best practices that could help in making decisions.

    • Get a formal structural survey done with a firm agreement with the seller that the offer you make is subjective to survey results and renegotiation based on cost impact on refurbishment.
    • Verify if the sellers insurance has subsidence cover and take ownership to help the seller to get the subsidence fixed on his insurance before sale can commence.
    • If there is a fix suggested by your build team, ensure that fix is covered under warranty for a atleast 20 years and retain the warranty certificates at a safe place.

    Disclaimer: The author nor any team member of Limitless Monks are not a professional tradesman or subsidence expert. You will have to seek a professional surveyor advice to be able to purchase a property with subsidence.

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