Can You Sell a Property that has Structural Problems?



Putting your money into bricks and mortar has traditionally been a ‘safe as houses’ investment. And with rising demand for homes and house prices on the up, despite recent seismic events, it would seem that you simply can’t go wrong with property ownership. But what happens if the house in question has structural issues?


Chances are that if you try to sell a property with known subsidence issues, past or present, the majority of mainstream buyers won’t be interested in taking on a building with potentially compromised foundations, and neither will their lenders. Even if the occurrence of structural movement was insignificant, was dealt with successfully at the time without requiring underpinning or other structural works, and the property has been subsidence free for over 10 years, this is not something that can simply be ignored when you put the house up for sale – tempting though it may be.

Honesty is the Best Policy

Don’t even think about leaving the structural issues from your property’s history undisclosed to the estate agent or buyer. Any responsible home buyer will have an independent survey carried out before they sign on the dotted line which is sure to flag up evidence of subsidence. Trying to hide such an important issue which then comes to light via the survey is not only highly embarrassing, it is bound to lose you the goodwill of the buyer and thus the sale.


Worse still, there are potential legal and financial repercussions for being less than honest with a buyer. In other words, you can be taken to court for lying about the property and, according to the Misrepresentation Act 1967, the burden of proof lies with the seller.


In our view, honesty is always the best policy. Come clean about any structural issues with the property and work with the estate agent to devise the most effective strategy for dealing with buyer queries and maximise the chances of getting the property sold.

What is Subsidence?

When the ground on which a building stands becomes unstable and begins to sink or ‘subside’, the property’s foundations can become compromised. As the soil sinks on one side, the integrity of the building is called into question and – worst case scenario – the structure may be at risk of collapse.


The tell-tale symptoms of subsidence are cracks that appear suddenly in walls or ceilings, often around doors or windows. Of course, not all cracks are evidence of subsidence – most are perfectly harmless. Look out for cracks that are wider than 3mm and that are visible both on the inside and outside. Subsidence cracks tend to be wider at the top than at the bottom and typically follow a zigzag pattern diagonally down the wall. Doors and windows may be out of alignment and may not open or close properly.

Why does Subsidence Occur?

Subsidence can occur for many reasons – here are the top three culprits contributing to a greater risk of structural movement:

  1. Presence of clay soil

This type of soil contracts during hot, dry weather and expands during the wetter winter season, which can make the ground unstable. According to this industry report, 75% of UK subsidence cases are caused by soil shrinkage.

  1. Proximity of trees

Trees near the house can absorb water from the soil and dry it out, and the problem is compounded on clay soil. Willow, oak, poplar and ash are among the ‘thirstiest’ trees and should be planted a safe distance from the property, and ideally not in the garden at all.

  1. Undetected drainage problems

Leaking underground drains can go unnoticed for long periods, often years. However, the escaped liquid can soften the soil over time and wash away the foundations, with subsidence being the result.

What a Buyer Needs to Know

When you find a buyer who isn’t put off by what’s often termed a ‘problem property’ and who is prepared to take a pragmatic approach towards subsidence in the property, it’s a good idea to be as cooperative as possible. It is also recommended to have all relevant paperwork to hand so you can reassure the buyer that you have dealt with the issue responsibly.


Also bear in mind that any agreed offer will be “subject to survey and contract”. When it comes to selling a property with known structural issues, it is advisable to be flexible in your negotiations in view of the fact that the buyer may well request a price reduction once details of remedial action costs are becoming clear.


The first thing any responsible buyer will want to do is to carry out an in-depth professional inspection by way of a Structural Building Survey. An experienced surveyor will give the property a thorough once-over, which will include identifying signs of subsidence, the scope and urgency of the problem, and suggesting remedial action. They may also recommend further specific investigations.


For ongoing structural problems, a Structural Engineer’s Report will be needed to give the buyer important information and costings regarding monitoring, underpinning and redecorating works as needed.


For historic subsidence, you will be required to show evidence of past building insurance claims as well as a specification of works to explain how the issue was successfully dealt with at the time. You may also need to provide a Certificate of Structural Adequacy.

What is the Best Sales Strategy?

Selling a property that has structural problems is always going to involve more effort than the sale of an unaffected house. That said, provided that you put the right effort and determination into the process, there’s every reason to be positive.


  • Recognise the reality that your target buyer audience will be smaller since your property is not going to be what the most cautious homebuyer segment is looking for.
  • Accept the fact that getting a mortgage for a property with a history of subsidence will be tricky though not impossible, and that a property with ongoing subsidence will require a cash buyer.
  • Be ready to answer queries about home insurance for subsidence-afflicted properties and, if possible, offer suggestions for insurers that are prepared to provide affordable cover.


Our final word of advice is that when it comes to marketing your property for sale, there’s no need to let the structural problem overshadow your home’s good points, of which there are sure to be many. Work with your estate agent to present the house in the best way possible and take every opportunity to promote its benefits to attract the right buyer.

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