What does 'Subsidence' mean when buying a property?

Find out what Subsidence means when you are buying a property. 'What does Subsidence mean?' plus over 150 other property related terms and jargon in plain English


No matter what type of survey you have carried out the surveyor will look to see if the property you are buying might have subsidence.

They'll do this by looking for cracking in the walls (externally and internally), especially any clues that the cracking is recent.

However a surveyor is not qualified to draw any definite conclusions but if they suggest that the property may have subsidence a structural engineer is needed to confirm or remove the suspicion.

Depending on the extent of the suspected subsidence will depend on the cost of the structural engineer - anything from a few hundred pounds up to around £1,000.

Who pays is often a tricky question with the vendor usually reluctant because it was "your surveyor" that made the claim.

Generally I make an agreement with the vendor that I will pay for a structural engineer approved by their home insurance policy (which should cover subsidence) and if there really is an issue they will buy the report off me. They will need it anyway for the insurance claim so it makes sense to all parties.

The structural engineer will be able to tell what caused the cracking and there are many reasons:

  • Settlement - mainly occurs on new build blocks and is cracking on the internal walls over the first couple of years. Nothing to be concerned about.
  • Annual movement - some properties do move up and down every year causing minor cracking but don't affect the stability of the building
  • Subsidence - part of the property is sinking faster than other parts causing the walls to crack.

Its only on this last type of movement that there is any cause for concern but only if it is recent. Buildings can have moved decades ago and are now fully settled. The structural engineer will be able to tell you if this is the case.

Where there is active subsidence the property will need to be underpinned - someone will need to dig underneath the property and insert a stronger foundation ... or basically pour in an awful lot of concrete!

If this is covered by the insurance policy on the property its not going to cost anything so the only reason not to go ahead with the sale (if your mortgage provider is on board) is because it is going to be noisy and messy for a while.

You can try pitching for a price reduction to compensate for this and see if the vendor is willing or able (if they are in an upward chain where they are financially stretched then they simply may not be able to reduce the price unless the estate agent can renegotiate all the transactions in the chain.

So many buyers run a mile when they hear the word "subsidence" on their survey but in most cases it doesn't exist, its just the surveyor being cautious. And where it does, if you really want the property, there are often ways and means of navigating it.

To find out how to handle all the steps in purchasing a property the smart way pick up a copy of my ebook How to Really Buy a Property.

Search Results for 'subsidence' in
How to Really Buy a Property

"... surveyors should never estimate the cost of works; When rising damp, penetrating damp, subsidence, cracking, sagging roofs, bulging walls and all the other frightening things in a surveyor's report might be serious, and when they are not; Why asking the vendor to carry out work is not..."

"... solicitor is likely to be against such an idea. To start with it may seem like a great way to send positive messages to the vendor but any such agreement is likely to be complicated. If in the process of buying it is discovered that, for example, the property has subsidence or the house next door has got planning permission to double in size and block out all the sunlight to your garden, it would be fair for you to pull out of the..."

"... damp; How to check more than a structural survey covers and pay less; Why a sagging roof may not be a real issue; How to handle subsidence, movement and bulging walls; When to use a survey to renegotiate and when to keep quiet; How to choose a good surveyor, and make sure the lender does..."
"... retention can be a small amount or the total price agreed (usually in the case of suspected subsidence or other major structural issues). The best way to deal with them is as described in the remainder of this chapter. Take them in your stride, in most cases the issue is much smaller than the surveyor believes and retentions are removed after investigation of the..."