An Introduction to Selling a House with Structural Problems
If you want to sell your house fast you need to consider whether it has any structural problems that could stop the sale. Here’s our guide to structural problems, and some ways to sell a house even if it has structural problems.
What is a Structural Problem?
In simple terms, structural problems are anything that affects that structural integrity of your house. They can be structural issues due to poor design, poor building materials, poor building work, or structural faults that have developed since your house was built.
Your house could be affected by one structural problem or many. They could be connected in some way, or even caused by each other.
Why Structural Problems are such a Big Issue
The main worry with structural problems is that they can make your house unsafe. Some structural problems can make your house uninhabitable. Serious structural problems could even cause it to collapse.
In severe cases, structural problems could even mean your house has to be demolished. In this case, structural problems left the householders with a £1 million bill!
Even quite simple structural problems are very often expensive to fix. For example, this report says underpinning to cure subsidence typically costs £10,000-£15,000.
Structural problems can be a major headache if you are trying to sell your house. When your buyer has a survey done the surveyor will note any structural problems and even just any suspected structural problems. This could mean that your buyer reduces their offer, or even backs out of buying altogether.
Structural problems can mean that your buyer’s mortgage company won’t give them a mortgage to buy your house, or will withhold part of the mortgage until the problems are fixed. This could mean that your house sale falls through.
Structural Problems: Different Types
There are many types of structural problem which can be found in a house. Here are the main ones:
Subsidence is probably one of the most common structural problems today. In fact, over 10,000 people made insurance claims for subsidence totalling £64 million in just three months last year!
While minor cases of subsidence, sometimes known as settlement, are usually not too serious major cases of subsidence, heave or movement are serious structural problems.
Subsidence can be caused by various issues including ground conditions and geological problems, clay shrinkage, trees which remove moisture from the ground, an escape of water from a pipe or sewer, erosion or – in an old mining area – mining subsidence.
Heave is the reverse of subsidence in that the ground rises up instead of subsiding. Heave can also be a structural issue.
Solving a subsidence problem involves firstly dealing with the cause of the subsidence. Then you will need to repair the damage caused by the subsidence. In severe cases, a house affected by subsidence may need underpinning of its foundations.
Non-Standard Construction Methods
If your house is not built of brick or concrete with a slate or tiled roof there is a possibility it may be considered structurally defective. Common types of non-standard construction include timber buildings, thatched buildings, cob, mundic, asbestos, corrugated iron, concrete frame or panel houses and particularly system built houses.
Other Potential Problems
- Wall Tie Failure
Wall ties hold together the internal and external walls which together form the cavity walls which are found in most houses. If these fail the walls can bulge or even fall apart.
Asbestos was used in some houses for insulation or to provide a fire safety barrier until the 1980s. Asbestos is sometimes considered a structural defect.
Severe damp is often considered to be a structural problem, depending on the cause. Damp can also be caused by some structural problems.
- Damp Course Problems
If your house does not have a damp course, or the damp course has been breached, this would be considered a structural issue.
- Dry Rot and Wet Rot
Dry rot and wet rot are a common type of structural problem and are usually caused by damp conditions which cause fungus to spread rapidly.
- Flat Roofs
Flat roofs can be considered a structural problem if they leak or are poorly constructed.
- Invasive Weeds
Invasive weeds are weeds that grow quickly and can cause damage to property. Japanese Knotweed is one particularly serious kind of invasive weed that can cause structural damage. You can read an article we wrote on Japanese Knotweed, here.
Woodworm is a general name for all types of a wood-boring insect, which can affect the structural strength of the timber used in roofs, walls and floors. The most frequent type of woodworm is the 'Common Furniture Beetle'.
- Other problems
Other types of structural issues affecting houses can include red ash flooring, mundic or concrete affected by sulphate attack.
How To Spot a Structural Problem
Here are some of the tell-tale signs, that there is a structural problem:
- Leaning Walls
Walls should be vertical. If they’re not this can be the sign of a structural problem with the wall itself or its foundations.
- Bulging walls
Walls that bulge, even if the wall itself is vertical, can be a sign that something is defective within the wall.
- Uneven, Bouncy or Springy Floors
This can indicate problems with the floorboards or joists. It can be a sign of dry rot or wet rot.
- Sticking Doors or Sticking Windows
This is a possible sign that there has been some movement in your house, and which could be an early warning sign of subsidence.
Cracks in plaster, brickwork, stonework and concrete may be superficial and just due to settlement or they may be serious and indicate a problem like damp or subsidence. Cracks above a door or window could indicate a failed lintel, missing lintel or other structural issues.
Unpleasant smells are not often thought of as a sign of structural problems. However, they can be a symptom of damp, dry rot or wet rot.
- Roof Spread or a Bowed Roof.
This can be a sign that the roof timbers are moving outwards, perhaps because they are not strong enough to support the weight of the tiles.
How to Diagnose a Structural Problem
It’s extremely difficult to diagnose structural problems yourself. If you suspect you have a structural problem with your house take advice from a builder and/or a surveyor or structural engineer who is experienced in structural surveys.
RICS can help you find a chartered surveyor in your area.
Structural surveyors can undertake a professional structural survey. They can assess the extent and cause of the structural problem, conduct structural testing and monitor the problem, over time, where necessary.
Structural surveyors can advise on what needs to be done to solve the structural problem, prepare specifications for repairs and advise on the likely cost of fixing the problem.
Will My House Insurance Cover Any of This?
Whether your house insurance covers the cost of repairing structural problems will depend on what has caused them, and whether that is covered by your buildings insurance.
Structural problems can also be a major cause of arguments with insurance companies. The Financial Ombudsman Service looks at the many causes of complaints between householders and insurers over the biggest type of structural problem, namely subsidence.
Insurance companies might say that the structural problem was caused by a lack of maintenance and so refuse your claim. Or they might argue that, for example, subsidence isn’t subsidence but merely settlement which isn’t covered by your policy.
They could say that the structural problem originated many years ago before you had a policy with them.
These kinds of problems can be time-consuming too.
In this case, a family whose home has been affected by subsidence have become involved in an eight-year battle with their insurance company.
Even if your insurance company pays out for a problem like subsidence, there is likely to be an excess of at least £1,000 to pay.
So, even if you think your structural problems are covered by your home insurance you can’t always rely on insurance to provide an easy solution.
How to Sell a House with Structural Problems
If your house has structural problems consider whether you should fix the problem before putting your house up for sale. Find out how expensive it will be first to help you decide.
It is important to use a specialist builder and one who can give you a guarantee or warranty. Your buyer and their mortgage company may want to see this to protect them in case the problem reoccurs.
There is also a way to successfully sell your house structural problems and all without having to fix them first.
This is to sell it directly to a cash buyer.
If you sell to a cash buyer they won’t need a mortgage and so a bank or building society won’t be able to delay or stop the sale.
The cash buyer will be able to offer you a fixed cash price and guaranteed completion.
Your house will be sold and the cash will be in the bank without having to fix your structural problems first.