When you go to market, if you’re selling an older home, there are likely to be a few issues that come with age that can make you slightly nervous. While cosmetic things such as an outdated kitchen or ugly wallpaper are unlikely to scare off any prospective buyers, structural issues such as subsidence and underpinning can potentially be a deal-breaker.
Subsidence is caused by unstable soil, and it can result in serious structural damage to your house if left unchecked. Underpinning is generally used to rectify the problem, and while it can be a relatively straightforward fix in some cases, there are times when it becomes a large and complicated job. Unfortunately, many buyers have heard a story or two of cases where underpinning has been difficult to deal with – and this means if you own a house that has had structural issues, the sales process can be a little challenging.
But the good news is, that with the right approach it’s possible to achieve a positive outcome for both you and the buyer. So, to help you get started, we’ve put together this simple guide outlining the key factors to consider when selling a house that has been underpinned.
If the ground underneath your property changes or is unstable, your home may be at risk of subsidence. Any downward movement of the ground that is supporting your home, can cause your house to sink, or in extreme cases, collapse. Thankfully it is rare for a building to collapse, but it can certainly be a large and expensive issue to rectify if it is not dealt with quickly. There are varying degrees of subsidence and identifying it and taking appropriate action to fix the issue early, can save you a lot of time, money and headaches.
What Causes Subsidence?
There are several factors related to changes in the ground underneath your property that could cause your home to sink or subside. Here are some of the more common causes:
- Changes to the water table: If your home is built on clay soils, a lack of water can cause the soil to contract and pull on your foundations. Changes in the water table can occur after a prolonged dry spell or if vegetation surrounding your home is sucking moisture out of the ground via their roots.
- Pre-existing physical problems: There may be features on your land from long ago that you are not aware of, such as an old well, trench or mine shaft on the property which can potentially cause the soil to become unstable.
- Underground water leaks: If you have old or damaged pipes or a drain that is leaking underground, it can wreak havoc with the soil, especially if it has been wet and then dried out repeatedly.
- Large trees around the building: While big trees can provide shade and privacy around your home, if the roots of trees are growing under your foundations, it can cause structural issues.
- Soil washed away: If your soil has a high sand or gravel content, and a large amount of water from a burst pipe, storm or flood comes through, the water can wash the soil away from your foundations.
How to Spot Signs of Subsidence
One of the most important ways to reduce the impact of subsidence is to detect it early. If you suspect your house is sinking, there are some clear warning signs to be on the lookout for. House subsidence symptoms may include:
New or growing cracks: One of the most obvious signs of subsidence is cracks appearing in the walls. These may be visible on both the inside and outside of your home, either on the plasterwork of interior walls, or on exterior brickwork. Not all cracks are caused by subsidence, so pay attention to the thickness, angle and position of them. If it is more than 3mm thick, diagonal in direction, located near doors and windows and thicker at the top, it should be investigated further as these are often telltale signs of subsidence.
Windows and doors that stick: If you start to notice windows and doors are getting jammed, becoming harder to open and shut, or are sticking for no reason it may also be a sign that subsidence is causing your house to move.
How to Tell if Your House is Subsiding
If you’ve spotted a few of the warning signs, and suspect you may have a sinking foundation, it’s important to get your house checked by a professional as soon as possible to confirm if the problem is subsidence. A suitably qualified structural engineer can perform an inspection and provide an engineer’s report. This report will likely cost you around or upwards of $800. Depending on the property, a geotechnical engineer may need to be called in first to collect and analyse soil samples and provide a report, which will incur additional costs.
If you’re planning on selling your home, it’s best to get the report sorted as soon as possible as ideally you want to have identified (and hopefully solved) the problem before you go to market.
Fixing Subsidence in Houses
If subsidence is confirmed, contact your insurance provider first to discover if you are covered for the required works. If you are, they will guide you on the next steps to take. If your policy does not cover the issue, then you will need to pay for the repairs yourself.
In a brick house with a concrete slab, underpinning is generally required to fix the problem of subsidence. Underpinning a house can either be relatively straightforward, a lengthy and complicated process, or somewhere in between. This makes it hard to put a figure on the average cost of underpinning a house, but as a guide it can easily cost upwards of $15,000. Variables that affect the price include the extent of damage, type of footings, location, access, soil type and materials needed.
Subsidence underpinning is usually carried out by a concreter or trade professional who specialises in foundation works. It generally involves some excavation work to clear around the affected area, then jacks are used to prop up the cracked or slumped slabs, and concrete is poured in to provide structural stability.
Is Underpinning the Same as Restumping?
It’s important to note the difference between underpinning and restumping (also known as reblocking). Homes built on stumps that are experiencing stability or structural issues can have the problem rectified by replacing the damaged stumps with new ones. If your home is built on a concrete slab foundation, and the foundation begins to crack, sink or become unstable, underpinning will be needed to address the problem.
How to Sell an Underpinned Property
If you’re looking to put your home on the market and it has been underpinned, it’s best to be honest and upfront about it with any potential buyers. Likewise, if your home requires underpinning – don’t try and gloss over it as the issue will be discovered during any routine pre-purchase building inspections.
It’s true that a home that has stability issues may put off some prospective buyers. However, there are plenty out there who understand that buying an underpinned house at a good price is a smart move, as it is a problem that can be overcome. Your best bet is to first gain a complete understanding of exactly what has previously been done (or what needs to be done) to fix the problem.
If your home has already been underpinned, make sure you have all the relevant paperwork and reports available to show potential buyers that the works have been completed to the required standards and the issue has been resolved. If your home is experiencing subsidence problems, and you are not planning on completing the underpinning before you sell, having a clear picture of the steps that need to be taken to fix the issue and the costs involved will be a big help when it comes to discussing the topic with potential buyers.
Should you Underpin Before You Sell?
If you are aware that your home needs to be underpinned, you may be unsure whether you should get the job done before you go to market. This really depends on your personal situation and the extent of the works required. Either way it is a good idea to get a report completed by an engineer so you know exactly what needs to be done, then organise some quotes to find out what the costs of any subsidence solutions will be. That way you can make an informed decision about whether you have the means and/or wish to spend the money to get the problem fixed before you sell.
If you decide not to complete the underpinning, you will need to be prepared to adjust the asking price on your home accordingly. Knowing the costs associated upfront will also allow you to be clear on how far you should be willing to drop the price to allow for the new owners to cover the costs of completing the works.
Does Insurance Cover Underpinning Works?
When it comes to property insurance, your foundation is treated like any other part of your home. This means that in general, if damage to your foundation occurs through an event that you are insured against, you may be covered for the cost of repairs.
If the damage is caused by an earthquake, and your policy covers it, you may be able to successfully lodge a claim. Likewise, if the damage is caused by a flood and you are insured against floods – but only if the damage is caused as a direct result of the flood shifting the soil. If your soil shifts or changes later as an indirect result of the flood, it will likely not be covered. It’s also important to note that most insurers do not provide cover against tree root damage or against any pre-existing soil conditions that may lead to subsidence.
Insurance Tips for an Underpinned Property
Insuring a home that has been underpinned can be a challenge. Some insurers will not provide house insurance where subsidence is an issue, and it can be frustrating trying to find the ones that do. In this situation it can be helpful to speak with an insurance broker who has experience working with underpinned homes. They can help you find the best policy, guide you through the process and save you plenty of time and unnecessary headaches.
What Do You Need to Disclose to The Buyer?
While each state of Australia has its own rules surrounding the information that needs to be disclosed to the potential buyer, being honest about the underpinning that has been completed (or the works that need to be done) will save you hassles in the long run. Being upfront allows you to be fair on the price and avoid awkward discussions (or torn up contracts) in the likely event that the issue is uncovered in the building inspection prior to purchase.
Understanding the Subsidence Factor is Key to a Successful Sale
Selling a house that has been underpinned is not without its challenges. But when you understand the structural issues your house has had, and can provide evidence that the problem has been rectified (or quotes of the works that need to be done), it is possible to build confidence in those considering buying a house with subsidence, and to sell your underpinned home successfully.
Are you wishing there was a way to sell your home for a guaranteed price, have your renovations paid for and share in the upside if your home sells for more? Contact our team to find out how today.