It's summertime – and that could mean subsidence
Dry weather can bring out the cracks and a potential insurance nightmare. Chiara Cavaglieri investigates
Sunday 18 July 2010
Despite the rainy weather many of us have had over the past week, this has been one of the driest summers in the past 50 years, and homeowners are warned this means the threat of subsidence – which could cause hundreds of thousands of pounds of damage to their properties – has increased.
Halifax, which saw a 22 per cent increase in insurance claims for subsidence last year, says that with hotter weather subsidence is a danger in many parts of Britain. About 70 per cent of this damage is down to shrinking clay soil, commonly found in the South-east, says the insurer. Trees and hedges planted too near to buildings take moisture from the soil, extending their roots and causing the ground to shift and the building's foundations to crack. Other contributing factors are blocked or damaged drains which may leak water and wash away soil.
The cost of repairs can easily spiral and claims for this type of restoration take a sizeable chunk out of the insurers' pockets. In 2009, insurers paid out £175m against subsidence claims, says the Association of British Insurers (ABI). Some homes can even be completely destroyed so it's vital for homeowners to have appropriate cover and to keep an eye out for the tell-tale signs. Many cracks are innocent and can often close during the wetter winter months, but if they don't, or grow beyond 5mm in width, it's time to call the insurance company.
"Signs of subsidence include cracks that begin at the corners of windows and doors, can be seen from both sides of the wall, and get wider from one end to the other. Windows and doors that are no longer easy to open or close can also be a sign that something is amiss," says Neil Curling, a senior claims manager at Halifax.
If your property has no history of previous subsidence, all standard building insurance policies will provide cover. Most expect policyholders to pay an excess of £1,000, and if you live in a high-risk area, determined by soil maps, you are already paying more for your insurance than those in lower-risk areas.
"Pretty much every underwriter in the UK uses sophisticated geological modelling to assess the risk of subsidence in individual post codes. So if you have never made a claim for subsidence you can be sure your insurance provider is hedging its bets and is loading your premium with the appropriate risk level," says Darren Black from comparison site Confused.com.
There will also be exclusions and limits, so review your policy to see exactly what you're covered for and by how much. Some insurers may exclude damage to external walls and patios hit by subsidence, for example, while others may refuse to cover for flooring and peripheral features so always check the small print.
Another thing to look out for is providers dropping subsidence and flood cover from some of their standard policies. "With the recent trend of building new housing developments on brownfield sites (which generally have higher subsidence risk), this is something that first-time buyers should really be aware of when they are purchasing their first policy," says Mr Black.
If you do have to make a claim, don't expect your insurer to act quickly. Many claims can drag on as insurers will want to monitor the situation to assess the best course of action. Subsidence as well as heave claims (when the property rises rather than falls) require a lot of investigative work and insurers will use specialist structural engineers to take measurements and monitor the situation over a period before the repairs start.
In the worst-case scenario, your home will need to be underpinned by digging out and replacing the foundations. It is a costly affair, potentially tens of thousands, so you can expect a steep increase in premiums. Your insurer may also include a clause in your policy that makes you liable for a certain proportion of any subsidence-related claim. Mr Black says that this can vary from as little as £50 to tens of thousands of pounds depending on the insurance provider's assessment of how likely you are to make a claim.
The big problem is that the stigma of subsidence stays with any property, and most insurers will steer clear of a house that has faced subsidence problems in the past. If you want to buy a property that has had subsidence issues, you may find that you're left with little choice but to stick with the current insurer.
"It does make sense for the existing insurer to continue to cover and there is an agreement in place that says they will do that, but you will need to have a new policy," says Steve Foulsham from the British Insurance Brokers' Association (Biba).
There does come a point, however, once a property has been corrected and stabilised for two or three years, that you may be better off looking elsewhere for your insurance.
"Once a property becomes a normal risk you could argue that it's not fair for a policyholder to suffer increased premiums. Consumers should shop around and try to achieve more competitive terms," says Mr Foulsham.
Specialist brokers such as Bureau Insurance Services, for example, are designed to help homeowners with high-risk properties, and after inspecting your property may be able to offer a cheaper policy. Biba say that Bureau can help homeowners struggling to arrange appropriate insurance for such a property in about 90 per cent of cases, but be warned that this may require you to agree to a higher excess than the industry standard of £1,000.
Above all, the message is to stay calm and remember that prevention is better than cure so take steps now to avoid subsidence issues later. Find out what type of soil your home is built on – if you can roll the soil into a ball easily it has high clay content and is at higher risk of subsidence. You should also think twice before planting trees or large shrubs near the house or any outbuildings.
The ABI says that trees more likely to cause problems include poplars, willows, elms and oaks. It's also wise to keep your drains free of leaves and check your pipes for any splits which could lead to flooding. Finally, if you're buying a property, it's important to check for any past subsidence and have a thorough structural survey to identify any potential problems. You should also ask your surveyor to investigate potential underground mining excavations, which account for about 15 per cent of subsidence claims.
Darren Black, Confused.com
For most, subsidence isn't a problem, but if your property has a history of movement, it's a different story. You will be classed as a non-standard risk and as such you will find it difficult to get a quote from any of the mainstream building-insurance providers. This will likely force you down the route of dealing with specialist underwriters which have experience in dealing with properties in subsidence hotspots.
Bargain Hunter: Comparethemarket.com launches two-for-one cinema tickets offer
Help to Buy Isa Q&A: Are they real help for first-time buyers or simply a vote-winner for the 2020 election?
You'll need £220,000 for a minimum wage in your retirement
Pension freedom: Steve Webb answers your questions on the big shake-up
Bank-beating exchange rates on your international payments
- 1 Germanwings crash: Police make 'significant discovery' at home of co-pilot Andreas Lubitz
- 2 Germanwings captain Patrick Sondenheimer tried to break into locked cockpit door 'with an axe' as plane was descending
- 3 Zayn Malik already working on solo material, just days after quitting One Direction
- 4 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 5 #FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Germanwings plane crash live: Andreas Guenter Lubitz intentionally crashed flight 9525 into the Alps in act of mass murder and suicide – latest
iJobs Money & Business
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: To provide a prompt, friendly and efficient se...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will be the first point of contact for all...
£18000 - £24000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Of...
£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...
Day In a Page
A four-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of a stunning period property in North Yorkshire, with two kitchens and a large south-west facing garden.
This high-spec two-bedroom home is part of a smart collection of new flats at Beaufort Park and has a large decked balcony that's perfect for summer drinks.
Capitalise on the fabulous views of Trevone Bay by taking two homes and creating one spacious boutique B&B. Just a cliff-top walk from Padstow.
Overlooking a golf course, this six-bedroom Edwardian detached home spans four storeys and retains many period features including the original, operational servants' bells...
On the edge of the city, this six-bedroom home comes with an outdoor swimming pool and a large garage block that has annexe potential.
In a Grade II-listed manor just outside of Bath, this three-bedroom home is arranged on two floors with a skylight in a vaulted roof line.
Open the living room's bi-fold wooden doors to reveal a retro-style kitchen, and a conservatory leading to a paved garden at this three-bedroom home.
A Grade II-listed, four-bedroom home, in a charming Somerset village, with a two-storey studio that could be converted into a holiday cottage
A modern four-bedroom Victorian home, within walking distance to the high street
A luxury apartment in the Gothic mansion of Wyfold Court in Kingwood, offers six bedrooms spread over three floors and a turret
This school conversion, near Stockwell Tube, oozes New York loft style. The one-bedroom flat features double height ceilings and exposed brick work
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two-oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn
High Crest House covers an impressive 9384sq ft, with almost three acres of grounds including a tennis court and summer house enclosed by electric gates
A six-bedroom farmhouse with separate accommodation in converted stables. Situated in the village of Church Aston, within walking distance to the market town
A two-bedroom flat with under-heated walnut floors and bespoke built-in storage. The Tube and Clapham Common are a short stroll away
A refurbished seven-bedroom townhouse with staff quarters, cinema room, superb gym, steam room and plunge pool
A minimnalist four-bedroom home designed to the highest spec, featuring glass walls and a kitchen space lit by a glass roof
Hibernate during winter and make your living during the summer at this busy guesthouse with panoramic sea views, in the village of Lynton
A four-bedroom penthouse next to the Tate with direct views of St Paul's from two floors of luxurious living space
A four-bedroom detached home surrounded by spacious gardens and woodland, close to New Pudsey
An 18th-century, three-bedroom home near Langstone Harbour built from ships beams with vaulted ceilings and wood burning stoves
A five-bedroom semi-detached home with a mix of period and modern features in a popular and convenient location
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
A boutique mews house, set around a central courtyard, with three bedrooms and a private roof terrace
A four-bedroom farm-conversion with three bathrooms and two reception rooms
A two-bedroom detached house with ensuite bathrooms and a sun-drenched decked terrace, £750,000
A modern and spacious two-bedroom, penthouse flat with two bathrooms in a prestigious development
A beautifully renovated five-bedroom terrace with three reception rooms and a courtyard garden, £700,000
A four-bedroom period house which has been extended to provide almost 2,500sq ft of living space, £675,000
A pretty three-bedroom Georgian home with a 22ft drawing room and a master suite with a balcony, £525,000
A substanstial family home with five bedrooms and landscaped gardens in the much sought-after Branksome Park area
A well-presented three-bedroom house with front and rear gardens, close to White City station, £475,000
A handsome five-bedroom house in a sought-after location close to the city centre
A five-bedroom country home with valley views, equestrian stables and 27 acres of land, £725,000
A six-bedroom farm house with separate, detached cottages and 371 acres of land
A two-bedroom cottage with parquet floors, chunky beams and an open fireplace
A three-bedrrom flat with 2,733sq feet of living space, a beautiful private garden and 15 acres of communal grounds
A four-bedroom chalet bungalow with three bathrooms and a spacious garden, £525,000
A two-bedroom flat with an open plan kitchen and two balconies, close to Arsenal station