House-buying deal-breakers! Part 2 – structural issues

House-buying deal-breakers! Part 2 – structural issues

author: Sarah Neate

By Sarah Neate


Last time, we looked at whether invasive weeds should be a deal-breaker when it comes to putting in an offer on your dream home.

And, it seems it doesn’t have to be, as long as there’s some room for manoeuvre with who’ll pay for the issue to be remedied.

In this guide, we’ll look at what structural problems you might encounter and whether any of them are serious enough to be deal-breakers. 


We’re sure most of you already know about subsidence, it’s had some pretty comprehensive press coverage over the years and is an ongoing worry of many house buyers.

What is it?

If you don’t know what it is, the official definition by the Institution of Structural Engineers and the Association of British Insurers is “the downward movement of a building foundation caused by the loss of support of the site beneath the foundation”. This basically means that the foundations that were put in place for the house to be built, were not done so correctly, so now the house has moved, which is what causes the slants and visible cracks you see appearing in walls.

Is it common?

This is not an uncommon problem as there are approximately 40,000 houses affected each year! Most of these are in the Southeast, but this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be wary of it in other places. One of the main causes of subsidence is trees, accounting for approximately 65% of cases. So if your house sits on clay soil and has trees nearby, subsidence is a possibility. Another 25% will be caused by a water leak of some kind, which has either softened the ground or, in severe cases, washed it away altogether.

How do you spot it?

If you know what you’re looking for, it’s easy as there’ll probably be cracks in the walls as the house has moved. But, cracks can also be there for other reasons so it doesn’t immediately mean there’s subsidence if you see one, it’s just a possibility. The general rule of thumb is, the bigger the crack the more likely subsidence is the cause, but seek the opinion of an expert.

Even if the house does suffer from subsidence it’s not the end of the world, it can often be fixed by underpinning. This is a big job, costing thousands, but once it’s done, it’s unlikely that the house would have any issues with subsidence again in the future.

Problem is, you might find it hard to get insurance until it’s fixed and, if you can’t get insurance, you’ll struggle to get a mortgage. So, if the seller of the property is not willing or able to afford the repairs and you’re planning on taking a mortgage out to buy the property, you might have to walk away. 


The other issues that might cause a house to develop cracks include settlement, which literally is the house settling down after being built. This will cause cracks around door and window frames and they’ll stick when you’re trying to open them too.

Rotting joists

These are pretty simple to spot if you’re able to get access. A poke with a screwdriver, if you think there could be some rot, should confirm it for you. If there is rot, it’ll be a big issue to get it fixed. So could be something that you use to open a negotiation on lowering the price of the house.   


Shifting occurs quite naturally in homes as they heat up and cool down through the day – you know those familiar cracking and banging noises you hear as you’re going to sleep? This kind of settling may cause cracks in the drywalling, but it’s not structural and is easily fixed.

However, more severe shifting can happen, caused by events such as a natural shift in land. This kind of shifting can damage load-bearing walls, which would be a cause for great concern. One way to check for this is to stand well away from the property, and have a good look at the roof. It if bows in the middle, sways or droops at one side, it could be an indication of movement in the load-bearing walls.      

That’s it for part 2. Next time we’ll cover what other issues may be the deal-breaker that scuppers your chance of buying your dream home. 

Disclaimer: All information and links are correct at the time of publishing.

author: Sarah Neate

By Sarah Neate

House-buying deal-breakers! Part 2 – structural issues House-buying deal-breakers! Part 2 – structural issues