Survey mentions retaining wall as possible problem

Survey mentions retaining wall as possible problem

Postby MrBoy » Tue Mar 14, 2017 5:08 pm

I'm waiting on the formal report but the surveyor phoned me after performing a HomeBuyer survey on a place we're buying to give me the overview, and his biggest concern was a fairly large retaining wall. Well, concern was not really the right word but this was the issue he was closest to being concerned about as a longer term issue, due to the size of the wall and the cost to repair it if needed.

It is about as long as the house and varies up to maybe 8 feet high, retaining the back courtyard of the property back from the private road. It does not, as far as I know, form any part of the house's foundation as the house has a cellar which extends to about the same level as the road.
The wall is original as far as I know, perhaps approaching 150 years old. The surveyor's attention was drawn to the fact there are some cracks in the wall and although there are no signs of these obviously moving or increasing and he makes the point "it's probably been this way forever".

The surveyor's recommendation is that the wall be monitored over a period of 18 months with devices which will show how the cracks behave, at a total cost of £1500. Which is great but we are about to buy now so this doesn't help much. I don't know if a surveyor's "you might want to have this checked" comment carries that much weight or we should have a structural engineer assess it separately - would their report come with any kind of insurance? Certainly in terms of buying the place wouldn't an engineer's report be better should there be problems that make renegotiating the price sensible?

The owner maintains that they have watched the wall carefully for 20 years without any signs of movement and my assumption is the surveyor is being cautious but regardless, what can/should I do here? What if an engineer comes out and says the same thing "you should monitor it for a year or two to see if it needs work?" By then it's too late.
Is this a situation where some sort of indemnity policy might be appropriate, or for a solicitor to hold back part of the purchase funds while monitoring takes place?

Thanks :)
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Re: Survey mentions retaining wall as possible problem

Postby mr sheen » Tue Mar 14, 2017 6:02 pm

The purpose of a detailed survey is to highlight issues so that you can decide whether or not to proceed with the biggest purchase you are ever likely to make on a 'buyer beware' basis.

You can go back to the seller and justify reviewing the purchase price based on the report, or you can proceed and accept that this wall is going to be a problem and cost money, or you can act upon the advice of your solicitor, or you can walk away.

If you proceed, you take the property 'as is'. That is why surveys etc are carried out before purchase so you know what you are getting into.
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Re: Survey mentions retaining wall as possible problem

Postby MrBoy » Tue Mar 14, 2017 6:15 pm

Well the report doesn't make any indication if there IS a problem only that it's possible. They've basically said "it's an old wall". I know it's an old wall. I knew that when I made my offer... can't negotiate the price down on the basis of "they said there's a small chance there's a problem but if there is it'll be really expensive" ;)

Also people do get indemnity policies so the "buying as is" line doesn't seem right. I bought a flat and since it was hard to prove right of access the vendor paid for a policy that would pay out £200k (the purchase price) if within the next 30 years access was revoked. I gathered this was not uncommon but I dunno if a wall can have such a policy. If it is impossible to gauge the state of the wall without waiting 18 months it would seem reasonable i.e. "if in the next 2 years substantial work is required..."

But anyway - is this something a structural engineer is likely to give a more helpful answer on than the surveyor? Is one's word better than the other?
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Re: Survey mentions retaining wall as possible problem

Postby stufe35 » Tue Mar 14, 2017 8:09 pm

The surveyor is covering his backside and pointing out the risks to you as is his job. He is a specialist you are a layman.

So look at the evidence...the wall is 150 years old and hasn't fallen over..so fit for purpose...it would seem so.

The seller says it's been fine in the last 20 years....do you believe him ?

Is there any evidence of recent repairs ? Ie has it recently been repointed ?

Have the loadings on the wall changed in any way ? Ie has some one done new building work adjacent to it in the recent past. That might then cause it to start moving ?

My gut feeling having not even seen it...any wall that's been there for so long and a surveyor isn't saying is about to fall down is more than likely absolutely fine.

As for £1500 to monitor it ;have the crack pointed up with a soft mix of mortar. Watch the wall your self, if the crack opens up again or new cracks appear then you know it's on the move and have chance to take remedial action to strengthen it before it's becomes a real issue. I think it's highly unlikely. Can you post a pic. .?

Are you getting a mortgage...because if it's a serious issue their surveyor will call a halt to proceedings.

I have no knowledge about indemnity insurances..some one on here probably will...has to be worth exploring.
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Re: Survey mentions retaining wall as possible problem

Postby mr sheen » Tue Mar 14, 2017 8:19 pm

An indemnity policy is often used where a right of way has been used without dispute for a period of time that would cover a prescriptive right having been acquired, hence there is very little chance of a landowner, at a later date, successfully proving a right of way does not exist and hence the policy is highly unlikely to be invoked and if it was costs would be recovered since a win is likely.

This is completely different to a potentially defective wall. A surveyor has identified that the wall may have defects. You buy a house 'as is' under caveat emptor ie buyer beware but any questions you specifically ask should be answered honestly by the sellers, but recovering from sellers is pretty difficult, since proving what someone knew or that they lied, is difficult.

You have the choice of proceeding or having as many expert reports as you feel necessary to assist you in deciding whether to proceed.

Only new properties come with any guarantees/warranties.
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Re: Survey mentions retaining wall as possible problem

Postby MrBoy » Tue Mar 14, 2017 11:48 pm

Thanks, I thought maybe indemnity policies were widely used for any "we can't be sure" issue rather than specifically legal ones so that clears that up.

As mentioned it has been up a long time but do such walls tend to wear out... Like a roof for instance... Or do they basically last forever if well built?

There were no signs of repairs we saw and the seller doesn't appear dodgy ;)
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Re: Survey mentions retaining wall as possible problem

Postby MacadamB53 » Wed Mar 15, 2017 12:19 am

Hi MrBoy,

Or do they basically last forever if well built?

you planning on living there to infinity? :)

joking aside, there are 1000s of Edwardian and Victorian structures and 100s even older in the UK still standing...

you need a wall that'll last a lifetime max given a bit of TLC.

Kind regards, Mac
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Re: Survey mentions retaining wall as possible problem

Postby Collaborate » Wed Mar 15, 2017 8:42 am

Before you exchange it might be a good idea to see how much this house will cost to insure.
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