What to do when your house needs an overhaul. Emergency building work edition

Reducing down a very long story, in March 2015 we had the interior wall taken down, which separated the dining room and the kitchen to turn it into a kitchen/dinner. Bearing in mind that the dining room could hold the contents of our previous property, the room looked ideal as a combined unit.

In March 2016, one year later, the new kitchen was installed, as up until that point we had been dealing with next to no appliances and a cooker that I think was older than me. With minimal appliances it meant less weight on the floor (this is key later on).

All seemed well until six months ago, when we noticed a bounce in the floor, and the floor had dropped, which continued to get worse. We called another builder who did an analysis and found that the RSJ which was supposed to be fitted where the wall in 2015 was taken down, had mysteriously disappeared. Or more to the point, it had never been installed in the first place, but paid for. Of course.

Then, the builder pulled up the floor and found that all of the support walls under the property were shaking and could literally be moved with hands. There was the reason for the bounce, and there was also one big ticking time bomb that could go off at any moment, pulling down the floor, and anything or anyone standing there, not to mention the potential impact on the house joined to ours.

As the days went on more bad news came. It was confirmed by two builders and a structural engineer that all of the support walls under the house had to be replaced, and the foundations didn't look good either. We also discovered that significant work had taken place on the property fifteen years before and in 1982. The council only had record of the underpinning work in 1982, but this was never mentioned to us when we purchased the house by the surveyor, or the conveyancing solicitors.

Most at this point would be asking about buildings insurance. Well yes of course there was building insurance in place, but they were not prepared to pay out, this was classed as a maintenance issue, and if anyone checks their building insurance, unless you have asked for a specific addendum to be put in place, and unless the work is subsidence, heave or landslip you will not be covered for support wall foundation work. It is incredibly unfortunate, but this is general wear and tear, in other words we are paying for previous owners' lack of upkeep.

So, how was this not discovered during the purchase of the property, considering how substantial the work was?

This is a good question. The argument for accountability is also a tricky one, there could potentially be two claims for professional negligence but at the same time, to find that out it would also be costly and we were already spending enough on the remedial work as it was, but it is something we are definitely instructing a solicitor to look into. I also feel I will be brushing up on my professional negligence law in the near future.

The steelwork to the exterior of the property was sound, and while the first interior wall that was taken down did not necessarily need an RSJ, we came to find, it did put pressure on its neighbouring interior wall. To cut the costs, we opted to remove said interior wall which separated the kitchen/diner and the living room. On the upside, the open plan look really works with the living room and kitchen/dinner, but it was still work we were never intending to do while we owned the property.

Before the work could be carried out, we needed to move out, it was the most efficient way for the builders to take down the interior wall, and build new walls under the length of the whole house. We were given 12-18 hours' notice, as the work was that urgent, and with a toddler, the whole situation was not going to be hassle-free. But, we are proactive people, we get things done quickly, and when you have a floor that could fall in beneath you at any moment, there was no other choice.

So, we moved in with Jack's mother for two weeks (as that was the estimated timeframe), but then the bad weather hit and commuting from West Sussex to London became very costly, so I and the small human moved in with my mother for another two and a half weeks.

We moved back into our house after five weeks of disruption, but the work was noticeable, not only because of the wall coming down, but you could feel how secure the floor was.

While we suffered an unexpected bill of nearly £20,000, out of our own pockets, on a property we have owned for just 3 years and thought the big jobs were done, we still stand to make a substantial profit on the house, which is slightly comforting. Now it is open-plan, it may even increase in value, who knows.

In situations like this you reflect on things. For us, we realised how lucky we are to financially be in the position to sort this work out quickly, we could have had no option but to leave it and face the inevitable, or we would have a crippling loan that we would be stuck under for many years. We also learnt who our friends are and who buries their heads in the sand.

Hopefully there is some useful information above, and it is good to learn from others experiences.

So that is the main reason for longer than usual radio silence, and even though it looks like I haven't got up too much, I have actually been quite productive, which is a miracle considering. The new blog is up and running, the SwimFor site has been migrated to a new portal, Lotus Magma, well has not really moved, but things are in motion, and No Food Limits is moving along nicely. In addition, there will be a new book out soon called Death Comes from Above, you can view the details and pre-order that from here.


Author: K J Foxhall

The Fox has spoken. Legal IT, Marine Conservation, Lotus Magma, SwimFor, No Food Limits and much more…