Couple’s £725,000 country dream retirement home turns into nightmare

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A couple’s dream £725,000 retirement home in the countryside is due for demolition – just five years after it was built. Madeline and Alastair Price, aged 70 and 69, can’t even open the front door of their rickety five-bed house, which they bought in 2018.

The couple’s detached house, which overlooks the open fields of Cambridgeshire, is laden with meter-long cracks as it is ‘lifted up’ by the swelling ground. Insurers blamed the poorly constructed foundation and ordered the house to be demolished and rebuilt as the damage was too severe to repair.

Madeline, a retired banker turned gardener, said: “It really is a nightmare. The cracks are pretty much everywhere. None of the floors or work surfaces are level. The doors don’t close – I can’t even open the front door because I’m stuck. The insurance company said they can’t save it. It’s not just a building, it’s our house.

Located in the rural village of Wicken, near the historic cathedral town of Ely, the couple’s home has five bedrooms and three bathrooms. Madeline showed how cracks punctuated her and husband Alastair’s home, which has underfloor heating, a wine cooler and a wood-burning stove.



The couple’s detached house, which overlooks the open fields of Cambridgeshire, is laden with meter-long cracks as it is ‘heaved up’ by the swelling ground

The couple’s double garage has a two-meter-long crack inside and about half an inch wide, while the kitchen and living room are also affected. Madeline said the problem was that the foundations of the house – about 1.5 to 2 meters deep – were being displaced by the clay soil below, which is expanding due to the heaving of the ground.

Soil heaving is associated with the swelling of clay soils which expand when wet. The couple say the builders should have taken this into account when constructing the house, which came with a 10-year guarantee under the Local Authority Building Control.



The couple's detached house, which overlooks the open fields of Cambridgeshire, is rife with meter-long cracks as it is
The couple’s detached house, which overlooks the open fields of Cambridgeshire, is laden with meter-long cracks as it is ‘heaved up’ by the swelling ground

Madeline said: “The ground is very dry with evidence of tiny tree roots are still there. It lifts the house. They should have known what the ground was like when the house was built.

“We first noticed small cracks after a few years but attributed this to normal new house features. It started in the hallway, the stairs and the back bedroom. A structural engineer is came and said it was a heave of clay, which is where the ground lay under the house.”



The couple's detached house, which overlooks the open fields of Cambridgeshire, is rife with meter-long cracks as it is
The couple’s detached house, which overlooks the open fields of Cambridgeshire, is laden with meter-long cracks as it is ‘heaved up’ by the swelling ground

Madeline and Alastair, also a retired banker, must vacate the home they share with their golden retriever when demolition notice is given. They will receive compensation to rent a property for six months – but say they are unsure whether they will return their home or sell it once it is rebuilt.

Madeline said: “They’re going to tear everything down and redo the foundation. It could take at least two years out of the house.

“We wanted to live in the countryside, we thought it would be our home for a few years and then we would move into our last house. We don’t know at the moment if we’ll be back. We might just put it straight on the market when it’s rebuilt.”


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