published about 1 hour ago
Just like you can’t always judge a book by its cover, you can’t always judge a home by what’s above ground. “Foundation” is the red-flag word that sends most homeowners and buyers running, and often, it’s not clear from first glance that anything is wrong. Issues can vary from house to house, depending on the material and style of the foundation and the soil on which it sits.
Most foundations can be fixed — for a price — but it’s helpful to know what it’s in store before you buy. Here are four questions that could uncover issues lurking in your foundation, and how to identify and address them before your inspector drives away.
Are you considering buying a home that started as one story and had a second story added on later (or one that had other major renovations)? First, check with your city or town to see whether permits were pulled. Then, ask your inspector to pay extra attention while crawling under the house. Whenever major additions are made to a home, the foundation may need to be reinforced to support the extra weight.
If done properly, this involves an engineer calculating the correct amount of additional support necessary. But if this wasn’t done…well, you may find yourself handing over a large check to a contractor.
Jody Stein Davis, a Realtor with The Mountain Girls at Keller Williams Realty, says, “If you are near an area that is close to a fault line or prone to earthquakes, the foundation will settle differently than if you are in other locations. The land moves differently, which means the foundation will settle more or less.”
Additionally, if an earthquake actually hits the area, even a mild one, that can cause structural damage. If you’re in an area like California, Alaska, or the Pacific Northwest, Davis recommends doing a walkthrough to look for visible cracks that are uneven from top to bottom, as well as any settling in the floor that’s noticeable. You’ll also want to take note of doors and windows that don’t line up properly, and any water pooling outside.
“Areas like Oklahoma and Missouri are known for having foundation issues given that the soil is rich in clay,” says Sarah Jameson, marketing director of Green Building Elements. If moisture levels aren’t kept consistent in these regions, it can lead to cracked foundations, cracked bricks, and cracks in floors.
How can unwanted cracks be avoided? “It is recommended to water the foundation during a drought and avert rain away from a home with gutters to keep moisture content consistent,” Jameson says.
This is also true in Texas, where foundation issues are commonplace due to erratic hot, cold, wet, and dry weather patterns coupled with slab foundation houses built on clay soil. These homes face serious foundation settling — and often, serious necessary repairs.
When water pools around a foundation, particularly in flood-prone areas like California, Florida, and other coastal states, it can cause the soil around it to expand. This weakens the foundation, leading to foundation upheaval and deteriorating concrete.
Cristina Ortega, owner of Los Angeles-based real estate investment firm Mrs. Property Solutions, says, “If the foundation was not properly waterproofed to begin with, that further increases the likelihood of extensive water damage. Since concrete is porous, water can easily seep through it and adversely impact adjacent wood structures and basement interiors.”
Knowing what could be lurking beneath your home is half the battle. So how do you prevent yourself from buying a home on an unsteady foundation? David recommends determining what the foundation was built on, whether that’s concrete slab, bedrock, compacted dirt, or pier-and-beam.
“It varies greatly, depending on the local topography and the style of the footers supporting the house,” she explains. “Either way, find out what it is so you can look for more questions you may need to ask.”
Keep an eye out for cracks in the walls and ceilings, countertops that are separating from the walls, windows and doors that don’t latch or close, sagging floors, and gaps that have formed near windows and doors.
“Ask your home inspector about what you have observed so they can look more closely and give you a better assessment. They can then recommend a foundation inspector if warranted,” Davis says. Not everything is going to be indicative of a huge foundation issue — but, on the flip side, things that seem minor could be a warning sign of something bigger.
Jameson adds, “Bring in a foundation inspector or an engineer to evaluate the foundation and provide you with an estimate of repair costs.” And, if the seller is willing to make repairs, “Ask if the repaired foundation comes with a transferable warranty to provide peace of mind for both Realtors and prospective property buyers.”