The foundation might not be the most exciting part of the house, but it is arguably the most important.
When you’re buying a home, there are plenty of fun things to focus on, like putting in an outdoor fire pit, chilling a bottle in that fancy new wine fridge, or relaxing in a soaker tub, to name a few. But before you start envisioning organizing your clothes in that fabulous walk-in closet, drop your eyes down a bit to focus on the home’s foundation. It holds up the house, after all. If what lies beneath isn’t good, it can cause lots of headaches (and cost you big).
Whether you’re a buyer with concerns about your potential new home’s foundation or a seller who has noticed some cracks, you’ll likely need to take some kind of action to resolve the issue (or at least know what you’re dealing with). Here’s what to do.
1. How to spot the signs of foundation damage
When you’re looking at homes for sale, you’ll need to know whether there truly is a bad foundation or whether those cracks are from normal house settling. Here are some things to look for that could indicate potential foundation problems:
- Misaligned doors and windows (could indicate a shift in the foundation)
- Doors that stick or don’t latch shut
- Windows that are difficult to open or that have cracks in the glass
- Sloping floors or staircases (indicates a probable pitch in the foundation)
- Cracked drywall
- Gaps between the wall seams or between the wall and the ceiling
- Large cracks in the exterior concrete
- Water in the basement, crawl spaces, or around the perimeter of the home
If you spot any of these issues, consider hiring a structural engineer in addition to a home inspector. “The average home inspector often won’t know the full aspect of the damages,” says Mayer Dahan, CEO of Prime Five Homes, a real estate development company in Los Angeles, CA. Hiring a structural engineer typically costs anywhere from $500 to $1,000, but if you suspect you need foundation repair, it’s probably worth the cost to find out for sure.
2. Should you buy a house with foundation problems?
In a word? Maybe. If the house you’ve fallen in love with has foundation issues, you might not always want to back away — especially if you live in a competitive real estate market. But don’t expect the purchase to be a cakewalk: Now that you’ve uncovered some real problems, it’s prime time to renegotiate the home’s price to reflect the amount of money you’ll have to put into it to shore up the foundation. Foundation problems can be corrected.
3. Foundation cracks? Beware, but be smart
Not all foundation cracks are created equal. Some point to normal settling, but others can signal a foundation problem. How can you tell the difference? Consider the size. “Thin cracks — less than ¼ inch — on foundations and walls happen as a house settles, and have probably been around for most of the house’s life,” says Kelvin Liriano, home inspector at Three Keys Home Inspections Inc. in the New York, NY, area. “They just have to be sealed to prevent water intrusion.”
But wide cracks or displacement could indicate a problem that needs to be addressed. Although it could be a costly repair, if you buy a house with a foundation problem, you should be prepared to take action quickly. “It will only get worse and more expensive to fix over time,” advises Dahan.
4. Selling a house with foundation problems? It’s possible
If you know that your house has a foundation problem, you might wonder if you should fix it before you list your home. Acquafredda says to be honest and upfront with buyers by disclosing what the foundation problems are, but not to fix them. Here’s why: “The history of the repair will most likely require permits to be pulled, and it will be documented and become public record.” The problem with that is, potential buyers will probably cross your home off their list if they see there have been foundation problems. And if buyers don’t even look at your house, you won’t have a chance to explain that you’ve fixed the issue. It might be better to not fix the problem but let the buyer know about it so they can bring in people they trust to do the job.
But as the saying goes, even a pancake has two sides. Dahan offers another school of thought on whether you should fix a foundation problem before putting your house on the market: “It is advisable to fix the foundation before selling. The warranty and reputation of the contractor will be a strong selling point to a potential buyer.”
5. You can turn cracked lemons into lemonade
Sellers can market a foundation problem as a good thing. (Yes, really!) After coming down on the price of the home, let potential buyers know that while they’re fixing the foundation, they “can easily add new amenities to the property,” says Elizabeth Jenkins with Source Capital Funding Inc., a San Diego, CA-based real estate lender. “People like to create their own personal paradise, and this will attract buyers who have a can-do attitude.” Further proof: Atlanta, GA, real estate agent and attorney Bruce Ailion advises people to buy homes with fixable foundation problems. Why? “The discount to buy is perhaps 20% to 25%. The cost to cure is usually about 10%,” he explains.