When to Walk Away from Foundation Issues When Buying a House?

When To Walk Away from Foundation Issues When Buying a House?

When you are buying a home and suspect foundation problems, you have a decision to make.

You may choose to walk away. Or you can spend $300 - $600 for an expert assessment from a structural engineer.

Then, a qualified foundation repair company may be necessary to restore the home's structural integrity. Unfortunately, foundation repairs can cost thousands of dollars more.

Not all foundation issues are fatal, even in older homes. You must determine the root cause and extent of the damage to know whether it's time to walk away.

What Is a Home's Foundation?
The foundation is the base on which a home is constructed. It is one of the first steps of building a house. Everything which follows relies on it to remain structurally sound.

The foundation serves many functions:

  • It provides a level surface for construction.
     
  • It supports the weight of the home and distributes that force equally into the ground below.
     
  • It prevents water from entering the home from below.
     
  • It anchors the house to resist storms, tremors, flooding, and other acts of nature that might move the home's foundation.

The type of foundation and materials used depend on the ground beneath it. If you are unsure what kind of foundation a home has, ask your real estate agent for the specifics.

In much of the United States, the most common material used for foundations is concrete.

What Types of Foundations Do Homes Have?
There are three primary types of foundations:

  • Slab Foundations. A flat concrete base. They use rebar (steel rods) or thick wire mesh within the concrete itself as reinforcement. Slab foundations are the most common, least expensive method in most parts of the country.
     
  • Pier & Beam Foundations. These use a design much like piers that extend over a large body of water. Beams anchored deep into the earth support a flat, wooden surface.

    Builders often use these in areas prone to flooding or where the ground is uneven or shifts noticeably. They make it easier for your licensed plumber or electrician to do repairs. They're easier to repair than slabs if damage does occur.
     
  • Basements and Crawl Space Foundations. These also allow easier access to plumbing and electricity. In the case of a full basement, it may provide extra living or storage space as well.

    Crawl space foundations are usually constructed of cast-in-place concrete or masonry units. Sometimes builders use insulated concrete forms instead.

    Basements generally use poured concrete like a slab foundation. Custom forms hold the walls in place as they dry. Contractors can use concrete blocks or masonry with steel rebar as reinforcement. However, these are more prone to leakage over time.

    The walls of a crawl space or basement must handle the full load of the home, and they must resist shifting due to weather or uneven ground. The final design and choice of materials used depend on local conditions.

How to Check the Foundation of a House
An accurate assessment requires a professional structural engineer. There are, however, several signs of foundation issues you can look for yourself.

  • Interior or Exterior Cracks. Cracks in the floor or wall structure or cracked paint or caulk. Visible cracks of 1/8" or more, like those you might find in your driveway, are red flags.
     
  • Uneven Doors or Windows. Also, look for doors that stick or don't close easily and crooked doors.
     
  • Uneven Floors. Look for noticeable drops from one room to another or bowed or sagging floors.
     
  • Moved Cabinets or Bookcases. Look to see if they pull away from the wall.
     
  • Moist Basement or Wet Crawl Space. The issues can be as overt as pooled water in low spots or mold along outside walls. The appearance of pests and vermin often indicates excessive moisture as well.

These things should come up during a standard home inspection, which lenders and home insurers require before closing. However, if you have concerns, don't wait on the requisite home inspectors to bring them up. Instead, if you see these severe visible signs, hire a structural engineer before buying the house.

What Foundation Issues Are Deal-Breakers After a Home Inspection?

Cracks of ¼" or More (especially horizontal or diagonal cracks)
Estimated Costs. $4,000 - $7,000

These often indicate severe foundation shifting or sinking. Unfortunately, the problems will only get worse without significant repairs. Plus, you'll have to fix the foundation cracks themselves.

Moisture Entering the Home
Estimated Cost. $4,000 - $7,000

Moisture not only indicates foundation problems but also does ongoing damage itself. Mold, mildew, rotting wood, and increased pests make this a deal-breaker in most situations.

The foundation may require sealing, or you should install a French drain to redirect water away from the house.

Also, the tuckpointing of your fireplace or basement may require repointing.

Dislocated Gas, Plumbing, or Electrical
Estimated Cost. $3,000 – $7,000

You are facing high costs before the home is livable if the foundation has shifted enough to damage the utilities. First, you must repair the foundation. Second, re-install the affected utilities re-laid to reconnect your service.

Repairs may require breaking up more of the foundation or tunneling underneath. In addition, water line problems may need a hydrostatic plumbing test to determine specific damage to underground pipes. Whatever the specifics, both the foundation itself and the affected utilities must be repaired or replaced.

If you are not 100% at peace with your options for repairing a damaged foundation, consider walking away. Then, you can continue your search elsewhere. Everyone deserves a home in which they're able to feel safe, secure, and confident.

Should I Buy a House with Foundation Repair?
Buying a home with minor damage is okay. Some minor cracking is common, and you can often repair it for under a thousand dollars. Before you decide whether to buy, get a detailed estimate from a qualified foundation repair company. Also, sellers may be willing to accept a lower price once foundation trouble gets discovered.

That said, lenders don't like the risk associated with foundation problems. As a result, it might be challenging to get financing if the house has foundation issues.

Can a House Collapse from Foundation Issues?
Yes. However, it is very unusual for a house to collapse from foundation issues without warning. If you ignore foundation problems when they are small, they will get worse over time. Eventually, you will have severe structural damage.

Walls and floors may crack, and windows and doors will become difficult to open. In addition, cast iron pipes may be broken inside the foundation. Damage from foundation problems might void a warranty on items within the home or on the home itself.

The longer you wait to fix your home's foundation, the more expensive the damage will be to repair. At some point, it will become very unsafe to live in and make it very difficult for you to sell the home. Don't wait to address foundation issues, and don't try to handle them yourself. Call a professional.

Does Home Insurance Cover Foundation Issues?
Usually not. Coverage depends on the nature of the problems and the details of your policy -- if foundations get damaged from a covered peril, yes. If not, no. For example:

  • Maintenance plus Wear and Tear are Not Covered. These include foundation damage resulting from poor construction, expansion or contraction due to temperature extremes (foundation heaving), or water damage resulting from improper drainage.
     
  • Damages After a Disaster Are Covered. Foundation damage resulting from a covered event, like a fire or tornado, is usually covered. Contractors would treat foundation problems resulting from the same damage to the rest of the house.

Most home policies do not automatically cover the following perils that often cause foundation issues:

Unless you have specifically purchased endorsements including these contingencies, insurers will not cover foundation damage in such situations.

Get a Home Insurance Quote for a Home with Foundation Issues
Foundation issues can make it challenging to get a loan. Sometimes they make it harder to find the right home insurance coverage as well. However, we can work with you to find options. There may be more insurers who will work with you than you think.

Start by getting a quote below!

Hope that helps!

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At your service,
Young Alfred