Home foundation issues can be scary for homeowners. It is common knowledge that foundation repairs can be very expensive. When we buy houses, we come across foundation issues regularly and in this article, we discuss how to determine if you have a serious or minor issue with your foundation with lots of pictures to show you what to look for. Also, find out below what you should do if you planning on selling a house with foundation problems.
- What causes foundation damage?
- What does foundation damage look like?
- Should you use an inspector or engineer?
- Can foundation issues be fixed?
- How much does it cost to fix the foundation of a house?
- Other problems from foundation damage
- Does foundation repair affect the resale value of a house?
- Does a seller have to disclose foundation damage?
- Fix or sell as-is?
What causes foundation damage?
Water is a cause of foundation damage.
Moisture in the soil at the foundation is the primary cause of foundation issues. This can be due to poor grading around the house or a slope in the ground that prevents water from draining away. This problem is usually not as noticeable until heavy rains or flooding happens.
How does water damage the foundation?
Poor drainage can substantially damage a home’s foundation. Heavy Houston rains can add a large amount of water around the perimeter of a house. Pooling water will cause the foundation to start to sink into the soggy ground. This will create an unlevel foundation and foundation defects. It could take many years for this type of issue to cause foundation damage but it will eventually happen. Plumbing leaks under a house can create a similar issue.
Not properly watering the foundation can cause issues if you have extended periods of time where the area is dry. Different types of soil have varying levels of compressibility or the ability to hold moisture. The Houston area has a large amount of clay soil which can be much harder on a slab foundation as there are times with high rainfall and droughts.
One cause of foundation damage is related to construction. This could be the result of many different things – For example, the ground not being properly compacted below the slab, the mixture of cement being wrong, or the foundation not being given proper time to cure before weight was added to it.
In newer houses, the cost of these issues can be addressed with the builder’s warranty since it was something that was caused by them. Keep in mind that a builder’s warranty is typically only good for about 10 years. After that, the house repair costs are the responsibility of the owner.
What does foundation damage look like?
The key signs of foundation damage are large visible cracks in the slab, separation of brick siding that resembles stair steps, and even slanting floors and broken windows can be indicators of foundation problems.
Large cracks in slab or walls
A warning sign of foundation problems is major cracks in the foundation on large separations in the walls. The photo below shows a large crack in the slab foundation on the exterior perimeter. Major cracks in the slab can sometimes be seen in the interior of your home.
Small cracks in the walls or ceiling aren’t always indicators of foundation damage. Small cracks may be due to normal settling and may not mean any foundation repairs are needed. Small cosmetic cracks in drywall that are less than 1/8th of an inch are expected in some older houses with foundations that are settling.
Doors that stick
A common occurrence in houses with foundation damage is doors that won’t close or that will stick. This is due to the foundation putting the door and the door frame out of alignment. In the photo below the door frame was slanted so much that the door was unable to be closed and was temporarily screwed shut. In addition, you can see a crack in the slab beneath the door.
Walls that are bowed or leaning
Other signs of foundation problems are indicated by a bowed or slanted wall. It may not be easy to see if you are used to it, however, getting close to a bowed or slanted wall with a level or straight edge can help highlight it. Above is a photo where the movement of the foundation distorted the exterior wall and gave it a large slant.
Homes with foundation issues will have some type of slope to them and may have damage around plumbing fixtures like sinks. There might also be moisture stains on wallpaper near sunlight coming through windows if there is water leakage into the home as well.
Cracks in bricks around windows are indicators of foundation movement and potential issues. In this case, the shifting foundation separated the bricks and ended up cracking the window.
What are the concerns with foundation damage?
As the house shifts it not only will cause the house to separate, tile floors may crack and drywall can separate. All of this cosmetic work can quickly add up to a lot of money.
It can also cause severe damage to the plumbing under the house. This can further speed up the amount of damage that is occurring. If the shifting slab breaks the sewer line, the water can start to pool under the slab and cause more damage to occur. The cost to repair plumbing underneath a slab can be $10s of thousands of dollars alone!
Who should I hire to evaluate the foundation?
It is tempting to go straight to a foundation repair company to get their opinion on the foundation, especially if you know there is damage and you don’t want to pay additional money for inspections. Even if the foundation company is a good, reputable business, they may not provide you with the best solution for your issue. You may have to contact a repair company along the way, but it isn’t recommended to start with them.
A home inspector is going to look for issues within the house that are visible damage or not up to code. From there, they will give you recommendations. If they observe an issue and are not a structural engineer, they will recommend a structural engineer evaluate the foundation. See the example below.
A structural engineer on the other hand will give you expert advice as to whether or not the issue is major or minor. Most home inspection companies either have an engineer on staff or know one that they can refer you to – just make sure to express to them that you are specifically worried about a foundation problem.
Can foundation issues be fixed?
Foundations can be repaired in the majority of cases. The fix for a damaged foundation will vary depending on the severity of the problem. If you find cracking or sloping in your home’s structure, it is likely a sign that piers are needed to raise up the house and fix these issues (this is specific to a slab foundation and not a pier and beam).
Piers are additional supports that are placed into the ground, typically around the perimeter of the slab, but in some cases need be underneath the slab. Here they are pushed deep into the ground, anchored to the slab, and raise up and support the foundation to level it out and prevent it from sinking further.
If you are planning to sell a house after having a major repair done on the property be sure to check with an engineer before having the work done to make sure the issues will be resolved by the repairs. It is likely that a structural engineer would be hired during the inspection by the buyer and you don’t want to make an investment into a house you plan to sell only to find on an inspection report that it wasn’t fixed properly.
How much does it cost to fix the foundation of a house?
The cost to repair a foundation problem may vary depending on the severity of the damage and the location the repair needs to be. Minor issues can cost as little as $2,000, whereas major issues can easily cost $10s of thousands.
Adding piers is usually what is recommended to fix a damaged foundation. The cost of adding piers will depend on the number of piers that need to be installed, and whether they are being placed on the perimeter of the house or under the center of the house. Pier installation on a house will typically cost $200-$400 each depending on the foundation company.
If you have damage to your property that is substantial you may need to call your insurance to see if you can get a payout for some of the cost of the foundation repair. Check the fine print on your insurance policy to see if it mentioned covering foundation repair.
What are the other costs that go along with foundation issues?
Other structural issues like a sagging roof that resulted from foundation issues may add to the cost.
One fix that could be costly is damage to the sewer plumbing. Sewer lines run through foundations and when the property is shifted around it can add pressure and create cracks in the lines. The repair of a sewer line can cost thousands more as the plumber would have to tunnel under the house to reach the line.
The price will vary depending on the size of the repair, but keep in mind you will likely need a contractor to do some work especially if you are planning to sell.
Does foundation repair affect resale value?
Typically a house with foundation damage will have a value that is reduced by 10-15%. This value reduction is very specific to the area. If you go into a neighborhood where all of the properties have had foundation work, then the house value compared to the others will be similar. If your house is the only one on the block that has required repairs, then expect it to sell at a reduced price as real estate is based on comparable properties and the condition of the home.
Once you have needed foundation work, it is only a matter of time before more work is required. Unless the entire foundation is replaced, re-leveling of piers over time will be required. In order to put a buyer’s fears at ease, make sure that the company you use for the work provides a lifetime transferrable warranty.
Does a seller have to disclose foundation issues?
Yes. To avoid allegations of deceit or fraud, all known defects or issues with the property must be disclosed in the seller’s disclosure notice. In some states, failing to disclose foundation issues or other defects is illegal and can result in prosecution if found out. And even if your state doesn’t require disclosure, you should be upfront as buyers will find out anyway when they go for inspections before closing on their purchase!
Disclose the problem to potential buyers right away so they understand the home has foundation issues. In some cases, the buyer may not be able to get a loan for the house due to the damage or choose to back not wanting to make a bad investment. While these things are possible, you will at least know ahead of time.
Fix or sell with a bad foundation?
Trying to sell a house with foundation damage can be challenging. Most buyers will expect a property that is on the market to not need any major repairs. Even if the buyers are willing to do the repairs to have the foundation fixed, they may not be able to afford it. Someone who is already coming out of pocket for a down payment on a house may not have the cash to do all of the work needed.
There are two other issues you could run into if you try to sell the house without fixing it – insurance and appraisal. If a buyer is getting a loan to buy your house, the bank will require the house is in a certain condition in order to protect themselves. When buying a house that already has a major issue like foundation damage it may not be possible to get a loan for it, requiring the buyer to be able to pay cash to buy it outright. This is a major dealbreaker for most people.
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