Lauren Bowling8-Minute Read
UPDATED: May 19, 2023
Whether you’re searching for your dream home or you’ve already found it, there’s a chance something major could keep the two of you apart: foundation problems.
This is a scary thought, especially when you consider the consequences. When you think of foundation problems, you might imagine the floor crumbling beneath you or a house falling down on top of you. And while your home may not deteriorate before your eyes, you could experience a huge burden – both financially and otherwise – with foundational issues.
Here’s how to see the signs of foundation issues before you buy a home, what’s worth living with, and when to walk away from a property with foundation problems. Contrary to popular belief, these types of structural issues aren’t always a deal breaker!
In most instances, living in a home with foundation problems is completely safe. However, homeowners will want to repair the foundation as soon as possible for two reasons: to preserve their home’s value and to prevent worse damage in the future. The most worrisome aspect of foundation issues is that if they are left untreated, they can lead to more severe damage throughout the rest of the home over time, including:
Think of a house as just like a car: it needs continuous maintenance over time in order to keep from breaking down. If a home buyer is serious about a property, they should fix the foundation problems sooner rather than later.
If you’re buying a home (or even looking to put yours up on the market), it’s important to see if the house suffers from foundation issues. Fortunately for prospective home buyers, foundation issues are fairly easy to identify with the naked eye when touring properties or viewing homes online.
Below are a few potential things to look out for when searching for foundation issues:
As foundation damage progresses, door frames can shift. These shifts are insignificant at first, but over time doors (and windows too!) can become difficult to open and close. In the kitchen, cabinet doors may simply hang open all the time in a home with foundation problems.
While many older homes in humid climates have door and window frames that swell when it rains, doors that are generally difficult to open and close – no matter the weather – are an indication of foundation problems.
Sloping floors can indicate the foundation is cracking and settling in different places. Often, older homes have uneven flooring from minor foundation settlement over time. This isn’t a cause for concern, but any significant shifts in the foundation can cause major cracks. Sometimes, these slopes are so subtle they can be missed, particularly if a buyer only tours a home once or twice or gets caught up in other details during the walk through.
This is why it is important for buyers to pay particular attention to floors throughout the house as they tour properties. Fortunately, there are a handful of quick and easy ways to check for sloping:
Higher moisture levels in homes can be caused by many different problems, but they’re often an early warning sign of foundation damage. Foundations settle because the ground underneath the foundation is moist so as a buyer, you’ll want to check for:
If there are cracks running from the floor up the wall on the interior of the home, this is likely an indication of foundation issues.
Shifting or damaged foundations can also cause the exterior siding on homes to shift and warp. Most often this type of foundation issue shows up as cracks in exterior stucco, brick mortar and warping or bending in vinyl, wood and aluminum siding materials.
There is good news: in construction, everything is fixable. It’s just a matter of cost. And while no buyer wants to hear about expensive foundation issues on top of the expense of buying an entire house, there are upsides.
Buying a home with existing foundation problems offers buyers a few unique benefits – but it’s not without its downsides.
If you fall in love with a home that has foundation issues, all is not lost. As a buyer, your first step should always be to inspect a home once your offer has been accepted. The absolute best course of action is to see the results of a home inspection, even if you can spot a foundation issue on your own. An inspection will show you if something is a potential hazard and living in the home could put you at risk. It can also show you the estimated cost to repair it.
Or you can ask for a foundation contractor or a structural engineer to get an expert analysis of the problem for the most accurate cost to fix it.
Buyers then have two choices: they can decide to accept the potential cost and use that in negotiation with the sellers, or use this as a chance to walk from the sale. Since foundation issues are some of the most expensive (and scariest) to repair, home sellers who know a buyer is still interested may be more willing to negotiate with the existing buyer rather than risk losing the sale.
For agents trying to sell a home with foundation issues to a home buyer, point out that the amount they’ll save by negotiating a lower price may make the property a better fit for their budget mortgage-wise, especially if they’re planning on renovating the property in the near future anyway.
When you buy a house with previously repaired foundation damage, there’s always a risk that the repairs weren’t handled properly or that the previous owner cut corners to save money. Should you choose to buy a property with an unrepaired foundation and choose to make that fix yourself, the upside is that you’ll be able to ensure repairs are handled correctly.
Buying a house with foundation damage may save buyers money on the purchase and give them peace of mind knowing that repairs are handled the right way, it also means that they’ll be responsible for the full cost of the repairs. And foundation repairs aren’t cheap: the repairs can range in price from $1,000 to more than $15,000 depending on the extent of the damage.
If buyers aren’t prepared for that cost, it may make owning the house more expensive than they’re ready to handle, particularly if they have to go into debt to pay to fix the foundation.
Since some structural problems are more concerning than others, you may not need to immediately worry about buying a home with foundation issues. Not all foundation issues will impact the home value; it comes down to the type of damage, how severe it is and how much it costs to repair it.
With this said, it’s always a good idea when there are foundation problems involved in a potential home purchase to find multiple expert opinions before buying a home. As previously mentioned, home inspection is a great place to start, followed by multiple quotes from contractors who specialize in foundation repair to get a good sense of the total cost.
Most importantly, once you know how severe the damage is, you can use that knowledge to negotiate with the seller and may be able to get the seller to cover a portion of the repairs as a condition of the sale.
Even if you’re unable to negotiate (for example when buying a property “as is”), you still don’t want to skip the inspection or having a qualified professional come out to look at the issue. It is always important to understand the full extent of the damage before you agree to purchase the property.
There are many aspects of home improvement that are easy to DIY, but foundation repair work isn’t one of them, and should never be attempted by an amateur. Should you decide to move forward with the purchase and assume responsibility for the repair, you’ll need to get the damage repaired by a licensed, bonded professional.
You can hire someone who specializes in foundation repair and waterproofing or look for a reliable general contractor in the area. Either way, it’s important to look for a professional that meets the following criteria:
As a rule, it’s best practice for homeowners to get at least quotes to ensure cost is in line with the budget.
Unless foundation issues came from the result of a natural disaster, like a hurricane or tornado, your homeowners insurance isn’t likely to cover the damage. Since foundation issues can come up simply because time passes, it’s considered normal wear and tear. This means you’re on the hook to pay for the repairs yourself.
Not all foundation issues are the same, which means the cost to fix them isn’t the same, either.
Total price involved depends on the following:
The price may also depend on the type of work you’re having done to your foundation, such as water damage repair, sealing, or stabilization. Since repair costs vary so widely, it’s important to have an inspection or professional assess the damage and prepare a formal quote.
Foundation issues don’t have to be a deal breaker - if the damage is minimal, buying the property will likely be worth the investment. Buying a house with foundation issues can be a good way to save money or to get into a home that otherwise fits your needs perfectly.
But let’s not downplay foundation issues. They can be a deal breaker when your health, safety and personal finances are at risk. It may be time to walk away from a property with foundation issues if the following apply:
If you’re buying a home, make sure you get the proper professional to thoroughly inspect the property. If you discover foundation issues, consider if you really want to live in the home. If you do, negotiate the home price down and handle the renovations yourself, so you know the repair was made correctly or try and get the seller to handle the repairs prior to move-in.
Still not sure if buying a house with foundation issues is right for you? Working with an experienced real estate agent can help you make the right decision for you and your budget. Reach out to one of our Verified Partner Agents to start your search.
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