Should I buy a house that has had foundation repair?
Sunday, July 22, 2018
The house shown above had close to $60,000 worth of underpinning and foundation repair due to a sinkhole approximately 15 years ago—with no visible structural distress since then. Would you buy it?
Any foundation repair should be listed on the Seller’s Property Disclosure Statement, because it meets the requirements for disclosure of affecting the value of the house and not being readily discernible by a buyer. We do home inspections in an area with sinkholes, clay soil, and settlement problems, so homebuyers often present us with a disclosure statement about a foundation repair on a property they are considering buying, along with an engineer’s report on the repair work. Go to our blog post Should I trust the Seller's Property Disclosure Statement? for more on this.
Typically, a licensed engineer specifies the foundation repairs—which could be pins, grouting, or some other stabilization method—and then writes a report at the completion of the work. The report summarizes the findings that made the repairs necessary, what repairs were done, often with diagrams to indicate locations where structural support was added, and verifies that the work was completed to the engineer’s satisfaction. The foundation repair company also includes a warranty statement that defines the limits of their liability for the work done.
It is not unusual for a home to have foundation and structural repairs that cost $40,000 or more and, while the the repaired house may be free of any problems, sometimes it’s not so. A foundation company guarantee is reassuring, but it has two built-in limitations: the contractor only guarantees the part of the house they have repaired, and the guarantee is only good for as long as the company is in business.
So, if the contractor is bankrupt or a problems crops up in a new location, you are out of luck. Also, an engineer cannot predict with certainty that the house will not have new problems in the future if the underlying condition that caused the original problem progresses further, and there may be additional restrictions on the warranty that do not allow a claim for interior damage (cracked drywall, doors that don’t close, or fractured floor tile) resulting from further movement.
While these things are not a reason to walk away from a house that has had foundation repair, it is important to go into it with your eyes open. By that we mean taking a careful look at the house with a knowledgeable, experienced home inspector or other building construction professional at your side. Homebuyers often focus on the details of the engineer’s report and contractor’s warranty, which should be reviewed carefully, but are not as important as seeing how well the structure has fared since the repairs.
We inspected a house recently that had been underpinned along nearly all the exterior walls about four years ago, but showed the subtle signs of further movement when examined. The tiny cracks shown in the photo above were along faults that had been previously repaired.
While the cracks may seem insignificant, once you understand that the structural damage behind them had been painted with elastomeric paint, which is manufactured specifically to conceal small hairline cracks, and it had already exceeded its elastic limit since a recent paint job, you get it: the settlement was still continuing, and not in a small way. A highly textured finish had been applied to the walls to cover the areas where the bottom of the wall had rotated outward before being stabilized, but probing with a small tool revealed the extent of the problem.
The fireplace showed more settlement than other areas, and we were advised that the seller opted to not have that area pinned. To avoid having a similar problem, it would be a good idea to have a conversation with the foundation repair contractor to learn if further work was recommended but declined, and if there have been any recent callbacks.
The home was unusual because of the extent of new movement, but these things happen sometimes. So our recommendation is not to write off a home just because it has had foundation repair, but examine it very carefully with a professional during your contractual inspection period.
By the way, the house at the top of the page was bought at an appropriately discounted price by a customer of ours about two years ago. It includes a breathtaking golf course and lake view and, last we heard, he was quite happy with his purchase. Also, see our blog posts Is it safe to buy a house with sinkhole foundation repair? and How does a repaired sink hole under a house affect its market value?
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