How To Look At A House
McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of
site-built, mobile/manfuactured and modular homes
Should I buy a house with a retaining wall?
Saturday, April 23, 2022
First of all, let’s be clear that we are not talking about two-foot high retaining walls that are primarily decorative, like the ones used to create low planting beds around the exterior of a home. This is about retaining walls that are higher than that, and actually hold back enough earth to be a problem if they failed.
To start, ask yourself the following four questions:
1) Is the retaining wall located near the house, or in a location where it might cause foundation problems if the it failed?
2) Is the retaining wall located near a property line, where failure might also damage the neighbor's property?
3) What condition is it in? Small defects that foretell big future problems can be hard to discern if you are not a construction professional. We suggest reading our illustrated article How do I recognize structural problems in a retaining wall? for a few tips.
4) If there are problems, how soon do they have to be fixed and what will it cost? Your home inspector may be able to give you a rough idea of how you long you have until repair or replacement is absolutely necessary. But remember that structural failures often have a “tipping point,” after which the countdown to failure speeds up quickly.
An accurate estimate of what the work will cost can only be gotten from a contractor that provides a firm price quote. With today’s short inspection periods, getting a bid before the end of your inspection period might not be possible, and you may have to settle for a rough estimate or cost range from a contractor experienced in retaining wall construction and repair.
When evaluating the wall, the loudest alarm bell should be for a wall that would cause foundation problems if it failed, and is known to already be deteriorated. Medium nervousness would be appropriate for a wall away from the house and near failure, unless it's a large wall. Lowest concern is reserved for a retaining wall that is near the house or property line, but in good condition, or located away from the home and also in good condition.
Price reduction negotiation may be possible, but a professionally repaired or constructed wall costs more than most homebuyers think. There are unseen components in a good retaining wall—such as a foundation, back side water proofing, geogrid mesh, backfill gravel, a drainage system, plus restoration of soil, grass, and possibly landscaping. So be sure to get a realistic price quote before haggling.
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