Foundation Repair: The Basics & 4 Key Misconceptions

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When the words “foundation repair” are spoken, feelings of fear and nausea are often accompanied with visions of thousands of dollars flying out of your pocket.  I have met few people who get excited about foundation issues and paying to have them repaired.

Investors: Understanding foundation repair can make you money!

Here is my story:

Our family had flipped eight houses that required foundation repair before I had any understanding about why foundations needed repair.  I would see cracks in the sheetrock or in the brick outside, get a funny-house feeling, or notice doors not working and know it needed repair. I would call our favorite foundation repair contractor and tell him to fix it (and give me my lifetime transferable warranty).  I didn’t want to know the details and I didn’t care — that was until last summer.

I went to work for a local foundation repair company as a slab repair estimator.  The training and education were fascinating and opened my eyes to how big of a problem we have with the way foundations are typically laid.

Builders must accept this fact:  A concrete slab on grade was never a good idea.

Homeowners must accept this fact:  When they go to sell their home, a foundation problem has to be addressed.

Investors must accept this fact:  If you refuse to deal with foundation concerns, you will lose deals.

As a teaser, lets look at some ideas that many people have about foundation repair and try to straighten them out.

4 Misconceptions about Foundation Repair:

1. The foundation is NOT the problem.

In most cases, the soil underneath the slab is the problem.  I would tell customers, “You don’t have a foundation problem.” And as they would sigh in relief, I would continue, “You have a soil problem.”  As confusion set in, I would explain how foundations don’t move unless the soil beneath it does.

2. Water is THE variable.

A slab foundation simply follows the movement of the soil.  The soil only moves when it is hydrating or desiccating.  Simply put, when soil gets wet it expands, and as it dries out it shrinks or compacts.  Obviously, it is impractical to isolate your house from rain, so even hydration of the soil is the key.  So, water is the variable that makes the soil dynamic, nothing else.

3. Voids are NOT a problem.

Many customers would ask if we fill the voids under the slab once the foundation is lifted.  Like pier & beam construction, the load is on the beams.  Concrete slabs typically (and should) have a thick beam around the exterior and in a grid pattern through the interior.  The weight of the house rests primarily on these beams.

4. Cracks do not tell you WHERE the problem is.

Homes with foundation movement will manifest cracks.  Sometimes the cracks are small and sometimes they are very pronounced.  A crack in a foundation is a hinge.  In other words, a relief point for movement in the slab.  Typically, the issue is not where the crack is, yet movement somewhere else on the house has caused it.

Capitalizing on Your Knowledge about Foundations

If you live in an area where foundation repair companies exist, then you need to become knowledgeable about this issue.  You may not have time to go through the process of bringing out an estimator and getting a bid, so knowing where you are at with a visual inspection can give you a leg up on the competition!

In a future post, we will look at a proper investor strategy for working with sellers whose home has foundation issues.

Stay Tuned… next week I am going to show how to quickly determine the severity of a home’s foundation in just a few simple steps!

Photo: Armchair Builder

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About Author

Jason Grote, co-founder of of IBuyAustinHouses.com, has been involved in real estate investing for 10 years. Through his experience, Jason has gained the expertise to sell a home fast and can also help people wanting to begin investing in Austin, Texas real estate.

11 Comments

  1. Jason –

    I know that in my area, it is very difficult to sell a property with structural repairs needed.
    Unlike mold which used to scare off investors but is now almost “embraced” by them, most real estate investors are still put off by structural issues. I owned and operated a succesful home inspection company for 17 years, and I know that once you can recognize the signs you can take care of the problem. It’s just a matter of the cost.

    A real estate investor just has to buy the property allowing for these repairs that will be needed in the estimates. I have to concede that there are still a lot of retail buyers that consider this a “tainted” house and won’t buy it.

    • Thanks Sharon. I have found that the “no fear” attitude serves investors pretty well, but can get you into trouble too. However, I now know that there are very few slab foundations that are beyond repair. In my time of estimating, I only came across one that was hopeless. So, with the lifetime warranties that these companies offer, it makes the retail end very simple. The public, through education, is becoming less leary of purchasing homes with previous foundation repairs, and many are considering it a plus because it is like insurance.

  2. maria conover-smith on

    I bought this 1942 house from a very greedy investor/lender that has never had this house maintained except for the “must” repairs. I had no choice at the time, I had to have a place to be in so I bought the house site unseen; it was rented and I could not do anything about it until after the tenants moved out at which time I had no money for anything else. I have been living in it for the last 3 years an I have had a chance to notice that the outside corners of the front bedrooms slant toward the yard (outside). There is also a fairly large crack on one of the front bedroom on the outside, shaped as letter L, that runs vertical almost to the base of the inside floor an then, there is a horizontal crack from the base to the end of L and is a wider crack than the vertical one. The question is, am I concern for no reason or, should I have an inspector come and do a complete inspection since I never had one done, and then be concern with reason? How much do I have to pay for the home inspection? is there a rate?
    Thanks

  3. Hi Jason
    The problem with leaving voids is after a decade or so sometimes much sooner the 4 inch floors collapse. I am a repair contractor and have been for decades with many jobs. Another
    factor is dis honest contractors ripping off homeowners, this is very common here.It is hard
    to cover this topic quickly with any detail. No lifetime warranty around here is ligit period.
    Paul

    • andra rodriguez on

      Hi, I live in stafford,Tx, voids are my concern. I just had foundation repair work done 3 months ago and I have just noticed a small 4 -5 inch hole at the corner of my front walkway/foundation that is 2 ft deep. I had a downpour of rain last night and noticed that the rain is going from the gutter downspout to the concrete block then doing a U turn and dumping into this hole. I am going to buy the flexible hoses for all of my downspouts today after work but what do I need to do something about this void under my house/walkway? Is this something that the contractor is responsible for? He is telling me “No”. He said I have a lifetime warranty but not on the movement of dirt/soil. He had also installed the gutters.

  4. Marie, a lot of professional foundation repair companies will at least come out and give you an idea of what it’s going to take to repair your home the right way. Even if the inspection isn’t completly free, ask the company you decide to hire if they will deduct the cost of inspection from the cost of the repair.

  5. a foundation inspection is an very important part of any home buying process. For one, it only costs $200 or so compared to thousands of dollars you may have to spend in having one repaired post sale. Secondly, knowing beforehand if a house foundation has been repaired is not a guarantee that you are buying a house without any structural issues. believe me, I spend more than 40% of my time repairing faulty foundation “repairs” by other so called “experts”.

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