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How to Quickly Find Foundation Problems on a Home You’re Buying

by Jason Grote on July 7, 2012 · 6 comments

  
Foundation problems

Have you ever looked to buy a house and initially did not notice it has foundation issues?
Have you ever been told by the seller that the foundation of the home is fine only to find out later it was not?

Well, I have…

Just last week, I looked at a beautiful home that was part of a large ranch.  The sellers inherited the home from their parents and were ready to sell it.  I was prepped on the phone that the house needed some “cosmetic” repairs and that the foundation was fine, but when I went to see the house, I found that it needed foundation repair — even before I got within 20 feet from it.  Once inside, I quickly noticed that the house needed MAJOR foundation repair.  The seller thought that the cracks all over the house were just drywall tape loosening.  He tried to convince me it was no big deal, but I knew better.  I brought out a water level and the home was over 5 inches out.  This would have been a $20k mistake!
It is prudent to be able to quickly determine if a house has a potential foundation issue. 

Let’s look at some tell-tale signs that you should be aware of that indicate foundation problems. Since most people start here when looking at a house, so will we.

Signs of Foundation Problems

Head’s Up!   Naturally when people are looking for foundation issues, they look down towards the foundation.  Sounds good, however the greatest indicators of foundation problems are up.  Keep this in mind as you journey inside and outside of every home.  With your eyes up, here we go…

Squared Up?  As you walk in the front door notice the door when it is closed.  Is the door square with the door jamb?  If it is small at one end and big at the other, there has likely been movement of the frame.  When opening the door does it stick, drag, and have a hard time closing and latching properly?  When doors are installed, typically they open and close effortlessly and the latch has no problem finding it’s home.  When the foundation moves it contorts the frame of the house causing doors and windows to not open and shut properly as well as their latches not to securely lock into place

Any Swingers?  While walking from room to room open and close the doors.  If they are swinging, there could be an issue.  If they do not close properly, like the front door, there may be some movement of the frame.

Cracked House?  Look up at the ceilings, the corners of windows and doors.  Do you see any cracks in the drywall?  Does it look like any drywall repairs have been made?  Diagonal cracks off doors and windows are almost always indicative of foundation settling.  If the interior has been repainted, find out how long ago.  Look for drywall repairs made in these areas.  If the repaint was more than 6 months and there are no cracks, there is little to no movement of the foundation.  Closets are a great place to look because the cracks are usually not repaired there.  Finally, look at the fireplace facade.  Due to the weight of the fireplace and chimney, the greatest settling of a slab foundation can happen here.

Is The House Funny?   Ever been in a funny house at the carnival?  I have been in a few funny houses that were not at the carnival.  By nature, our equilibrium can pick up on sloped foundations.  If you get that “funny house feeling” then delve a little further as to why.

If you have a combination of any of these indicators, there is more than likely an issue with the foundation moving.

We are not done . . . Tune in next week while we look at the exterior of the home to complete your training in being a: Foundation Movement Detection Expert

Photo: Horia Varlan

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Clifford Watson July 9, 2012 at 8:05 am

Thanks for all the great info. House I live in now belong to my sister. I have told her she may need to get foundation repair again.

Reply

Jason Grote July 9, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Foundation repair again? We just bought a house that had been repaired twice!

Reply

Shane July 15, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Great stuff Jason, I guess I missed this series. I liked it on FB, and shared it on my personal and company FB page. It’s not a common sense as some people think. Must have info for the newbie investor or home buyer.

2 Questions:

1) What about straight vertical cracks form top of door jamp to ceiling? Simple sheetrock problem, or also indicative of foundation fun?

2) How much is a water level & where do you buy? I want one.

Reply

Jason Grote July 15, 2012 at 6:14 pm

Shane, thanks for sharing!

1. Yes, the vertical cracks (in the sheetrock I am assuming) are very indicative of settling though they can be signs of very subtle movement and I like to actually see more than just a couple of these before I am alarmed.

2. I am about to purchase a water level for myself (up till now just been using my previous employer’s) from the same company that he uses. The cost is $450 and I will send you a message with the web address! I think every home buyer in an area with many foundation companies should invest in a level and learn to use it!

Reply

Tracy Royce December 20, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Great article. We just looked at a deal to rehab and this was one of our only concerns.

Reply

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