Foundation Issues: Costs & How to Diagnose Exterior Signs of a Problem

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According to Google’s keyword search tool, over 200,000 foundation repair searches are made nationally every month.  Foundation repair is on the mind of many people as they are experiencing issues or having concerns.

While many people will live with foundation settling in their home for years, the urgency to address the problem comes when it is time to sell.  The buyer pool for a property with foundation movement can be severely limited for several reasons:

Problems Caused By: Foundation Issues

1.  Government guaranteed loans such as VA, FHA, USDA, etc. are usually stalled during appraisals when evidence of foundation settling is present.  This often limits the purchase power to some conventional loans, cash, or the FHA 203k loan.

According to HUD, a home’s foundation has to be without evidence of “continuing settlement”.  Well, that is a rather vague statement.  Furthermore, how can you tell if a foundation is continuing to settle with just a snapshot in time?   The truth is if a house has evidence of settling and has not been repaired, it will continue to settle.

2.  Many buyers do not want to buy a house with foundation problems even at a discount because of the stigma attached to foundation repairs.  However, in Central Texas, foundation repair is becoming less terrifying for retail buyers because of a solid history of successful repairs.

3.  After a foundation is repaired there are many other costs that can be incurred such as plumbing repairs, window and door repairs, drywall patching, painting, brick/stone re-pointing, and the list goes on.  The greatest expense that is almost as large as the foundation repair is the sewer plumbing under the slab.  As a foundation flexes the pipes try to move with it.  When a house has a deflection of greater than 3 inches per 20 ft, the chance of the sewer lines opening are greatly increased.

An Investor’s Opportunity

This shrinkage of the buyer pool creates an opportunity for the fix n’ flipper.  Because many of the extra costs of repairing a home after a foundation repair are incurred by the fix n’ flipper, he/she is able to build equity into the property by taking on the foundation repair.

For example, common repairs are flooring, drywall patching, and painting.  These things are typically already in the budget of a flipper, yet the discount should reflect these post-foundation repairs.

As promised, let’s complete our training on becoming a Foundation Movement Detection Expert.

Last week’s blog included some quick tips for catching foundation issues inside of the house.  Let’s take a quick look at tell-tale signs on the exterior:

Finding Foundation Problems by Looking Outside a House

The Street Test: Is the Driveway or Sidewalk Cracked?

Ever been on a road that is like a roller-coaster?  You know, the one where you hold up your coffee cup so it doesn’t spill from the bumps and whoop-dee-doos?  Remember that houses don’t usually have foundation problems, but rather have “soil problems”.  The same soil that is moving under a house is the same soil under the street and driveway of that house.  We are currently rehabbing a house with a repaired foundation and the street is on scrapes the bottom of my truck!  If the driveway and sidewalks are severely cracked up, buyer beware.

Façade Tells All: Cracked Walls, Windows & Doors

Houses with brick or stone facades are the easiest to diagnose.  I have yet to look at a home with foundation settling that did not have cracks in the mortar of it’s masonry.  You are looking for cracks that begin at a window, door, or the foundation itself.  If they run to the top, they are very likely from foundation settling.

Separation Anxiety: Is the Fascia & Trim Moving?

If the home is mostly siding, look at where the fascia boards meet.  Look at the joints of the siding.  If there is separation, it is typically from settling.  The trim around the garage is another area that tends to separate when there is shifting of the soil.

Not A Golden Pond: Gutter Pooling

I always look at gutter spouts to see if they are dumping next to the foundation.  This is one of the biggest culprits for uneven settling of the soil.  When there is excessive water and ponding within 5 feet of the foundation, that house will likely have movement there.  Ponding is easy to spot.  Simply look for where the grass is gone and the ground is packed hard.

Congratulations Foundation Movement Detection Expert!

Now go and know with confidence whether or not the home you are wanting to buy is foundation movement free!

Photo: Luis Argerich

About Author

Jason Grote

Jason Grote, co-founder of of, 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.


  1. The article doesn’t mention anything about the cost of foundation repair, eventhough it is mentioned in the title. I just ran across a house that will need probably one or two jacks to stabilize it and need an idea of how much it will cost. Contractors want to send someone to do an formal estimate. But if I am deciding if I will put it under contract, I don’t need that much information.

    • Jason Grote

      Pricing of repairs seems to vary quite a bit from contractor to contractor and from city to city. I personally was a slab repair estimator. So when you say jacks, I am assuming you are talking about a home on pier & beam or crawl space foundation. If it looks like just a couple of areas that need stabilizing/lifting, you might could factor at around $400 per jack. I would make just a quick call to a local company and get a ballpark from them over the phone if you don’t want to wait for a formal estimate.

      • I did make a couple of calls and they refused to provide even a ballpark or thumb-rule to get an idea of the cost. I guess they want to make their sales pitch and sell you on their services before providing the price. Very annoying to investors when they do this.

        You are correct in your assumption about the house’s foundation. It is a pier foundation. I would guess maybe two or three jacks to prop it up on the corner of the house. Your thumb-rule is a HUGE help. Thanks.

        • Jason Grote

          Steve, sorry to hear about the poor response from the repair companies. If you think this is going to be a common need, I would ask other investors in your area who they work with and find a company that will work with your needs. More than likely, there is at least one!

  2. Question: I bought a house that had been empty for 7-8 yrs. and had a few small staircase cracks on the brick facade. The inside was a mess due to several roof leaks, no gutters, and major termite damage of the supports, floor joists and much of the studs. Most of the flooring was rotten to the point of holes.
    The yard was overgrown and I’m sure water was not diverted from the house over the years. The back yard and one side yard slopes towards the house.
    Before doing any repairs, I had structural engineer examine it & his report said “Significant settling of the perimeter foundation was observed. Based on the surrounding topography, it is likely the sections of the perimeter foundation were constructed on uncompacted fill.” And he recommend 14 helical piers. I haven’t installed the piers yet because when we pulled up all the flooring and replaced the supports, joists and studs, we could see that the foundation was ok—no cracks or any damage.
    My question is this: How can we know if the house is really settling? Could the difference in soil height be from the washing down of the sloping areas? I also wonder if some of the “settling” could have been related to all the termite damage. I hate to be questioning an expert, but I need to know whether or not it’s necessary to spend thousands of dollars on these piers. Thanks!

    • Hi
      I have a similar issue. There has been settling on the house, mostly at one end. This shows up by a few vertical cracks in the foundation block wall. The house was vacant for 2 years and it appears that little work was done previously. There is no plaster (house built 1931) cracking inside and the doors all close property it’s just a slight lean. Siding was put on in 1995 and that is still plumb .

      This is in NJ

      Did you get the work done on the foundation?

  3. Jason,
    Thank you for sharing this valuable information.
    I have just backed out of an escrow ( my first home) because of the settlement issue discovered during the inspection. Well, the good news is that the sellers spent 25K in installing push piers 11 piers) around their foundation, to permanently stabilize the foundation. The bad news is that my husband and I still didn’t feel at ease buying our first home with “soil movement” under the house. The only document given to us was a bill from the Geo Technical company that showed the price of the job, the description of job, and a job drawing with limited warranty- 25 years that was transferrable ; The owners didn’t have any other documents like geological report, soil analysis report, boring report, etc. . I called the Geo-technical company who completed the job and they told me that indeed it’s a “soil problem” and that the house is simply too heavy. Thus, the piers were installed so that the weight of the home can be transferred onto them… and not the soil. They said that if I wanted an official report, it would be $450 ( takes time to write…. they said…..).
    Part of me regrets BIG time “backing out from escrow” and the other voice is my head just says ” it was the right thing to do…. ”

    UFFFFF what do you think?

  4. does anyone know how much it cost to upgrade my foundation …I am selling my home and FHA LOAN FROM THE BUYER want me to add the vector xi2 system I have small home less than 1000 sq …. there always something… I am barly getting a few 1000 and now I have to spend that money on upgrades I cant afford …am selling because of just that reason I cant afford the house…. I live alone and thought it would be better to sell before I miss up the little credit I have …. this selling of my home has been a night mare …

  5. Alicia Padron

    Hello, I got an estimate for foundation work and the says it needs 64 Pilling Piers. The foundation contractor drew a model with a crack line running left to right in the foundation (as if standing in front of the house and you see this line running across it. He says that from that crack forward, the house is leaning, basically 75% of the front part of the house is leaning forward (or sinking). what do you think of this foundation issue, repair??

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