Do you avoid slab houses like the plague?

Buying & Selling Real Estate Discussion 26 Replies

In our area, there is a high volume of undervalued slab homes on the market. After one bad experience in renovating one we have decided to avoid them in the future for the following reasons:

- Difficult to access plumbing and HVAC

- Difficult to wire electrical

- Prone to foundation issues

(Many in our area unfortunately have sustained foundation damage from an unusual earthquake we had here in VA about 5 years ago.)

Bigger Pockets investors - What is your opinion / experiences with renovating and property managing slab houses? Good, bad, avoid like the plague?

That depends how they were built . We have a community of 60 year old slab houses , they were built with copper pipe in the slab for heat , with a boiler for both heat and hot water and metal studs . Most all have been converted to forced air and a/c with the duct work in the ceiling . The plumbing should be no more of an issue than a house with a basement , my house has the pipes in the concrete in the basement . If there is a problem you get a jackhammer .

Definitely agree with @Matthew Paul on the quality of construction, also location. Where I invest in FL and here in CA where I live, slab on grade is one of the most common types of construction used. That is for both new construction as well as what you will see constructed over the last 75 years or so.

I think it can just depend on your area and the quality of the build. Personally, I don't avoid any type of house altogether. I've bought and/or lived in numerous houses with slab foundations and never experienced any of the things you mentioned with them. In fact, I've only had what I would consider significant settling/foundation issues with two houses and they were both built on raised foundations.

I've owned many houses on slabs. In a couple of them we even had burst pipes beneath the slab. Didn't even bother to tear out the concrete...we just isolated the affected area and ran new lines through the house to by-pass the break, and then abandoned the below-grade pipes. I think the most we spent on one of those fixes was about $1000.

Medium lishproplogoJ Scott, Lish Properties, LLC | [email protected] | http://www.123flip.com | Podcast Guest on Show #10

we seek out the bad ones and jump for joy when we buy them.

The bigger the headache, the cheaper you buy.

Medium facebook profile logoSam Craven, Senna House Buyers | [email protected] | 832‑722‑4815 | http://www.SennaHouseBuyers.com | Podcast Guest on Show #33

It depends on a couple of things. I live in the Phoenix area, 99.9% of all houses are build on slabs. About 15 years ago most of the slabs are now called post tension slabs. A post-tension slab is ,using high-strength steel strands or cables, called tendons, are laid in a tight grid. These help support and give strength to the slab once it has cured.

A big factor has to do with what type of soil the slab is poured on. If it is exspansive soil there will be problems. Before you buy a house constructed on a slab know what kind of soil it is build on and what method was used.

Originally posted by @Sam Craven :
we seek out the bad ones and jump for joy when we buy them.

The bigger the headache, the cheaper you buy.

Sam, you're my kinda guy! When I'm networking I actually say I buy the stuff other people dont want.

Dont know about your earthquake in Virginia, but I've fixed plenty of stuff under concrete. Not really that big of a deal to bust up the concrete and pour it back in on the rare occasions you'd have to.

Around here if you avoided slabs you'd be avoiding 60%+ of the market.

You can't avoid slab in California if you buy houses built after 1950.

I consider slab foundations an upgrade from a lot of the stuff I bought the first 10 years. In one small desert town, I've bought a number of houses with no concrete, not even piers.....raised foundations with wooden footers right to the ground. They are still standing after 75+ years. However, the financing dried up on those in the early 2000s. So most of them remain cheap rental properties.

I've been researching the viability of mudjacking for one really problem slab house I'm considering buying. Trouble isn't fixing the foundation, but the stability of the soil. There's a group of houses in this area built 1960-70s in a low slope area and several of them have foundation problems. No point in fixing the slab (and 2400 square feet of housing) if the hill is moving.....

slabs suck. Noone wants to rent them when 90 percent of houses have basement... which have more storage

Slabs properly constructed on stable grounds will probably last longer and have fewer issues than pier foundations and subfloors in our area. I've owned several and never had any more issues than above grade. As J. Scott mentioned you can bypass problems.

The consideration to be given is that quality or construction method common for the area?

In the south LA. the water table is so high you'll find most homes are on slabs.

I'd caution against a construction method used that's not common, it could be some builder was experimenting to cut costs or maybe putting in an efficient floor heating system, the first build of something usually has a high learning curve where mistakes can be made.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods. Slabs can be hard to walk on, colder in the winter if the heat fails, they can sweat in hot humid weather causing tack strip to rot. The good is that you don't have issues with heavy items, floors don't shrink and contract like wood, won't have settlement issues of sloping floors and the don't burn.

If it's common for the area I see no reason to avoid them. Long ago we had to guess where things ran, today you can have lines located before you buy and ensure locations. What I'd rather not see is water supply lines in an attic dropping down! :)

Medium logoscopiccroppedblue2Bill Gulley, General Real Estate Academy | https://generalrealestateacademy.com

haha, Bill, funny you should say that, we had a freeze a few weeks ago in the ATL and I walked into a house it was raining in. Morons I bought it from left the water on and the heat off. The closing got screwed up so I didnt even know if I owned it when I walked into this:

http://youtu.be/jRhnaeSDWDA

Originally posted by @Darrell Shepherd :
haha, Bill, funny you should say that, we had a freeze a few weeks ago in the ATL and I walked into a house it was raining in. Morons I bought it from left the water on and the heat off. The closing got screwed up so I didnt even know if I owned it when I walked into this:
http://youtu.be/jRhnaeSDWDA

Water supply lines above, yep, that's why I stay away, indoor rain. I suggest you replace it with PEX! Good luck :)

Medium logoscopiccroppedblue2Bill Gulley, General Real Estate Academy | https://generalrealestateacademy.com

wow, darrell... that's crazy..

Last year was the wettest April on record in Iowa. Of 20 houses, 5 had basement water problems: cracks, wet carpet, etc. Big headaches and thousands of dollar later, all is back to normal. Several of the 20 are slabs; none of which had any issues. Plus, I rent those to special needs tenants that don't have a lot of stuff and like having everything including the laundry on one level. I prefer slabs for these type of tenants.

#Gregory, Slabs are great, they come with a bigger repair ticket when/if needed, but overall I like buying them.

#Sam Craven, this is a great approach, we buy what others don't want, thats how we make the money.

We have a duplex on a slab - love the fact that tenants don't have a basement to store/acquire stuff. Never had any problems with it, and from a maintenance standpoint, never gave it a second thought.

In the little town out in the central valley I live in, all the newer homes are on slabs and all of the water lines are pex run through the walls and attic. Only the sewer lines run under the house.

I have no problem cutting and jack hammering a normal slab if I need to. I have the wet saw and jack hammer because I look for those kind of homes to buy cheap! You can bet if there is a broken sewer pipe under the slab you are getting a steep discount.

Great perspective everyone!

As with most things real estate, it appears that region plays a large part of the "answer" to my question.

A major problem in my area (Richmond, VA) is that - being so close to the James River - a lot of the soil here is "expansive".

For the uninitiated / non soil experts-

  • Clay soil, also known as expansive soil, is dramatically affected by weather. So when it rains, the clay soil expands more than other types of soil. And when it's hot, the clay soil dries up, creating a big gap between your home and foundation, which makes room for foundation movement and settlement.

Clearly this type of soil (and the related foundation issues) is not as prevalent in other parts of the country. So perhaps my subject line to this post should have been "How the heck do YOU deal with slab houses built on clay soil?"

Thanks for the input all, extremely helpful information!

I would avoid any slab house like the plague. I'd look at it as a heating problem as well. You loose heat into the ground from the floor.

Since your last post it got me to thinking. If expansion and contraction was a problem with clay soil, i wonder if you was to lime stabilize and recompact the soil under the slab like they do the roads, if the expansion problem would go away?

@Gregory Montalto

Around here basements are the most common foundation, but I have bought slab houses as well as crawl space houses with no problems. Never had a broken pipe in the concrete floor and never had to use a jack hammer.

Had one house that was built on piers on the side of a hill, where all the piers were tree stumps from trees cut to clear the area for the house. The tree roots anchored the piers in the ground, but the normal decay of the tree stumps made the piers have a shorter life span than brick or concrete piers.

Originally posted by @J Scott :

I've owned many houses on slabs. In a couple of them we even had burst pipes beneath the slab. Didn't even bother to tear out the concrete...we just isolated the affected area and ran new lines through the house to by-pass the break, and then abandoned the below-grade pipes. I think the most we spent on one of those fixes was about $1000.

@J Scott -  I know this an older post and I'm a bit late to the party, but I'm wondering if you would expound upon your methods of "by-passing" the pipes and how much of the plumbing did you actually have to bypass. I've typically been in the "slab-wary" camp, if not the "avoid" camp because I was looking to avoid damaged plumbing that would be harder to repair. I'd like to expand my game, so I'm hoping to get some education and clarity so that I can overcome this hang up around slabs.  Any additional info would be very much welcomed.  Thanks in advance!

I house I looked at but didn't buy had a hot water heating system where the heating pipes were in the slab.  eventually they rust/corrode and leak.  The alternative there is a hot air system with new ducts installed.

Originally posted by @Julie Taylor :
Originally posted by @J Scott:

I've owned many houses on slabs. In a couple of them we even had burst pipes beneath the slab. Didn't even bother to tear out the concrete...we just isolated the affected area and ran new lines through the house to by-pass the break, and then abandoned the below-grade pipes. I think the most we spent on one of those fixes was about $1000.

@J Scott -  I know this an older post and I'm a bit late to the party, but I'm wondering if you would expound upon your methods of "by-passing" the pipes and how much of the plumbing did you actually have to bypass. I've typically been in the "slab-wary" camp, if not the "avoid" camp because I was looking to avoid damaged plumbing that would be harder to repair. I'd like to expand my game, so I'm hoping to get some education and clarity so that I can overcome this hang up around slabs.  Any additional info would be very much welcomed.  Thanks in advance!

Julie:  really depends when and where the house was built and what kind of thinking, if any, went into the plumbing schematic.  I've bought a few slab house built after 1990, and in those houses there is no under house plumbing to speak of.  The supply and waste lines run around the perimeter, and the baths, kitchen and laundry are placed on exterior walls. (These are no hard freeze areas in Coastal and Central Valley CA.)  So not hard to reach, repair or replace. Look at the layout and when it was built to determine likelihood of any major under slab repairs/replacements. 

Originally posted by @Julie Taylor :
Originally posted by @J Scott:

I've owned many houses on slabs. In a couple of them we even had burst pipes beneath the slab. Didn't even bother to tear out the concrete...we just isolated the affected area and ran new lines through the house to by-pass the break, and then abandoned the below-grade pipes. I think the most we spent on one of those fixes was about $1000.

@J Scott -  I know this an older post and I'm a bit late to the party, but I'm wondering if you would expound upon your methods of "by-passing" the pipes and how much of the plumbing did you actually have to bypass. I've typically been in the "slab-wary" camp, if not the "avoid" camp because I was looking to avoid damaged plumbing that would be harder to repair. I'd like to expand my game, so I'm hoping to get some education and clarity so that I can overcome this hang up around slabs.  Any additional info would be very much welcomed.  Thanks in advance!

 Generally, the under-slab pipes are strictly for distribution, and in many cases, the lines coming to the house can be brought in through some inconspicuous location (back of a closet, unfinished area, etc., and then distributed throughout the house from the interior.  It often helps to have areas of the house that can be used for distribution -- an attic, closets between rooms, etc.  It's going to depend on how creative your plumber is and what kind of access the house has, but in many cases, I've seen it done without much/any indication from the interior of the house.

Medium lishproplogoJ Scott, Lish Properties, LLC | [email protected] | http://www.123flip.com | Podcast Guest on Show #10