Block Foundation w/ cracks and bowing walls

19 Replies

Hi guys.  I'm from SoCal and in contract for my first deal - a 3 duplex package out in the mid-west.  The inspection report came back and the block foundation for two of the properties are in poor condition.  Some of the walls have substantial movement with considerable bowing occurring in several areas. There is also water/moisture build up throughout the subfloor as well.  I had a foundation engineer walk through and said it would be about $12k to place in several steel I-beams and carbon fiber reinforcement to maintain the integrity of the walls for both of these properties.  We're going back to the renegotiation table with the seller but my fear is they wont budge on the price, and if they do not, I'm left with a decision.  

I have a STRONG desire to close my first deal but I'm afraid that this may fog my decision.  I know the foundation is a big deal but these costs don't hurt my numbers too much.  All other mechanicals are in good condition too. Looking for guidance, advice, suggestions, past experience - anything that may help clear my head with the upcoming decision.  Thanks.

Yup, there s large problem.  I’ve bought them with bowing and cracks but you actually have the blocks displacing.  I would walk if they aren’t willing to compensate you fir some of it.  Maybe they can pick up your closing costs as well as reduce the price?

Even better would be cash back at closing.  Reducing the price doesn’t put money in the bank to get the work done.

As to the water on the subfloor, it looks like it’s coming in from surface water since the stain is so high.  You can either raise the soil around the exterior of the foundation and slope it away from the house or put up gutters.

@Mark Baldwin Just some perspective after many years in the game.  Anything can be fixed, repaired, renegotiated, and so on.  However, a bad deal is a bad deal.

I have never regretted walking from a bad deal or any deal frankly. 

You didn't list your purchase price here so I don't know your numbers but I would need to be getting an insane deal to take on the above issues.  Few things are as much a marathon as investing in real assets.  Don't get one or two opinions, get a few more bids. 

Good luck either way!

@Mark Baldwin I just bought a house flip with a bad foundation and my concrete contractor said you can either cut out the bad parts and replace them or replace the whole foundation. He ended up replacing the whole foundation without jacking up the house. I’m so glad we did. I would definitely try to negotiate the price down off the engineers report. Hope that helps

Remember that no matter what you do to the foundation and how it is fixed the next person you try to sell the property to will want a reduction on the price because of what the bricks look like.  So adding a brace will not make the bricks look different, and I am not so sure that a brace alone would fix what is happening in your photos.  You have displacement of the blocks.  This type of issue with a property will affect your exit, when you do decide to sell.

Its kind of like buying the house next door to the sewage treatment plant, you can get it for a song.  But when you go to sell it, you will work hard to find someone who will buy it for a song.  However, if you would have bought a house a mile away you would have multiple offers and at a huge profit.

With this property, because of the block displacement, you will not get the same profit in the end when you sell.  Just consider that when looking at your numbers.  Will the rent be enough profit to loose any potential increase in property value on exit?

Maybe get estimates to replace the foundation too.

@Joel Miller thank you for sharing, we'll certainly be looking to negotiate it down.  @Lynnette E. Great analogy.  I'm new to foundational issues but you're right, I can't imagine an easy exit down the road given it's current condition. Thank you - I really appreciate the advice and will entertain a full replacement.

Whatever you do do not rush and make sure you get at least 1 other estimate because I am not sure if the work the contractor outlined will take care of the issues you have in these pictures. 

@Mark Baldwin

I work as a building inspector in Northern Nevada. My advise...don’t walk away, run. Bowing can come from a number of reasons. Poorly designed, incorrect calculations on load of exterior bearing pressure. Masonry could be partially grouted which might not be strong enough to support the load of the home. Chances are there is no vapor barrier on the exterior side preventing moisture from penetration the block. I could keep going but you get the point.

In my rentals with my background I have one rule I follow. Don’t buy a house with foundation issues. Unless you have a lot of money to repair, it’s not worth it bro.

If you do decide to keep, I would suggest asking a Geotechnical Engineer to come look. The damage may not be the structure pushing down causing the bowing. It could be the soil bearing pressure pushing in is too strong.

Best of luck

@Mark Baldwin

I think the walls can be fixed, but my thoughts are that there’s an underline issue, such as the high water table that is destroying the foundation. 12k doesn’t sound like much, but how much to dig out around each house to put French drains or sump pumps and where the water goes. 12k can turn into 60k very quickly. I personally think it would be too much initial

lost rental income, lost


money. I personally wouldn’t mess with it. If mold is in those properties, there is a whole lot more cash out.

You are excited to close your first deal and your excitement is about to push you to make a bad decision and buy a property 2000 miles away with a serious issue that you are not educated on.

What you are looking at is a high clay backfill and hollow core block that was not filled with rebar and grout. The clay expands and contacts with moisture changes and settles a little each time, pushing in the wall. The solution has to include fixing the source of the movement, and that means excavating the exterior, waterproofing, and backfilling with gravel which does not expand or contract. 

The issue is there are lots of contractors who will take your 12k and put up I beams and you will think you are good. They will also sell you an interior sump pump for another 10k when the water is obviously entering from the exterior soil. We have an issue with competence and integrity when it come to basement/water contractors. 

There will be other deals. I would keep looking. 

Hi Everyone.  Just as an update, I ended up walking away from the deal.  Too much risk as @Aaron F. put so succinctly.

On to the next. Thank you for all of the insight, advise and suggestions - it was exactly what I needed.

I agree with @Shari P. that there is some underlying issue that is causing this foundation to crack. Your engineer only estimated the cost of fixing the crack, but first you would need to fix that underlying issue so that it doesn’t come back to bite you later. And what that underlying issue is can be one or more of several different things; a French drain would typically come into play if the cause here is from water pressure of the surrounding soil.

Backing out might have been the right choice. 

Now, some of those cracks are really obvious; your first walk through by whomever you have doing that should have flagged them. Whoever it is that you use for your eyes on the prize should be instructed as to what noticeable issues you are willing to accept and what would be unacceptable, so that you don’t get into the cost of inspections on stuff you are going to walk away from.

Agreed with Steve and it’s not what you see, it’s what you don’t see that can ruin even the best of deals. There will always be another deal- patience and learning to control the desire to jump on it could make it break your bank.