Brick Foundation - Oakland CA

13 Replies | Oakland, California

Hey Guys, 

I'm considering a building that has a brick foundation. It looks good because I think I can get to a PITI of $3857/month. And I have a plan that could get the rents to $5200/month.

The issue is that the building was built in 1903 and has a brick foundation. It's a very old victorian. Has anyone here replaced or brought up to code a brick foundation? What's the cost of that? And What's the process like?

Is a brick foundation a deal-breaker? Or, is this property a gem covered in dirt and a little hard work?

Any recommendations for a good foundation contractor here in the bay area to keep in the back pocket?

@DG A.

I definitely don't think it's a deal breaker.  Like any foundation, you want to look for signs of stress, water, or shifting.  Some pure brick ones hold up great.  Others, not so much.  Our first purchase in the Des Moines market had a brick foundation in pretty good shape, and it was built in the early 1900s.  I can't speak to your local codes, but I can opine that if your AHJ 'makes' folks replace a perfectly good brick foundation, they are not adding any value or helping anyone.  Of course, that wouldn't be the first time!!!

@DG A. - Does the property have any inspections on file?  Is it absolutely necessary to perform work to the foundation?  If not, I would leave it and save your money.  If it does need some work, that is a bargaining tool for you and your agent to play when negotiating.  We have concrete contractors who can do this work, but if the cost is too much, it may be worth the negotiations on the front end.  Good luck! 

I've seen brick foundations with full basements in the indiana rentals that I purchase, 1900ish construction as well. The ones that appeared to be in good condition during inspection have been fine. If they're brick foundations, and don't appear to have been replaced, and are still in good condition after 100+ years and not showing signs of diminishing structural integrity... well that sounds like a good foundation to me!

I can't speak to whether they're not up to code in Oakland. I don't see why they wouldn't be... 

@Katie it's a 2-story building. That sure would be nice to be able to just cap it...

1- Not all insurance carriers will cover bldgs with brick foundations. 2- If it needs to be replaced, it’s a major PITA and costs ALOT of $$$. 3- It could get severely damaged in an earthquake. 4- Not all buyers will buy bldgs with brick, so limits your market.

Bottom line: I avoid them for long term holds, especially due to earthquake risk. 

Adding to everyone else, it really depends on what's necessary or not.  If the brick is in good condition and the floors above show no signs of major settlement, I'd say just leave it as is.  Technically speaking though @Amit M. is right.  Brick is terrible in an earthquake and is really susceptible to damage.  But if you think about it, it's survived some pretty major earthquakes so far... :)

Hi @DG A.  There are a ton of brick foundations in Oakland and the greater east bay. I find that inspectors will often tell you two things. 

1. It's not up to code and doesn't meet current seismic requirements (CYA)

2. Its been here for a long time through a number of seismic events and its still standing. 

There are a ton of ways to work on a brick foundation. The first thing you will want to check is the historic maps in Oakland. You said its a victorian and depending on what area it located in, you could be subject to some serious historic preservation requirements which could require up to 12 months of permitting before any engineering takes place. Check the address here:

The reason that is important is that if you are to replace the foundation, you will inevitably lift the house up to replace it. Generally, the city code allows for up to a 12-inch lift without triggering issues with the historic preservation part of the code (because modern foundation have, among other things, mudsills, which end up being taller than old brick foundations). Either way, you will likely have to do something with the front steps and a potential setback issue as a result. 

Overall, a complete foundation rebuild should cost ballpark $150-175/linear foot. That does depend on a number of factors, as you can see above. Bottom line is that this kind of property can be an amazing deal but it starts with its location and stems from there. Please feel free to DM me with any questions or for a few engineer/contractor recommendations. 

Hey Brian,  I negotiated with the seller,  but he wouldn't budge. Additionally the bottom unit had low ceilings and a funky layout. The foundation was crumbling when you scratched it with your fingernail. So I backed out of the deal.  The seller delisted the property and has not sold it. I feel bad for whoever's living there during our next big earth quake...

So, if a home has a brick foundation, will banks finance these type of structures? We have a property in Texas with a brick foundation and I'm wondering if the bank will have issues financing this. Hope someone can answer this for me, I've been really wanting to know. 

awesome article! So, you can have the mortar and the brick tested.  And it seems the chances are,  you can keep the existing brick foundation and do an earthquake retrofit using a few (3X) more bolts through the mudsill.