Run to or run from bowing foundation and foundation issues?

4 Replies

So I've been running into a lot of houses lately that have bowing foundation walls or other foundation problems (in my case it has mainly been from frost heave and poor grading on the exterior of the house) and have been advised to steer clear from them. However, I have heard on podcasts and read in articles that foundation problems can scare people away and make for some good deals.

In my market, houses sell for near retail almost ever time, so I'm thinking unless I can get a great deal, steering clear is good advice. I also don't want to buy a house that has its foundation crumble on my tenants. Do you have experience buying houses with foundation issues? Are there some casing where I should still consider the house and some cases when I should definitely turn and run?


Almost every house in Texas has had or will have foundation issues so I am very familiar with this.

Would you avoid a house because it has a bad roof?   Or, would you get a quote on the cost to repair the roof and factor it into your repair costs?   Treat a foundation the same way.

I would reach out to and build a relationship with a local foundation company.  (Take them to lunch.)  Then, if you see a good price on a house with foundation issues, have them come look.  If  they say its is fixable for $X and that works in your numbers, buy it.  If they say "This one is in really bad shape. We won't know how much it will cost until we get into it," I would stay away from those.

@Daniel Claroni  There is more to foundation repairs than just the foundation. Here is what I collected as "warnings" or lessons (from various sources and some experienced myself) about foundation problems and/or repairs:

1. If you have brick on the exterior, you might have to do tuckpointing. $$$

2. If you have tiles inside, the tiles will crack. And if they have to drill holes for interior piers, you pretty much will have to replace the entire flooring. $$$$

3. You'll have drywall cracks, so you should factor in drywall repairs and repainting. $$$

4. If the doors were adjusted to a crooked foundation, you might need to readjust or even buy new doors. $$$

5. A hydrostatic plumbing test is recommended to be performed by a licensed plumber post Foundation work. Plumbing leaks may void warranty. Old houses have cast iron pipers that will disintegrate (because of age and/or foundation shift). You'll have to replace all plumbing at that point. $$$$

6. Depending on how bad is the foundation state (how many inches you have to correct), is very possible the sewer line will disconnect/break in the horizontal portions. Repairing that requires tunneling, a repair that could be very expensive. $$$$

7. If the driveway- garage differential is big (for example, the driveway slab is sunken and you need to raise the house, you'll end up with an even bigger gap after repair) you might need to replace the driveway. $$$$

8. If you are dealing with an addition built on 12" beams (or if the original foundation is old and not built to current standards), the repair company might not be able to push the piers down to refusal depth or psi due to the beam not taking the load, thus leveling it, but not guaranteeing it will not continue to move in the future, thus not providing warranty.

9. The owner may be required to provide a structural engineers evaluation prior to warranty work.

10. Damages to the property, interior and exterior as a result of the foundation movement are not covered, during and after works completion. This usually includes but is not limited to PLUMBING, flooring, landscape, utility lines and masonry. The foundation repair does not cover any repairs that may be needed to the home during and after works completion. And you'll have new cracks in unexpected places, old cracks that will not close, but instead enlarge. My suggestion is to add at least 25% to the cost of the foundation repair as mitigation to the problems that will come from the foundation repair.

If anyone has more experience with any of these, please correct me if mistaken.

A rule of thumb for a "quick and dirty" foundation estimate without engaging a foundation contractor...yet.

Take the floor area and divide by 49. Generally piers need to be set 7' apart, so 7x7= 49sf.

Let's say the house is one story @ 1,400sf. 1400/49 = 28.6 or total of 29 Piers.

Now multiply the number if piers by $250. 29x250 = $7,250.

Now add $200 for permit & $400 for Engineer's letter (yes, both of these are required by the City). 200+400 = $600

Total foundation price = $7,850.

In the above scenario, this assumes all piers need to be replaced (this is usually not the case). It does not account for new beams. I do not have a rule of thumb for beam replacement cost, but it's usually another line item on the foundation bid. It should also be noted price per pier cost can vary different from contractor to contractor, from around $200/pier on the low end, to $600/pier on the Retail end. 

We had a neighbor literally lift & move his 2100 sq ft 2 story Lakehouse back 20 ft onto a new foundation/crawl space, (below the frost line). The total cost was just over $20k, but that included moving it & all new plumbing, electrical, gas line hookups. But he did have unique 4x12 rim joints.  I've had to replace a roof stripped to the rafters, with new sheeting, that cost more.

@Costin I. Thanks for the great lessons and advice, and thanks to everyone else as well.

I wanted to give my current scenario as an example and see what the thoughts would be. This would be my first home purchase that I would first house hack the basement apartment and eventually move out and rent out the entire house, just for some context.

The foundation type is basement with cement blocks and we know for sure one of the basement walls is bowing. The severity of it is unclear, but the grading outside of the house is very flat so we know water is puddling and we think there is a chance for water damage and potentially bad bowing. The other basement walls are not fully exposed (decks and other structures) so the inspector could not see bowing, but he suspects it is likely. We would have to get a structural engineer or foundation specialist and cut through the drywall around the basement to be sure of the severity.

In addition to this, most of the doors don't close properly in the house, so we suspect that the foundation has caused the house to shift quite a bit.

Not exactly related to the post, but there are other issues, including electrical, mold, needs a new water heater and maybe new roof. The house wasn't a fantastic deal to begin with and we don't think we can negotiate too much off the price because, like I said, in my market it will go for close to asking so there would be little to no incentive for the seller to take a low offer. We would need to go like 35k below asking for the numbers to work.

To top it off, a lot of the "rehab" and "updates" that has been done to the house seem like really poor quality/Craftsmanship (maybe failed DIYs?) so who knows what other issues we may find when we dig deeper.