Foundation Problem: What to Look For When Buying Your First Home

Monday, March 30th, 2020 by Thrasher

Young couple viewing their dream home Finding obvious signs of a foundation problem or structural issues during the house-hunting process is often a show-stopper for first time home buyers. The idea of major repairs with a major price tag isn't a fun way to enter homeownership and can be just plain scary. Major repairs or defects found during a home inspection can cause home buyers to forgo purchasing an otherwise perfect home. Should buying a home with foundation problems be scary? What about a house that has had foundation problems in the past? What are the signs of a foundation problem, anyway? Read on to learn exactly what to look for, when to seek a professional inspection, and what questions to ask the current homeowner about the history of the home.

How to Spot a Foundation Problem When Buying a Home

A home's foundation is the most crucial element influencing its structural integrity. And unlike a leaky faucet or aging shingles, detecting a foundation problem may not be obvious, especially for first-time homebuyers. Yet, there are visible clues throughout the home that can signal a potential problem with foundation settlement or structural damage.

Five Signs of a Foundation Problem to Look For Outside the Home

While curb appeal is certainly valuable, the outside of the home can also give clues indicating potential foundation problems. Seemingly small damage on the exterior of the home, such as wall cracks or sinking front steps, can indicate a failing foundation wall below. Here's what to look for:

Exterior Foundation Wall Cracks

Depending on the style of the home and grading of the land surrounding it, you may not be able to see more than 2-3 feet of the foundation walls from the exterior of the home. However, if you do notice cracks on the exterior foundation wall, pay attention to the pattern and direction as horizontal or diagonal cracks can be a sign of foundation failure." Horizontal cracks typically mean a wall is bowing in, while diagonal cracks more often mean there is a settling foundation.

Stair-Step Cracking in Brick Homes

In addition to foundation wall cracks, cracks in a brick exterior wall above the foundation can indicate a problem as well. For homes with brick or stone veneer siding, look for stair-step cracking, typically in the mortar joints of brick walls. Often, the same stair-step cracking pattern can be found in the foundation wall below and will show up on the interior side of the foundation as well - in the basement or crawl space.

A Cracked or Leaning Chimney

A cracked or leaning chimney is another common sign of foundation settlement or structural damage. A gap between the chimney and siding can signal that the foundation below has shifted or that a drainage issue exists. If the problem has existed for a while, there is potential for additional damage through water and insect intrusion.

Gaps Around Windows and Doors

Gaps above windows and doors or around the garage door can indicate a problem with uneven foundation settlement. While some amount of foundation settlement is normal with the changing soils and moisture levels around your home, uneven foundation settlement can cause structural integrity issues.

Sunken Porches or Stairs

Much like door and window gaps, sinking concrete porch slabs or stairs on the exterior of the home can signal a foundation problem. It's a sign there's been a shift in the soils below, and potentially a shift in the foundation wall(s) as well.

Expert helping the homeowner understand any foundation problem on the inspection summary

Five Signs of a Foundation Problem to Look For Inside the Home

Aside from seeing an obvious crack in the foundation wall, there are other signals inside the home that a foundation problem exists. Here's what to look for:

Drywall Cracks

While a crack in the foundation wall seems obvious, cracks in the drywall that covers the foundation wall, or even cracks in the drywall on the first or second floors of the home can also be signs of a foundation problem. Often these drywall cracks will appear near window or door frames and serve as a signal that the foundation wall has shifted.

Sticking Doors and Windows

Misaligned windows or doors that are hard to open and close can be a sign of an underlying foundation issue. However, because this problem is also common in homes with normal foundation settlement, it is not always a sign that the foundation has been damaged. If you notice sticking doors and windows in addition to other signs we've mentioned, it's worth having a professional out to take a look.

Sloping Floors or Cracked Floor Tiles

A sloping floor isn't always as easy to spot as you may think. A leveling tool is useful for detecting small but potentially troublesome sloping floors. If the floor is tiled and cracks have appeared, this could be another sign that the foundation below has shifted.

Ceiling Cracks or Gaps Between Wall and Ceiling

Ceiling cracks or separation between walls and ceiling can also be a sign of underlying foundation problems. Shifting soils around the home can cause foundation walls to bow or tilt, in turn causing these gaps to appear inside the home.

Moisture in the Basement or Crawl Space

Almost all foundation problems are caused by the soil and moisture surrounding your home, so it's no surprise that if you find water damage, signs of previous water damage, high humidity levels or moisture detection, the structural integrity of the home could be at risk. Basement and crawl space water issues are cause for concern regardless of any structural damage implications, so if you notice anything, it's best to have a professional out for an inspection.

What to do if You Suspect a Foundation Problem

While it can be disheartening and even scary to learn that the home you've had your heart set on may have a foundation problem, it's worth finding out more before abandoning the purchase. The problem may not be as big as you imagine, or there could be an opportunity to negotiate the repairs or purchase price of the home. To find out more about the problem, be sure to:

  • Ask the seller if they have a foundation inspection or if they have had foundation repair work performed in the past
  • Get an expert opinion from a reputable foundation repair contractor
  • Research the cost of the repairs or better yet, get an estimate from a reputable contractor
  • Find out if the issue could hurt your chances of financing

Trained expert looking for any foundation problem

What if the Home has had Foundation Repair Work Completed in the Past?

This may not be a bad thing. It's a common misconception that homes with repaired foundations are bad. The truth is, foundation repairs happen all the time, and in some cases, the repairs can make the foundation stronger than its original construction. While it's true that a foundation problem that is not fixed will hurt the property value of a home, if the repair was done right and that there's a warranty behind the work, this can be a positive rather than a negative. Get as much information as you can from the homeowner and the company who performed the repairs to help make an informed decision. At Thrasher, we provide solid, long-term solutions with transferable warranties to help reinforce the value of the repairs we perform.

Making an Offer on a Home With Foundation Problems

If you find yourself preparing to make an offer on a home in need of foundation repair, be sure to include contingencies such as a home inspection to allow for negotiation. Most often, the seller will reduce the price of the home rather than take on the task of hiring a contractor to fix the problem. This can be a good thing, allowing you to choose a quality, experienced contractor to perform a long-term solution. If left to the seller, they may hire a less experienced contractor or choose a cheaper solution rather than a quality, long-term solution.

Whether you're considering buying or selling a home with foundation problems, taking the time to find out as much as you can about the problem and what it will take to fix it permanently will help preserve the value of the home. At Thrasher, we provide solid, long-term solutions with transferable warranties to help reinforce the value of the repairs. If you're interested in learning more, give us a call at 800.827.0702 or contact us online and schedule a free consultation and same-day quote for repair.