You’ve decided this is the year to take the plunge and buy your first home. Congratulations! The home-buying process can be overwhelming with details, hidden costs, and requirements. How does a new homeowner decide what details to pay attention to?
At Kent Foundation Repair, we strongly recommend focusing on the state of your future home’s foundation. You don’t need to know everything about foundations, but there is a reason for the old adages about having a strong foundation. Gordon Hinkley said it best:
“You can’t build a great building on a weak foundation. You must have a solid foundation if you’re going to have a strong superstructure.”
We agree with Hinkley. To ensure your future home has a stable foundation, homebuyers should follow these tips for every step of the buying process. This includes things you can do yourself, like assessing the landscaping, requesting information, and making sure repair jobs are done right. Breathe, and keep reading to find out how you can take a proactive role in making sure your future home’s foundation will last.
The First Viewing
Future homeowners typically begin the buying process by looking at houses online, attending open houses, and completing walkthroughs with a real estate agent. Your home foundation assessment begins as soon as you step foot in that house for the first time! Take notes about any signs you notice during this first viewing. It’s also helpful to take pictures of things you like and potential concerns to think about later. Since you’ll likely be walking through multiple homes in a day, it’s easy to forget these small details!
Interior Signs of Foundation Issues
As you walk through your potential home, take note of the flooring, doors, and windows. Open and close exterior doors to see if they’re sticking. Do the door frames look straight to you? Yes? Great! If not, try opening and closing more doors in various parts of the home. If they are sticking or uneven, this could be a sign of a settling foundation.
As you continue walking through the house, open and close a few windows. Sticking windows are another telltale sign of shifting foundations. Check windows to assess if they open and close completely. Did it open and close all the way? If not, try another window on the same side of the house. And don’t forget to take note of your findings.
The last interior assessment is taking note of the walls and ceiling. Are there cracks in the door jambs, along any walls or ceilings? Are any walls beginning to bow? If so, take pictures and note what side of the house it’s on. This is especially important if you also noticed a sticking window on the same side of the structure. If there is a basement, look carefully for cracks in the walls or joints of a brick or cinderblock wall.
Exterior Signs of Foundation Issues
Now that you’ve assessed the inside of the house, take a walk around the property. There are a few major signs of foundation problems or future foundation problems all around the property.
Most importantly, is the landscaping graded to slope away from the structure? This slope helps direct water away from the house so water does not compromise the foundation. To help this process, the gutter spouts should also have properly fitted extensions that channel and expel water at least 5 feet away from the foundation.
Next, are there any retaining walls on the property? If so, are the walls standing at a right angle? Compromised retaining walls may bow or lean from the mass it is attempting to contain. If it is not properly enforced, you will be see bowing, leaning, and cracks in the bricks or concrete.
Now look at the trees and plants in the yard, and along the perimeter of the house. Tree limbs should not be touching the house, and plants and shrubbery should not completely cover the exposed portion of the foundation. Trees planted too close may begin to shift a foundation, and/or crack concrete walkways with their expanding root system.
After hours of walking through many homes, take time to review your notes from each potential house. See if the signs you noticed are located in the same area of the home, and if there could be a potential foundation problem. And keep looking at those pictures of what you liked, didn’t like, and what you may want to ask about if you go back to the house.
The Second Viewing & Requesting Information
You’re making progress and on your way! Once you’ve looked over your notes, decide what houses to view again. With these homes, were there any signs of foundation shifting or sinking? If so, keep that in mind when you meet with your realtor.
During this phase of the buying process, begin asking questions and requesting more information about the home. Some foundation questions to ask include:
- What year was the home built?
- What is the foundation made of?
- Are there any known foundation repairs, fixes, or replacements?
- Has the foundation ever been assessed by a professional?
- Were there any additions built onto the house? If so, how was that portion of the foundation supported?
If there have been any modifications or repairs, you can request more information from the seller. More information should include what kind of changes were made, how long ago, and/or what warranties came with the completed work.
When you go back to the house, take a closer look at the basement, crawlspace, or slab foundation. If there’s a basement, look for signs of water leaks in the windows and wall joints. If water is entering the basement, the concrete may have been compromised by water and a sign of underlying foundation problems. Crawlspaces should be free of odors (i.e. musty aromas that come from mold and mildew), water, and rodents. If rodents can get into the crawlspace, they could be wreaking havoc on the house’s building materials.
It’s a good idea to spend time crawling into this small area to assess the situation yourself instead of relying on a home inspection.
The last element you may want to look over is the disclosure statement from the seller. Getting access to this is dependent on state regulations for disclosure prior to an offer. If you can have this document, peruse through to see if there any known foundation issues. This will give you the clearest idea of what issues are known to the current owner. And that can help you decide what problems are worth the effort compared to other houses on your short list.
Requesting Repairs during Due Diligence Periods
Congratulations, you’ve selected a home and are under contract! Many realtors say the due diligence period is the most crucial in the home-buying process. This is the time an inspection is completed, homebuyers know more about the house and known issues, and repairs are made to satisfy the buyer. Here’s what you to know about your home foundation at this point.
If you have not seen any signs of foundation problems up to this point, that’s great. And if the seller and inspection has not disclosed any problems they came across, even better!
On the other hand, let’s say you did notice a few signs and the inspection report came back with news about foundation problems. Foundations must adhere to many codes, and they fail for a variety of reasons. Unstable or shifting foundations can be a common problem in certain areas of Michigan. For example, homes built on the shore may experience shifting due to the varying soil composition.
There’s still hope though. These existing issues are not a death sentence to your hopes of living here. As the buyer, you are entitled to request repairs, and be provided with documentation that the work was done properly. Many sellers though, may opt for a quick fix through a contractor instead of a foundation expert.
In these situations, we suggest buyers insist on having an estimate done by foundation professionals. A professional will detail the known problems and what will fully resolve these issues. You will have this information to determine whether the buyer truly fixed the problem rather than applying a quick fix that won’t last. If possible, work with your realtor and the seller’s realtor to bring in the experts. You can request a free estimate to know exactly what is going on, how to fix the issue, and have a warranty for the work.
After weeks or months of deciding, waiting, and hoping, you are now living in your new home. At this point, you can feel confident that you’ve done everything you can to ensure your home is built on a solid foundation and will last for years to come. Now it’s time to unpack and settle in!