First time homebuyers will benefit from checking out the foundations of any homes they view, to look for potential structural issues caused by either foundation failure, or, water issues. It’s best to view both the interior and exterior of a foundation to get a real picture of potentially costly repairs that might be needed. If left untended, some repairs might make the home a liability for a Buyer.
Critical damage and untended repairs could cost into the tens of thousands of dollars and often they might be hidden from view when viewing potential homes for purchase. Foliage, landscaping or patching might hide previous repairs or issues from view so it’s important to watch for them.
When looking at a home’s landscaping around the foundation, check to ensure sidewalks and patios tilt or pitch away from the home at a 10-degree rate. Landscaping should also have this 10-degree pitch to ensure water drains away from the foundation.
Also, ensure that gutters are clean and downspouts and drain extensions are diverting water away from foundations, as repeated water damage can erode the foundation and cause water-borne issues in the home such as efflorescence or mold. Water is not good for the foundation as it can cause damage over time and degrade the brick, or wash out soil around the foundation.
Previous water intrusion might show up as staining on the foundation, which is easiest to view in an unfinished basement, or around windows if the exterior window-box has not been covered, to prevent rain or snow intrusion.
If the landscaping is flat around the property, and you decide to purchase, it would be wise to improve the landscaping grade to divert moisture away from foundation at a 10-degree angle by adding more soil near the foundation and tapering it away as you get further from the foundation. Ensuring water flows to a water garden or the city clean water sewer and not into neighbors’ foundation is important.
Fixing the grade and ensuring gutters and downspouts are in order is much cheaper than foundation fixes which might be easily avoided unless they stem from other issues.
Waterproofing a foundation is another way to help prevent water intrusion and avoid issues. This can be done both on the exterior and interior of the home.
Checking around foundation for potential cracks such as lateral or step-cracks, or, diagonal cracking in foundation brick, stucco or paint exterior and even inside the home is going to save you from potential issues. On the inside of a home, hairline cracks are common, but, should be monitored for changes. If you can slip a credit card into a crack, and, depending on where and how many there are, might be a sign to get a structural engineer in to assess the situation.
If there is anything acting against the foundation, and cracks are present as evidence of this, a structural engineer can measure and identify the issues and recommend a fix if necessary. This is important to ensure things don’t further degrade over time.
Land can move, and, if the foundation is not stable, the entire home could potentially become unstable. Homes that show large cracks in basement or garage floors or other signs of movement or instability should be assessed. If you see temporary structural supports or evidence of previous structural repair, you will especially want to get that assessed by a professional.
Foundation and structural engineers can be relied upon to give an assessment of the current situation and determine if future work might be needed to maintain stability. Our brokerage has a list of excellent structural engineers to ensure you get answers to your foundation and structural questions.
Another issue to avoid is having large trees or bushes too close to the foundation, because it can also affect the structure if things get out of hand. Prevent the trees or bushes from touching the home, both at foundation level and on the siding. Roots have been known to cause cracks if pressure is not relieved.
An Arborist would likely be able to asses whether it might be necessary to move bushes or remove trees. Preventing the roots from penetrating the foundation is key, and, the best time to remove these in in the Winter, when plants are dormant.
Also, make sure sidewalks, landscaping and patios, especially if they butt up against the foundation, are pitching away from the home at that 10-degree angle so the runoff is heading away from the house in the proper direction.
Basements that are unfinished will show any issues, and, water intrusion problems can be avoided by ensuring you have clean gutters, downspouts and appropriate extensions, as well as window-box covers. Window boxes can harbor animals as well, so, covering them will prevent pests from entering the foundation.
An unfinished basement will display any evidence of cracks or water intrusion staining, whereas a finished basement might be showing signs of rust-colored water where previous leaks may have occurred. The rust-colored stains will show through painted walls or ceilings and if recent may also still be damp.
As you walk the property, notice if there is any structural off-setting, especially around windows or doors that might appear to be crooked or off plumb. Floors that pitch down and are no longer level might hint at a failing foundation that goes beyond typical settling. Many older homes have this issue and it’s best to see if there are temporary supports brought into the basement level to correct it or halt further settling. Sometimes, correcting this issue is not possible as it would damage windows and doors and be very costly.
Keeping your eyes open when viewing homes will help you decide if the property is a worthy investment or not. You will also have a sense if previous or current sellers maintained the property well or if they are passing on long-neglected issues to the future buyer.
Written by Claire Bastien for Buyers Real Estate Group