Buying Your First Home: 5 Ways to Spot Foundation Issues

It’s the news that every homeowner fears: you have a foundation issue. And yet, when you’re looking to buy your first home, you might not be able to spot the warning signs that would stop you from purchasing a property that has problems with the foundation. In addition, you might be duped into agreeing to buy the home without an inspection (always a mistake). But if you know what to look for on your own you should be able to pick out the hallmarks of foundation issues so as to avoid getting suckered into buying a house that’s going to end up costing you a lot more than the sticker price thanks to major repairs. Here are just a few signs to keep an eye out for.

  1. Substantial cracking. You won’t always be able to get a good look at the foundation. If the basement is fully finished the slab is likely covered with layers of sub-flooring, carpeting or wood, and so on. But if you can find an exposed area, or better, the basement is unfinished, you should definitely take the opportunity to check out the foundation of the home. Hairline cracks may not necessarily be cause for concern, but significant cracks, especially those that are wider than about a quarter of an inch, should definitely set off alarm bells. If there is no basement, have a look around the outsider perimeter of the home; if the slab extends beyond the walls, there’s a chance water is seeping into the house every time it rains and causing all kinds of problems.
  2. Moisture. If you find that the foundation is clammy, damp, or actually wet, there’s an issue for certain, so don’t hesitate to touch the concrete flooring in the basement, or even exposed concrete walls if the floor is covered, to check. Moisture could not only lead to cracks, but it could mean that the vapor barrier is damaged (or that there was never one to begin with). Unless you deal with this issue, your foundation will continue to experience problems.
  3. Sloping floors. If the foundation is uneven, tipped, or it starts to sink, it’s bound to take the structure of the house with it. The easiest way to check for this is to put a marble on the floor and see if it rolls. If you feel self-conscious about this, you could also look at the base boards to see if there is any separation between the walls and the floors, but the marble trick is more conclusive. You could also bring a small level to check the floors.
  4. Cracks around window and door frames. One of the earliest visible warning signs of foundation issues is cracks around window and door frames, or doors and windows that are difficult to open and close (although the latter could also be due to natural settling of the structure or even doors that haven’t been hung properly). You might not notice fine cracks, so make an effort to look closely when you tour homes that you’re interested in.
  5. Walls separating from the house. If it gets to the point where a structure has corners cracking or even exterior walls starting to separate from the house you’ve got a really serious problem on your hands, and possibly an unsafe living condition, to boot. Of course, a reputable company can fix even these major problems; Dura Pier Foundation repair work could get serious issues like this under control. But as a first-time home buyer you simply may not want the headache.

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