Foundations 101: What You Need to Know When Buying a House

When you’re buying a home there are so many exciting things to think about — what color to paint your new bedroom, where you’re going to put furniture, entertaining friends and family in the backyard — that it can be easy to overlook one of the most important parts of the house: the foundation. After all, it’s holding up the entire house. Here are some things to look for when you're buying a home in the Bay Area when it comes to foundations.

Find out what type of foundation it is

There are two common types of foundations on the Peninsula. When you’re looking at a home, ask what type of foundation it has and to see any disclosures or inspections that the seller has.

Concrete Perimeter
A raised foundation that consists of a foundation stemwall and footing that supports that exterior walls of the house. The middle of the house is often supported on post and piers. This type of foundation typically has a crawlspace underneath the house, which can make accessing plumbing and utilities easy. However, you’ll want to make sure the house has good drainage so you don’t end up dealing with moisture issues under the house.

Slab Foundation
Homes built after the 1940s in the area are often built on a flat, concrete  slab, which provides both a base for the structure of the house and serves as the bottom floor. Some cracks occur with usual settling, but watch out for leaky plumbing or tree roots which can lead to foundation problems. Also note, the sewer lines are typically placed before the slab is poured and are difficult to access for repairs, so you’ll want to make sure those are in good condition as well.

Look for signs of foundation damage

When you’re walking through a open house or viewing a home with your agent, keep an eye out for signs that the foundation may have issues such as: sloping floors, doors and windows that don’t close, cracks in the drywall, large cracks in the exterior concrete, or water sitting under the house or around the perimeter.

Also, be aware of where the house is located. There are areas in Redwood City and around the Peninsula that are on more expansive soil and are more prone to movement, especially if coupled with an older foundation and poor drainage. Homes built into a hill will also run into problems without a modern foundation or solid drainage in place, more so than homes in flatter areas.

Review Disclosures & Inspection Reports

When reviewing disclosures and inspections  with your real estate agent, look for any mention of the above signs, cracks in the foundation, or water drainage issues that might flag larger foundation issues.

If there is any horizontal cracking, cracks larger than ⅛ - ¼ inch, exposed rebar, or areas that have rotated, you’ll want to order a foundation report from a structural engineer to get more information, if the seller hasn’t already provided one.

Deciding to buy a home with foundation issues

So, should you buy a home with foundation issues? Maybe.

If you’re looking for a home that is remodeled and finished and don’t plan on doing major work in the near future, then you’re chances are you’re not going to want to fix the foundation. Extensive repairs can sometimes also mean replacing windows and floors if the house needs to be leveled, which can be very expensive.

But if you’re trying to buy a house in a competitive market or you’re in the market for a fixer upper, foundation problems may not a dealbreaker. If there is work that needs to be done on the foundation, it can be an opportunity to negotiate price. Or if you’re planning on doing extensive remodeling, you may be reinforcing or adding onto the foundation anyways.

Either way, it’s good to know what you’re getting into. Natalie and I have purchased two homes in Redwood City, each built in the 1920s, and each with their own list of foundation issues. We spoke with structural engineers and contractors before buying each house so that we were fully aware of the damage and what was required to fix it.

If you’re looking to buy or sell a home Redwood City or the surrounding area, I would love to work with you. Feel free to drop me a line or give me a ring at (650) 704-8883 with any questions you might have. I’m always happy to grab a coffee and chat.

*This article is for informational purposes only. If you have any issues with your property or one that you are looking to buy, please contact a licensed contractor or structural engineer for advice.

Natalie WhearleyComment