Foundation cracks in a house we made an offer on - how bad are they?
August 17, 2015 2:48 PM   Subscribe

We made an offer on a house and it was accepted - yay! We had the home inspector out today to take a look there was a potential red flag that may sink the deal - on one side of the house there are a series of small/moderate foundation cracks. How big of a deal is this really?

He didn't (or couldn't) say whether they were serious or not, only to get a second opinion from a general contractor or structural engineer. Our agent is asking the seller to pay for a structural engineer to come out, but we haven't heard back. In the meantime, I'd like any advice on whether this isn't as big of a deal as I'm imagining, or if we should be noping right out of this deal.

If it matters, the house is located in Salt Lake City, Utah and was built in 1994. The foundation is half basement, half slab - the cracks are on the slab side which also happens to be the garage side.
posted by _DB_ to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The structural engineer will tell you how bad it is, but the good news is that once that's "on the record," no one will want to touch the house with a ten foot pole if there are bad foundation cracks and the sellers will have to disclose going forward. You can go back to the sellers and say "Fix those foundation cracks or we walk" and they will probably do it because they'd have to do it anyway for the next seller who comes by. Be sure to select the structural engineer yourself or at least vet their choice! You don't want them to hire Cousin Cody who will give it the thumbs up without looking out for your interests.
posted by juniperesque at 2:52 PM on August 17, 2015 [19 favorites]

ITAW juniperesque, it could be settlement, issues with the soil (quality, sink hole, to name a few), and so on. It's worth spending more money to get a detailed report, foundation issues are the worst.
posted by dragonbaby07 at 3:03 PM on August 17, 2015

Juniperesque has your answer and is wise.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 3:06 PM on August 17, 2015

We bought our house with cracks in the foundation but only after a structural engineer (that we selected and paid) assured us that the foundation was fine and the cracks were superficial. In the end we got a significant discount because other buyers were not willing to pay for an additional inspection and walked away, and the sellers knew that this would be an issue for every buyer. 5 years later, we have no regrets - the cracks are not getting any worse and we were reassured repeatedly by general contractors who were in the house for other projects. FWIW our cracks looked perhaps a little worse that yours - however, according to our structural engineer, it's not something you can judge by looks.
posted by rada at 3:07 PM on August 17, 2015

Get a second/third opinion, but I don't think those look too bad. In fact, I'm pretty sure they're superficial. Still, you do need to know more. Don't freak out yet.

"Fix those foundation cracks or we walk"

Personally, I very much prefer to get a cash credit for the repair. There will be less back and forth about the work done, and besides, they will want to do an acceptable minimum and I usually prefer to have work done to a higher standard with a contractor I chose.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:21 PM on August 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

When you go for an engineer, get someone that is an actual Structural Engineer (SE) and not just Professional Engineer (PE), and then verify the license here (set the license type to Engineer/Land Surveyor, then the choice will expand to show sub-options, and check only "Professional Structural Engineer").
posted by aramaic at 3:22 PM on August 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

Agreeing that you don't really want or need to have the foundation cracks fixed. Your concern is if they are indicative of an ongoing problem that will need addressing - and that's why you want an engineer's report. It is quite possible that your slab is not properly set on footings below the frost line or designed to resist frost-heaving. Even in the worst case, there are still repair options.

If there isn't an ongoing issue, you can fill those cracks up yourself for very little cost. I would think you'd do much better to negotiate a discount on the price.
posted by ssg at 3:46 PM on August 17, 2015

Personally, I very much prefer to get a cash credit for the repair.

I did this with some electrical issues, and it turned out that stuff that couldn't be seen until walls got ripped open added a tonne to the final price. It's really common to try to get a job done on a house and find out that X was actually hiding Y and you can't fix X without addressing Y and... I would not do that unless I had a contractor I trusted with my life who had a magical way of promising that the estimate had no way of creeping upwards no matter what was discovered in the process of fixing stuff.
posted by kmennie at 4:15 PM on August 17, 2015 [7 favorites]

There's a neighborhood near us where many houses have foundation problems. The land in that area is the cause: apparently, there's water underneath, or something, that is causing all the houses to sink, slowly, and unevenly. There are fixes, but they are enormously expensive.

This is just to let you know that there can be all kinds of causes.
posted by amtho at 7:41 PM on August 17, 2015

What this kind of looks like is water getting up against the side of the house and freezing -- the foundation isn't pulling away from the slab, and I'll bet they're not shoveling the snow away from the side of the house. You can clearly see there's some water intrusion at each of the cracks.

But it could also be settlement cracks, so yes, get a structural engineer to verify that the foundation is solid. Houses cost too damn much to gamble here -- a bad foundation is a really expensive fix. Slabs can settle a bit, crack, and be fine. They could also settle, crack, and leave you in a world of hurt.

I agree with Pogo_Fuzzybutt on minor to moderate repairs -- I'd much rather negotiate the credit and then choose a contractor to repair it than have the seller fix it. The seller's economic incentive is to fix it as cheaply as possible to maximize the return. That may not be how I want it fixed -- I may want better materials used, etc. since it'll be *my* house, not theirs, after the repair is complete, and I may want that contractor to do other, related work in the area.
posted by eriko at 8:04 PM on August 17, 2015

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