How Bad Is This Do You Think?
March 17, 2016 2:08 PM   Subscribe

I passed on what may have been my dream house because of some suspicious cracks in the floor. Just wondering what the rest of you think. Images inside.

We are house hunting in a city we aren't yet living in. I flew in to see a house I'd fallen in love with on line. It was every bit as lovely in person except some suspicious things. First, the house was staged to within an inch of it life, every detail had been curated, but in one of the pics there was, what seemed to be a recently repaired Crack up near the ceiling next to this large, floor to ceiling beam. Most of the house was built circa 1950 but the great room was added on later (not sure the date). This wall would have been the exterior of the original house, now the wall with the new addition attached. When I saw the house in person, it was vacant but still staged (no one living there) but the Crack repair had been painted to blend in and was virtually invisible. I examined it as closely as possible and discovered these cracks in the tiles beneath.

I wondered why the image of the wall with the Crack showing was uploaded in the first place if the owner was going to paint it over anyway. Every other detail was so carefully decorated and staged. I began to wonder if the Cracks were appearing recently and regularly. I was weirded out enough to pass on the house despite its adorableness and near perfection in almost every other regard.

What do you guys think? What makes cracks like that in tile? Do you think an inspector would have been able to tell if something were seriously wrong? I hope to arm myself with knowledge for the future as I am (sadly) still questing for my perfect house.
posted by WalkerWestridge to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The wall cracks aren't especially worrisome; that's from the house settling, which can take decades. I have never seen floor cracks that severe, though, and I've looked at a lot of houses lo these many years--it could very well be indicative of foundation problems, which are incredibly expensive to remediate. The fact that everything cosmetic had been touched up and this hadn't suggests that it's major, but it's impossible to tell from the picture.

For what it's worth, your purchase and sales agreement will almost certainly contain a clause that lets you back out of the sale if the home inspection turns up anything dire, and this is an inspector's bread and butter, so next time you probably don't need to pass based on a suspicion.
posted by Mayor West at 2:16 PM on March 17, 2016 [5 favorites]

Do you think an inspector would have been able to tell if something were seriously wrong?

Yes, absolutely. That's the reason you have a house inspection, because you're not the expert. Cracks can form from a lot of different things (we got wall cracks due to vibrations from road construction).
posted by anastasiav at 2:19 PM on March 17, 2016 [11 favorites]

You could put an offer on the house, which will include a professional inspection at some point and a clause that lets you get out within a certain amount of time. Part of your negotiation with the owners can be money towards repairs, if that seems remotely reasonable after inspection.

[On preview, pretty much what was already said above.]
posted by SpacemanStix at 2:20 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've never been in a house with foundation cracks that actually got fixed for real so I'd say your anxiety is warranted. But yeah, inspector if it really is a house you otherwise love.

I've got scars from tripping on uneven floors. Maybe I'm just clumsy but I really hate that particular kind of defect.)
posted by SMPA at 2:21 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's hard to tell what's causing that crack without understanding what's under it and how that ties into the foundation. But clearly, that addition is pulling away from the original house, causing cracks in both the ceiling and the floor. The ones in the picture are not simple hairline cracks, there is significant movement going on. Still, if you love the house in every other way, I'd go ahead with an offer, and as suggested use the inspection process either negotiate a price concession that will let you fix it.
posted by beagle at 2:23 PM on March 17, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I might put an offer in on that house, although I have NEVER seen tile crack like that and I've lived in California and Florida. I'd guess that the addition is poorly supported and that it's pulling away from the house.

That said, you'll want three inspections:

1. Regular home inspection
2. Foundation inspection
3. Plumber to put a camera down the pipes to verify that the sewer lines are in good repair.

I threw #3 on there because I could have saved time, money and heartache had I done that when we bought our house.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:29 PM on March 17, 2016 [11 favorites]

Best answer: You'd really need a structural engineering inspection. But yeah, those cracks are bad news, and I'd probably pass.
posted by Dashy at 2:30 PM on March 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The wall cracks aren't especially worrisome; that's from the house settling, which can take decades.

Ehhhh, could be more of a problem than you think. My son has remodeled a lot of houses that had home-owner add-ons--bedrooms, kitchens, etc. Many of them are pretty scary when you look at the foundations and what's going on above the ceiling.

Not to mention home-owner renos that have removed a bearing wall.... ACK!

YES! Always get an inspection, but you also want to vet your inspector to know he's going to do a good job. There are good inspectors, and then others that hold their hand out for the fee and sign off on any old crap. It's pretty amazing what a lazy-arse inspector can miss!
posted by BlueHorse at 2:39 PM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yeah, get a separate structural engineering inspection in addition to the regular inspection. We did that for our house, wanting to check a crack that turns out was just superficial. You could even write that into the offer/contract if you wanted the inspection contingency to be extra clear.
posted by odin53 at 2:51 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I threw #3 on there {sewer line check} because I could have saved time, money and heartache had I done that when we bought our house

In Illinois there was talk of REQUIRING this inspection before allowing a home to be sold. Of course the realtors are trying to shoot that down.

With this much possible ground shifting in play, I would definitely add a sewer inspection on top of the home inspection (since home inspectors don't do this).
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:56 PM on March 17, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Was that tile laid on slab?

I disagree that a house settling like that is "no big deal". Sure, minor cracks in plaster are one thing, but an add-on room that's settling separately from the rest of the house? That suggests that the foundation of the addition is completely under-sized, which further suggests that there's likely other crap in that addition that wasn't done right.

In my book, this goes beyond home inspection and straight to "if the home inspector doesn't insist you get an engineer to sign off on the foundation, find a new home inspector".
posted by straw at 3:10 PM on March 17, 2016 [7 favorites]

Best answer: It appears from the fracture direction that a grade beam (assuming it has grade beams or a thickened slab) directly under the wall is undergoing differential settlement. The only way to know for sure is a foundation inspection, but if it was my choice, I'd pass. Foundation problems are never truly fixed and can plague the entire house forever.
posted by Benway at 3:11 PM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Not a home inspection, a structural inspection.

This might be your nightmare house if you buy it. Stop getting so attached to the idea it is your "dream home", it's too soon to tell.
posted by yohko at 3:41 PM on March 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Do you think an inspector would have been able to tell if something were seriously wrong?

Maybe. That still doesn't stop them from taking a kickback to say whatever makes sure the sale goes through, though.

If you want to get a real answer, pay (out of your pocket) a recommended contractor (or, as others suggest, a structural engineer) to come with you - and do not tell anyone ahead of time who it is.

I would certainly be concerned enough about those tile cracks to need an explanation from someone I could trust.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:07 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Structural inspection. I have similar issues in my ten year old Florida (land of "mysterious" sinkholes) house.
posted by tilde at 6:04 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yohko , to clarify. I am not attached to this house. I passed on making an offer. I am wondering about cracks and structural damage for future viewings of different homes.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 6:11 PM on March 17, 2016

Best answer: If I absolutely loved it, then would put an offer on the house fully knowing that I was going to have contractors and a structural engineer PE in during the inspection period.

Once the seller KNOWS about an issue, they must disclose it. That means it's going to be increasingly hard to get a buyer once you have documented the structural issues. That's a lot of leverage to get the seller motivated to give enough money for remediation. I wouldn't feel bad about it for a moment. You want to buy the house for what it's worth, not what the seller thinks it's worth. If you need to undo/redo a crap addition, then that's both a cost and an inconvenience.
posted by 26.2 at 6:17 PM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A tile guy would've someone to talk to too. Tile isn't meant to be mortared/grouted to a base board like that. The field has to be allowed to expand and contract. There should be an expansion joint of sorts at the corner where the floor meets the wall.
posted by klarck at 6:26 PM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Cracks should happen on the path of least resistance. Which should normally crack on the grout lines. To break the large tiles, particularly in a line seems very unusual to me. (Which doesn't seem cheap)
posted by TheAdamist at 7:23 PM on March 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I am wondering about cracks and structural damage for future viewings of different homes.

There are cracks and there are cracks. The stuff you saw was a blinking red light and siren. Totally obvious that there was a HUGE problem somewhere, and you trusted your gut and moved on.

There are hairline cracks along walls, perhaps at dry wall joints, or in areas with seismic activity, that are easy to patch. If the homeowner didn't bother to patch something that easy though, especially when the house is on the market, it makes one wonder what other easy fixes went by the way side.

When I was a homeowner, I was OBSESSED with catching anything in the early stages. If the normal person would put a coat of spackle on something, I'd be all, "nope, that needs to be redone completely." One of the reasons we sold our house was because I knew that the roof only had a couple more years in it (not leaks, I just figured it was old), and that the HVAC, being about 20 years old, was on it's last legs (despite it functioning perfectly.)

I had the gutter cleaners come three times a year, I had the HVAC guys out Spring and Autumn, after every storm I had a guy on the roof looking for damage. I installed a French Drain in the driveway after one incident of a trickle of water getting into the basement after torrential rains. I'm ALL about preventative maintenance.

My point is, you want to buy a house from someone like me. Someone who recognizes that a small something that could be fixed for $50 early on, can easily turn into a $5,000 problem if left unrepaired.

So a smart seller, someone who understands that people are looking for signs like cracks, will take care of that before the house goes on the market. Someone who lets cracks and other red flags stay when they KNOW the house is on the market, is probably not someone who's taking care of $50 problems either.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:39 AM on March 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

It's hard to say based on one photo. I live in an area where foundations are highly mobile (ambulatory, almost). If I refused to buy any home that had signs of foundation issues, I'd still be renting.

So this house may have a problematic foundation. Or the addition may have been shoddy. Or you may see a lot more of that kind of problem in homes in that area because that's just how things are.
posted by adamrice at 8:23 AM on March 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

To clarify my earlier comment in light of the OP's comment, you want a structural inspection rather than a home inspection because that's who can tell you what is wrong and how much it will cost to fix.

It's not necessarily a reason to avoid a particular house, but you want to know what's wrong and how much it will cost to fix, and you can ask the seller to do the repairs or lower your offer. I don't see that these cracks are necessarily a reason to rule this house out if you really like it, talk to a structural engineer.

I haven't heard of bribery being a problem in pre-sale structural inspections, but it probably depends on what things are like in your area. You want to be choosing your own inspector for any inspections you are having done. You should be able to be present while the inspection is being done, and you want to do this. BTW, the pre-sale inspections you get on a house are done by the private sector, not a government employee like a building inspection for construction or remodeling.
posted by yohko at 10:54 AM on March 18, 2016

Best answer: Most buildings move. (I was about to write all buildings move, but there are exceptions). Buildings should move, it is a sign of health. So line-cracks and irregularities are normal in older houses. But this is not normal at all. It seems you have very sound instincts. Still, you should never buy anything without professional, independent inspection.

[buildings need to be flexible because a lot of factors will shake them during their life-spans, even if it isn't a quake-zone. The groundwater level fluctuates, nearby traffic or building activity shakes the building, use shakes the building gently but over long time - just to mention the top-three which came to my head. If the buildings are not flexible, they will break up - sometimes slowly, sometimes dramatically. Back in the day when they first started with modern concrete construction, they weren't aware of this, and structures were considerably damaged. Now they build in expansion joints. Timber and brick structures are naturally flexible; though large brick walls will crack a bit here and there, it normally isn't dangerous]
posted by mumimor at 12:12 PM on March 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

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