found dream home, but crack down wall in basement...

southernmumMarch 17, 2010

We're thinking about writing up an offer on what we think could really be our dream home. It's a house that's 13 years old and is exactly what we've been looking for. It seems very sturdy and was finished nicely. The one and only thing that concerns me is a crack that goes the entire length (top to bottom crack, not horizontal) of one of the walls in the basement. It is in the unfinished area where cinder blocks are exposed, and is one of the exterior walls of the home. The crack is on the cinderbocks and not very wide at all, but does run entirely from the top to bottom. It makes me worry about foundation and settling issues. Of course we will get it inspected, but would rather get some opinions before writing up an offer. Our realtor said she would only be concerned about cracks that are horizontal. I did notice that some of the drawers upstairs (the main level of the house) seemed a little crooked (didn't seem straight when parallel to the countertop), and the floors did have a place or two that kind of dipped when you walked on them. I initially just chalked this up to age and natural wear and tear, but now wonder if it could be a foundation problem. What do you guys think -- would this scare you away? Again, we will hire a professional inpector, but would welcome your input. Thanks for any advice!

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I think our input is pointless without anyone being either able to see the problem and/or being qualified to comment even if they did. What will you do if you get more people saying to do one thing vs the other (purely incidentally, as internet forums go)? I do think your agent is irresponsible though - no matter how hungry one might be, saying what she/he said about cracks being horizontal is wrong and they'd be better off having said nothing at all.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2010 at 4:34AM
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I concur with larke. It would be impossible for us to know what coulf be wrong. What does trouble me some is what you wrote about the floor having bad spots and drawers not being level. You were chalking that up to an old house. Do you consider 13 years old? I certainly don't. If it is this bad already after only 13 years, imagine what it would be like at the end of a 30 year mortgage. I would question the quality of construction in the home, if this is already happening. But, that's just my $.02

    Bookmark   March 17, 2010 at 8:20AM
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Floors that aren't level, drawers that are crooked, crack in the basement...and the house is only 13 years old? Yeah I'd be questioning the construction of that home. 13 years is not old for a home, now if you said the home was 100 years old and having those issues then yeah you could chalk those things up to age of the house. But not 13 years.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2010 at 9:06AM
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I'm with the others, 13 yrs is way too young for a house to have these signs. A regular home inspector, (if they are competent and responsible), will likely refer any sign of foundation failure to a structural engineer so don't expect the inspector to commit to an answer. Before I'd put down money on a house with these signs I'd hire the structural engineer, or walk away.

IMO, the words "dream house" and "crack" do not belong in the same sentence. I say this from having been thru a construction defect case that did involve foundation failure. What started as cracks (in ALL directions) ended in large parts of the house breaking away and sinking a few inches, (as well as many other serious problems!).

Real estate agents are not qualified to advise you on this, and the agent is wrong if he/she thinks horizontal vs vertical has any significance. Foundation failure cracks can take many forms. Agents are worried about one thing--their commission. They take their chances that it's very hard for anyone to PROVE they were negligent after the fact. Most of the time they cannot be held accountable even if negligent.

At the very least this house's symptoms indicate shoddy construction, IMO, and after having lived thru several yrs fighting a builder over construction defects I personally would run screaming from a house that felt like deja vu. Good luck.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2010 at 10:12AM
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To clarify my last post, I didn't buy a house w/cracks--there were none visible when I bought. They appeared shortly after closing and worsened over the several years it took to fight the case. In case anyone tells you there is a fix for this, don't be too sure. We had many estimates for foundation repair but none had any meaningful guarantee, and some co's didn't want the job because they felt the house was too defective judging by the way it was breaking up. Small cracks may be 'cosmetic' but there is no way to know without the RIGHT expert, so you'll have to decide if this house is worth the several hundred to several thousand dollars it'll take just to determine if the house has minor, or major problems, before you commit to buying.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2010 at 10:17AM
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southernmum: "Our realtor said she would only be concerned about cracks that are horizontal."

Then ask you Realtor to put her money where her mouth is and sign a binding contract whereas she will buy the house from you for at minimum the price you paid or market value if like homes appreciate in price if the crack turns out to be a major issue.

Her answer will tell you what you need to know.

IMO, there is nothing worse than a REA who shines the buyer on and pretends to be a structural engineer...or a home inspector..or an attorney.

That said, a 13 year old house that exhibits the issues that you have described could very well be more of a nightmare than a dream

With all of the homes on the market, IMO, there must be a better choice.

That said, structural engineers generally do not say more than a good knowledgeable HI on these they usually can't tell for certain what is going on unless they perform some "destructive" analysis...e.g. digging out around foundation, etc...which few if any sellers will allow.

As chances are about 99% you won't be able to obtain a definitive answer pre-purchase, best bet is to move on to the next home on your list...unless you don't mind taking the chance of having to drop a bundle on repairs.

And...lets not forget resale value...

Last but not least, ditch the Realtor as well.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2010 at 10:52AM
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"It's a house that's 13 years old..."

That means it was built in ~1997.

"...crack that goes the entire length (top to bottom crack, not horizontal) of one of the walls in the basement. It is in the unfinished area where cinder blocks are exposed, and is one of the exterior walls of the home. The crack is on the cinderbocks and not very wide at all, but does run entirely from the top to bottom."

A crack that is uniform in width over it length and still co-planer on each side (no level change across the crack) does not normally indicate that anything has shifted.
It still needs an examination by someone familiar with foundation issues, and not just an HI There only expertise is in noticing things and writing them down. You already know there is a crack.

"I did notice that some of the drawers upstairs (the main level of the house) seemed a little crooked (didn't seem straight when parallel to the countertop), and the floors did have a place or two that kind of dipped when you walked on them."

If the drawers have tracks they probably just need adjustment (sloppy install or loose screws holding the tracks to the cabinet).
If the cabinets have a face frame that has no open joints it is very unlikely anything has actually shifted.
If the cabs are frame-less look at the corner joints of the boxes.

If the basement has an unfinished portion look up and see what the sub-floor is (even better if the bad spots are open).
You may be seeing damaged joists or undersized joists (to long a span).
The sub-floor could also be thin (1/2 inch plywood).

An inspection should be performed, and you might want a structural inspection from a PE also.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2010 at 11:02AM
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"Our realtor said she would only be concerned about cracks that are horizontal."

Oh, another realtor that is a structural engineer! Seriously, ignore anything a realtor tells you. Listen to Brickeye. Cracks are common and often not an issue. Except when they are. I am surprised such a relatively new house would have a block foundation (that is only done in the cheapest of cheap houses around here now), but that may be a regional thing.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2010 at 11:10AM
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FYI... an acquaintance has been trying to sell their home for over 8 months....where comparable homes in the neighborhood have sold in two months. The home is 30 yeas old..well maintained, competitively and nicely decorated.

There is a basement crack... horizontal, in the cinder block foundation.

The owner had a home inspector perform a pre-sale inspection in order that he would have ample time to make any repairs needed.

The HI recommended that a licensed P.E. (structural) evaluate the crack to determine root cause and cost of repair.

The P.E. report essentially said what the HI report said; the only difference? The P.E. recommended "monitoring".That is what the homeowner got for an additional $500.00 in P.E. services.

So far, the buyers who have expressed interest have reneged due to the involved crack.

Few if any want to buy a house with a crack that requires monitoring when they can buy a house crack fee.

That have to realize that even if you decide that it is a non-issue to you, you will limit your market when it comes to a sale..unless the crack can be repaired..invisibly..and the root cause discovered and rectified in order that a crack won't develop again.

Also, if you really want to move forward on this house, first contact a few P.E.'s and ask if they will be able to provide root cause, and cost of repair..and ask their fee. If they can't promise to do the first two..decide if the last (their fee) is worth your while.

Best wishes.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2010 at 11:17AM
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I live in the North, where the seasonal changes make any house shift and cracks appear. Your user name suggests you are in the south, but could still affect any age home.

If it's your dream home, put in an offer contingent on a satisfactory structural enginner's report.

I also wouldn't be too concerned about the drawers and floor, though you might have the floor included in the engineers inspection while he's there. My BIL used to be a rough framer/carpenter for the housing industry and seldom were newer houses built square or even. Builders rushing too much to get houses done.

My kitchen cabinets expand every winter when the house is closed up against the cold, and the fireplace is roaring to help heat the house. Fireplaces are very dry heat.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2010 at 12:19PM
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I agree with Pamghaten~~If you love the house put in your offer with the noted contingencies. This way you don't lose the house upfront but have the right to back out, and reclaim earnest money,if the inspection shows structural problems. Good luck and let us know what you decide.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2010 at 2:26PM
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we have just been thru almost the same thing -

we found a home in the school district we want, in a nice neighborhood where homes dont come up for sale all that often. however it is a contemporary style home (which I donÂt love) and itÂs got a vertical crack in the corner of the foundation and there is some sagging of floors and some drywall cracks. neighborhood scuttlebutt about the house was really scary, it was falling off the hill, one estimate for repairs was reported to be $80K, in a prior foreclosure the house had been virtually destroyed by the POs, rumour rumour etc

however, the house was priced in the 160s in a neighborhood of 200+K homes. we made an offer on the house and negotiated a lower price. we were not afraid at all to do this because our contract had a contingency clause that required the home/structural inspection to be satisfactory to us. we were candid with the sellers, that if the structural insp was ugly, we would use that clause.

we found a structural inspector ( actually, I knew him personally bc I had tutored his kid for ACT and SAT) but anyway he had a great reputation and was highly qualified. by this I mean:

he has a masters in engineering from stanford.
he is licensed and registered in 5 states
he teaches the classes in which home inspectors get certified
he worked for the army corps of engineers for many years on big projects
heÂs has done almost 10,000 home and structural inspections
heÂs a nationally recognized expert - teaches and testifies on "foundation and structure movement and repairs - their recognition, causes and cures."
heÂs an active member in several professional societies like the NatÂl Society for Professional Engineers and the American Society for Home Inspectors

some other things I find charming about him:
he likes puzzles. some realtors are irritated by him because he uncovers stuff they would rather he didnÂt, and **included in his services are return site visits while and after the work is done - he will provide a final letter, with professional engineer stamp, certifying that the repairs have been performed as recommended and the structure is now structurally stable.*** Love him!! IÂm sorry if this sounds like spam, IÂm just a big fan. I get this enthusiastic about Mike Holmes on Holmes on Homes too!! if you choose a structural inspector, make sure he's qualified!

it turned out that there were actually 2 problems causing the visible problems.
the front foundation wall of the garage was being moved by the soil pressure - the fix is actually suprisingly low cost. the buttress that resists the hill should have been around 5 feet thick, it was only 1 foot thick. The fix is to cut slots in the garage wall, fill them with rebar and cement, creating piers. Then they will make the wall stable by adhering a carbon fiber mesh to the wall that keeps the wall from flexing. Lastly they will put 3 helical tie-backs thru the wall into the soil (anchors).
The second issue is that there is insufficient support for a couple of loadbearing walls, causing the sagging in hte floor and some cracks in the drywall. So, we have to add 2 beams in the ceiling of the garage and one beam in the basement.

we didn't know before the inspection what to expect in terms of costs, we were thinking it was probably somewhere between $20 and $80K to fix, depending on what they found.

The cost for all this work is estimated to be $16K not the rumoured 80K. It helps the cost that the work can be done from the garage and basement, not inside the home. no excavation.
We insisted the seller come down on the cost in the amount of the repairs and she came pretty close (within $3000 of it). We are aware that we are assuming a risk - that something unforseen may turn out to be very expensive. But we have done what we can to minimize the risk.

i think you can put in an offer with the contingency clause without fear. then you have time to do the structural inspection with a skilled engineer and worst case scenario you are out the money you spent on the inspection.

then, fully informed, you can be completely anxious about the next bit ;)

for us,
we feel that the low price of the home (we are paying 30%less than recent appraisal) and paying 40% less than most other homes in the neighborhood - is an offset for the risk

also, since it's a desirable neighborhood with good resale, we feel that we can invest some $ and not price ourselves out of resale value

also, the estimates for the repairs came back suprisingly low. our lowest estimate was $12K, but we have better references for the $16K contractors, so we're going with them.

i am wondering how much more cracking and shifting will happen when the beams are put in, since the house may be slowly readjusted, but we know that it may happen. we may also have to live with a small amount of sagging - the house most likely cannot be returned to itÂs original alignment, but the cracking in walls will be arrested.

HTH - sorry for the wordiness, IÂm just house-obsessed right now. we should close at the end of the month, and the structural work will start immediately - so I can report back when itÂs done and let you know what the rest of the experience has been like :)

Good luck with your decision!

    Bookmark   March 17, 2010 at 10:16PM
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Have a structural engineer look at this. At only 13 years the house should not have these defects. Could be the soil shifting (sandy), could be poor contruction, poor materials, talk to the building dept if permits were given and what the inspectors found. As DH found out sometimes the inspector would pass a job, then the contractor would come back and take out the good stuff and put in bad stuff. Yes it does happen!!! If you feel that uneasy, look for another house and another realtor.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2010 at 11:44AM
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"The P.E. report essentially said what the HI report said; the only difference? The P.E. recommended "monitoring".That is what the homeowner got for an additional $500.00 in P.E. services."

Likely means the crack is not significant, at least at this point.

Bad cracks are often easily identified (non-uniform, shifted surfaces, wide enough to compromise strength, etc.).

It is the ones that are more than a mortar shrinkage crack, but not really major (when checked) that are always a problem.

No one wants to say anything is perfectly fine, since the liability would be huge.

'No action, monitor' is a decent recommendation that can be defended. If the crack continues to grow it may change from the 'not significant' to 'problem.'

It can depend on things that are not cost effective to inspect or test based on the evidence available at the time.

I remember one brick wall that had a bunch of mortar cracking in a contiguous area.
It turned out to be from a batch of mortar that had excessive water added during mixing.
It was not in a corner, but ran for a couple rows of bricks about half way across the wall.
One batch of mortar.

There was nothing immediate to do, just monitor.
The ground in the area was stable, so little shifting occurred that could alter the loads on the area.

The whole area was finally torn out when a new addition was made to the house. The comment from the builder was that it was no easier to tear out that area then the rest of the wall.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2010 at 11:53AM
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Monitoring is not something that most want to buy in to having to do...unless the hosue is such a great deal that it is worth it...

It could mean its a non-issue...but then again...maybe not...which is WHY monitoring is recommended.

You then get to spend the rest of your time in the house waiting for the shoe will drop, and how much it will cost if it does.

Maybe it won't...but who wants to deal with the unknown aggravation and expense if it does?

With so many homes on the market, IMO, one would need a compelling reason to accept such a flaw.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2010 at 1:14PM
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