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Open Houses: Spotting Foundation Problems 

Open Houses can be both exhilarating and intimidating. We'll break down what foundation problem signs to look for.  

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chimney separating from brick home

Open houses are a time when most buyers envision paint colors and future home renovations (thanks a lot HGTV). However, savvy buyers keep an eye out for a few easy-to-spot, foundation problem red flags. This simple step could save you a lot of stress down the road.  

Foundation Red Flags When Buying a House  

Regardless of whether you’re looking for your dream home or just a home you can afford, the home buying process can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to make a mistake that has a big impact down the road.   

A home’s foundation is the base the rest of the home is built on, so it’s important the home you love also has a strong foundation.   

Finding the perfect house takes research and dedication. Open houses provide a great opportunity to ask questions of the real estate agent. Although you can ask, you won’t always get the answers. Sometimes they simply don’t know or don’t want to reveal the answer. So, it’s always best to keep an eye out yourself for foundation problems. Below is an overview of what to look for; we’ll discuss each in more detail.  

Foundation Problem Signs  

  • Wall Cracks  
  • Bowing Or Leaning Basement Walls  
  • Basement Floor Cracks  
  • Leaning Or Tilting Chimney  
  • Cracked Exterior Brickwork  
  • Floor & Wall Gaps  
  • Uneven Floors  
  • Stuck Doors & Windows  

Foundation Issues to Look for When at An Open House  

Homes across the US have varying reasons for foundation problems, but unfortunately, almost all areas have problems. During an open house, keep an eye out for these foundation issue problem signs.  

  • Wall Cracks – Small or large cracks in the drywall or plaster upstairs are red flags of foundation settlement. When the soil beneath your home isn’t stable enough to hold the weight, the home begins to sink, usually unevenly. This causes cracks in the drywall and plaster. These cracks are easily visible in the upper corners of a room or around door frames or window frames. 
  • Bowing or Leaning Basement Walls – The basement wall, regardless of it being cinder block or poured concrete, will eventually bow inward toward the middle of the room if there is enough outside pressure pushing upon it. Typically, but not always, this bowing is accompanied by cracks. The cracks can be stair-stepped, horizontal (most common), or vertical. Although a level may not be available during an open house, any bowing visible to the naked eye is a real problem.
  • Basement Floor Cracks – Basement floor cracks could be an indication of foundation settlement. Similar to wall cracks, when your home sinks unevenly, cracks are likely to develop. Although a floor crack may seem easy to repair, therefore no big deal, be careful not to bandage the problem without addressing the root cause. 
  • Leaning or Tilting Chimney – A leaning or tilting chimney is another sign of foundation settlement. A chimney can weigh thousands of pounds. If your foundation isn’t stable or the soil beneath your home isn’t stable, your chimney will start to lean and crack. In addition to visually seeing it lean, also look for gaps between the chimney and the home as well as any cracks where the foundation meets the chimney.
  • Cracked Exterior Brickwork – In addition to looking for cracks inside, be sure to go outside and look for cracks in the exterior foundation brickwork. Cracks can be big or small, across the entire wall or isolated in the corner. Regardless of location, exterior brickwork cracks should be seen by a foundation specialist.  
  • Floor & Wall Gaps – A gap between the home’s baseboard and the floor or the wall may be a bit more difficult to notice at an open house since homes are usually staged with well-placed stylish furniture. This gap is a sign of foundation settlement that needs to be addressed by a professional.  
  • Uneven Floors – Uneven floors are often easier to spot than floor gaps. It may feel like the floors are spongy, or you’re walking downhill towards the middle of the room. There are typically three reasons for uneven floors, poor support, home settlement, and waterproofing problems. All these issues need to be addressed before additional costs are incurred by secondary problems, like cracked flooring.  
  • Stuck Doors & Windows – Although sticking doors and windows may not seem like a big deal in the scope of it all, but it’s actually a sign of foundation settlement. Look for doors and windows that stick, swing open after being pushed shut, or have gaps at the top or the bottom. This is a clear sign that the soil the home is built on can no longer support the home’s weight. 

Foundation Damage Isn’t a Deal Breaker  

The good news is most foundation problems can be resolved fairly quickly. Still, it’s important to ask the real estate agent about any foundation reports or if repairs have been performed. If you are serious about the purchase, don’t let foundation issues cause you to walk away. Scheduling your own inspection with a certified and knowledgeable inspector is best to make sure you can ask and get answers to make you feel comfortable with the purchase. 

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