Sage Advice When Buying a Home
Never Use A Home Inspector Recommended By Your Realtor. Both the buying realtor and the selling realtor have one interest in common - to see the transaction completed. To that end they will almost always recommend a home inspector who is careful not to place an emphasis on any serious concerns and who will fudge over essentially serious structural problems. For instance I have seen in a report where a basement wall was failing the following comment - “the failure of this wall is not a problem at the present time.” Indeed the failure of the wall did not become a problem until it fell to the ground a few weeks later.
Never Believe A Realtor Who Say Is That The Settlement Has Finished because it is an old home and it has done all the settlement it is going to do. The typical settlement resulting from the compressibility of foundation soil never ends. The rate of settlement will diminish with time so that the house will be settling at a lesser rate than in its early life. However, settlement problems will continue to occur. If it is an old house and it has never been piered then you must assume that you will be dealing with the same cracking problems that the previous occupants have endured for a number of years.
When Looking At A House Always Carry A 4 Foot Bubble Level With You. See if all the floors are level and the walls vertical. If any floors are walls are out of level or off vertical then it will be wise to have the house checked by a structural engineer.
Never Buy A House Which Has Recently Been Redecorated without written disclosures that there was no cracking in the walls which was covered up.
Do Not Ask The Seller To Fix The Problems before the purchase or closing if your home inspector finds problems with the home. The seller often chooses the cheapest option. THIS CAN BE CASTASTROPHIC FOR A BUYER when there is a foundation settlement concern. What happens is that the seller will contact different foundation repair companies for games. One company may claim that the problem can be fixed with six piers costing $6,000. Another may claim 12 piers are necessary costing $12,000. Obviously, the buyer will be tempted to go the cheapest route. The seller gets the piering company's warranty but doesn't realize that this warranty does not warranty that the piers will cure the settlement problem, but only that the individual piers themselves will not settle. That there may not be enough piers installed is not clear to the buyer. Because the home inspectors report is not usually specific about the exact extent of the settlement concern and because the home inspector will not know how much the entire house may have settled anyway, it is very often the case that more piering work becomes necessary later AT GREAT EXPENSE TO THE HOME BUYER. My basic advice to a home buyer is to not purchase a home which has had any partial piering done to it without budgeting to pier the rest of the house, and not to buy a house which has been piered without ensuring that the warranty for the piering work is transferable to a new owner.
Piering Warranties - Homeowners are often concerned that some foundation piering companies will only give a 15 or 20 year warranty while other companies will offer a lifetime warranty. This gives me little cause for concern. I have found that the companies offering lifetime warranties are usually the less reputable companies. If the installed piers are inadequate in some way then the problem will almost always reveal itself within a few years.
Be Wary Of Cracks In The Structure - It is not normal for an old home to have cracks. If cracks have occurred then something caused them. About the only cracks which are relatively innocuous are hairline shrinkage cracks in basement walls like the old crack shown in the photograph.
In a new home some of these cracks may widen into settlement cracks – there is always a risk in buying a new home.
Be Suspicious Of Any Structural Repair Work which has been done. Gets the name of the engineer who designed the repairs and a copy of any details or calculations provided. Ask for the warranty on the work to be transferable. If no information or warranties is forthcoming then have the work reviewed by a structural engineer who can also check out the rest of the house at the same time.
Do Not Buy A House With A Walkout Basement if the rear lower-level basement wall leans toward the rear. The house may have a floor diaphragm strength failure. I have seen a few cases where the front basement wall has been leaning in, and has been braced after review by an engineer. The engineer however overlooked the lateral stability of the entire structure and the movement continued.