This blog is a cautionary tale on foundation repair estimates. Before you spend thousands of dollars on possibly unnecessary work, please read the true story I have outlined below.
On a recent listing of mine in North Austin, the buyer’s inspection report stated there could be foundation movement. The exact words from the report stated “The foundation shows signs of structural movement in the front living room area. Recommend further evaluation by a qualified foundation specialist.” Now some inexperienced buyer’s agents may tell their clients to run for the hills with this rather vague and common statement. We have clay soils in Texas and some foundation movement can be expected in almost any home. Some movement does not equal an unstable foundation. It’s when the movement is beyond acceptable ranges (typically defined as greater than 2 inches difference in elevation) that there is cause for concern.
Since I have represented multiple clients in both purchasing and selling homes with foundation issues in Central Texas, I knew just how to best advise my client and that was to get a structural engineer’s report. I have witnessed many buyer’s and seller’s agents relying on the subjective advice of a foundation repair company when foundation issues arise. It is a clear conflict of interest to hire a foundation company to evaluate your foundation when that company financially benefits from the home needing work.
I’ve learned in my 14 years of experience to always recommend a structural engineer (professionally licensed by the state of Texas) to impartially evaluate a foundation. Sellers sometimes don’t like this option as an engineer’s report is not free and typically runs $500 to $600. However I always strongly recommend it as it’s the only way to get a truly accurate evaluation since the engineer gains nothing if work is needed. Their report also includes measurements of each room which is a good basis for evaluating future movement. If I have suspicions that a house may need work or it’s located in a movement prone area, I recommend my sellers get the report before listing the home. A clean report settles any future disputes and can immediately save my clients thousands. They are never unhappy to have paid $550 when they learn the house is within the acceptable ranges and no repair work is recommended.
Anyway back to my story. I convinced my seller to pay $600 for a licensed P.E. (Professional Engineer). Not surprisingly the report came back positively (which happens the majority of the time). The exact verbiage on the report stated “The observed cracks in the foundation appeared to be typical shrinkage cracks common with concrete construction. The cracks in the foundation were generally cosmetic in nature and do not impair the performance of the foundation.” Further the report did not recommend any repair work stating “At the present time…the foundation of the building is structurally functional and remedial foundation repair work is not warranted. Although there was some distress and floor unlevelness, the observed distress was generally cosmetic and did not appear to have affected the structural integrity of the building.”
Hooray! My client was so thankful we had this report and could now gain the upper hand in negotiations. However, we had already made an appt. with a foundation repair company before the structural engineer came just in case work was needed. I told my client to let them come anyway as I was curious to see if their findings would be the same as the impartial engineer. Guess what? They were not.
The foundation company (which I won’t bash publicly but will provide you with the name if you email me at Tammy@HomeSalesAustinTexas.com) came in and said the property needed $7,000 worth of work. In fact they called me after their visit about making an appt. to start repairs. I told them the results of the clear engineer’s report as well as the measurements which all came in under 2 inches in elevation variance and they sheepishly ended our call.
My experience completely validated my suspicions about trusting foundation companies to evaluate if your home needs repair or not. I’m not saying every company is dishonest and I’m sure some will tell you if the home doesn’t need work, but if you are ever in negotiations during a home sale regarding foundation repair, your first step should be to get an impartial engineer’s report. Yes you’ll have to pay for it, but doing so saved my client $7,000 in unnecessary repairs. Guess how much we gave the buyer for foundation work? Nothing!
Not all Realtors know how to best guide you through a foundation issue. I’ve got contacts with structural engineers and know how to effectively negotiate on your behalf. I don’t just roll over and agree to thousands of dollars when an inspection report states there “could” be an issue. My goal is always to save my clients as much money as possible during the repair negotiations. It’s a shame that some sellers pay for very expensive repairs that are not necessary. Don’t be one of them!