Buying a home with fix-up potential can save you money, but it can also cost you a fortune if the wrong things are wrong with it. Look past the new paint job and sparkling appliances and instead, inspect the structure of your possible new home. A solid, good quality foundation with an old kitchen or a bathroom that desperately needs updating will usually be a much better buy, and will save you a significant amount of money in the long run.
At the same time, minor foundation problems often scare other would-be homebuyers away, so you can often get a great deal on a home by using others’ fears to your advantage. Depending on the problem, it could cost you $200, or $20,000 to repair, so if you’re looking to buy a fixer-upper, make sure to do all of your homework beforehand.
But how do you know when a foundation problem is minor enough to repair inexpensively, and when it’s going to break the bank? I always suggest asking a foundation expert, but there are a few things you can do yourself before you shell out the money to hire that expert.
- Look at the neighborhood. When you buy a home, you’re also buying a neighborhood. Is the neighborhood continuing to grow and develop? Or do foreclosures and deterioration indicate signs of decline? Even if you have to spend a little more in your foundation repairs, if the neighborhood is “up and coming” rather than “down and going”, your home will naturally increase in value as those around it do, too.
- Inspect Exterior Cracks. Look for cracks on the exterior of your potential new home to get an idea of the foundation’s condition. Cracks aren’t always a red flag, but will often scare other homebuyers away, allowing you to negotiate a better price. If the exterior cracks are minor (the width is less than that of your fingernail) and follow grout patterns, it’s unlikely that that part of the house is encountering serious foundation problems. If the exterior cracks are wider than your fingernail, or if they go through the middle of bricks instead of just the grout lines, you may have a more serious issue on your hands, and should consider calling a foundation expert.
- Open and Close all Doors and Windows. If a window is especially difficult to open, or doors won’t stay shut, it could be because of a serious foundation shift, which could be a very costly repair. But before you cross that home off the list, check to make sure that the windows aren’t sticking simply because of a recent paint job.
- Look for Water Damage. Water should drain away from a home, not toward or into it. Moisture or water stains in the basement could be indicators of a drainage issue, which could result in a very costly repair. If you do see water stains, ask the seller about it; it’s possible that they’ve already completed the repair themselves, and should have the documentation to prove it.
- Inspect Interior Cracks. Many homebuyers will immediately reject a home if it has interior wall cracks, but these are often easily and inexpensively repaired. Pay attention to the shape and direction of the crack; a vertical crack generally follows the drywall lines, and is a pretty simple repair. A horizontal crack could be caused by a wall that’s bowing due to exterior soil pressure; while this is a little bit more expensive to repair, it’s still an easy fix if the finances of the house make sense and the wall isn’t too badly bowed. Generally speaking, a wall with a 2” deflection or less can be reinforced in a few hours, for around $1,000 or less. If you notice that a wall in your potential home is bowed, measure the deflection by holding a string with a weight tied to the opposite end against the wall; if the weight falls in front of the wall, instead of right alongside it, simply measure the distance from the weight to the wall to determine the deflection. If your wall has a deflection that’s greater than 2 inches, you might want to call a contractor before making any decisions, because that repair will likely be more expensive. Cracks that are leaking water can scare other homebuyers away, but are actually repaired pretty easily.
Want more information about the repair methods mentioned in this blog? Email me today at STRsupport@hj3.com.