Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What's With All The Foundation Stuff?

That's a question I have gotten several times recently.

People have picked up on the fact that on all of the houses I've reviewed so far I feel that they need new foundations.

They say things like, 'well, it lasted through the 1906 earthquake and the Loma Prieta quake and the house stood just fine!! So why should I spend $100,000+ on redoing the foundation when that much money will get me a super fab kitchen!'

Here's the simple fact that they seem to miss.

In '06 the foundations where brand new!!

There hadn't been a hundred years of water infiltration to turn the mortar into sand or ground movement or freeze-thaw cycles to turn the bricks into dust. Loma Preita was 20 yrs ago-given the right conditions you can turn a lot of mortar back into sand in 20yrs.

Case in point: Our current house. Still standing, but large parts of the foundation had settled unevenly and in large parts of the foundation the mortar had turned back into sand and you could pull the bricks out!! Even in the interior the mortar was failing! The sole plate around the entire perimeter was seriously dry rotted- So badly that we were shocked the house was still standing.

A new foundation is a lot of money and there is a lot of hand-wringing that goes on about whether or not to spend the money on something no one will ever see and most moronic home-buyers don't even care about.

I'm going to make it easy for you.

Consider this scenario;

You buy that big, tall, skinny Victorian that you've always wanted for your new family. It needs a little work but you figure you can swing the new kitchen and bath redo's and the new painting...then you're told that the foundation is looking iffy and you are shocked at the price to redo it correctly...as much as all the cosmetic stuff you had originally planned to do. You wring your hands and say, 'well, it survived the two biggest shakers in California history so I'm just going to leave it alone.' Then in five years when you've got a couple kids running around the unthinkable happens...there is a big shaker on a Saturday morning when every one's home and the house jumps off its foundation and skews horribly to one side-trapping your children inside seriously injuring or even killing them.

Think about that for just one second.

How much would you pay to save your child? What would you pay to go back in time and redo the foundation correctly with earthquake retrofitting? All the money in the world is what any parent would pay.

How would you live with yourself knowing that you essentially chose this fate for your family because you didn't want to spend the money to do it right?

That, in a not-so-small nutshell is why I would never buy a big fancy house sitting on feet of clay, unless it was cheap enough for us to be able to redo the foundation asap.

That is why I get so annoyed with people who can't imagine their crumbling brick foundation is worth a discount on the purchase price.

Don't buy an old house with a crumbling brick foundation unless you can afford to replace it shortly after close! Or force the seller to credit you back enough to have the foundation redone. Don't risk it, its not worth it.

Okay I'm off my soapbox for now.


Gene said...

There's also the consideration that both the 1906 and Loma Prieta were on the San Andreas Fault. We haven't had a big one on the Hayward Fault in recent history.

The MadScientist said...

Yep Gene,
Back when I worked at the University I used to chat up the geology teachers. In a small nutshell the longer an active fault goes without a stress releiving shaker the more likely that there will be a BIG one to release the stress....we haven't even had several moderate shakers recently.