Telltale Symptom:  Wavy or Uneven Floors

How do prospective home Buyers (and their agents) know that a home has pronounced settling without setting foot in the home? (note: foundation settling is usually benign ” up to a point ” and typically results in wavy or uneven floors).

A. The settling shows up in the (online) MLS photos;
B. The house is priced $50k (or $100k) too low;
C. There is an engineering report attached to the MLS listing;
D. The Seller tells you.

Correct answer:  “B.”, “C.”, or “D.”

Perhaps most surprising is “A.” ” uneven floors are usually not apparent in photos.

Floor jack in basement to arrest settling.

Meanwhile, “C.” and “D.” are essentially the same thing, whether or not the Seller explicitly discloses the wavy floors in the MLS “remarks” section.

Of course, in my experience, the vast majority of home sellers with settling issues don’t disclose that fact; the feeling is that it’s a plainly obvious condition that Buyers can see ” and judge ” for themselves.

I happen to agree with that approach, unless either: a) the settling is unusually pronounced; and/or b) there’s evidence that the problem is active rather than historic ” see next.

Dealbreaker? It Depends

The good news for prospective Buyers is that home settling is almost always historic; inspectors I’ve worked with say that it’s common for foundations to settle the first couple years after construction, then to stabilize thereafter.

The upshot?

That 1915 Craftsman with rolling living room floors has probably been that way a long time.

That still doesn’t mean home sellers are home-free (sorry).

If the home is located near a body of water and/or in a part of town known for swampy or especially soft soil, the risk that the problem is active increases (a good inspector will know what to look for).

Combating that Queasy Feeling

But even if the settling is unequivocally historic, it may be a deal breaker for at least some Buyers.

Sort of like plane noise, I’ve seen some Buyers have literally zero tolerance for the issue, while others are seemingly oblivious.

In general, though, once the uneven floors trip “3” on a scale of 1-10, it can scotch the sale (never mind the homes where you feel like you’re on a pitching boat).

P.S.: while there are ways to arrest settling ” jacks under basement beams are one approach, however dubious ” I’m not aware of any ways to reverse settling, at least that are cost-effective.

See also, “House Problems That Will Never Be Fixed.”

About the author

Ross Kaplan has 19+ years experience selling real estate all over the Twin Cities. He is also a 12-time consecutive "Super Real Estate Agent," as determined by Mpls. - St. Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business Magazine. Prior to becoming a Realtor, Ross was an attorney (corporate law), CPA, and entrepreneur. He holds an economics degree from Stanford.

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