How to Evaluate a Home with Structural Damage

home with structural damage

You may have seen the guerilla marketing signs as you drive around your town: “We buy houses, any condition, any issue, fast closing.” Every city has investor groups that go out and buy anything and everything, no matter what. The question, of course, is, “What do they pay?”

It’s safe to assume they don’t pay much! These buyers are looking for bargains. Real bargains. They are after the “don’t wanter” seller. The person who just wants to unload a problem.

As with all of the problems people experience in life, there is money to be made by being the person who is willing and able to deal with and solve them. Profit is usually the motive behind purchasing a house in rough condition.

As a potential buyer yourself, you’ve probably considered this. Should you be looking at houses with major issues? Structural issues? Can you handle that kind of heat?

Let’s dig a little deeper into the concept of buying houses with structural concerns.

What Are Structural Issues?

As the word implies, “structural” refers to anything connected to the structure (or bones) of the house. So this is the stuff that ultimately holds the roof up (or down in the event of a hurricane or tornado). Structural is the stuff you can’t really actually touch most of the time. You can touch paint, for example, but you can’t touch the concrete under the paint. Paint isn’t structural. Concrete usually is.

The most common structural issues in residential homes include problems with the foundation, bearing walls, beams, floor framing and roof framing.

Is the purchase price discounted significantly enough to justify making someone else’s problem your problem? Because when you purchase a home with structural problems, that’s exactly what you’re doing.

Foundation Issues

The foundation of a house is everything below the ground-floor walls. If a house has a basement, then the foundation would include the basement walls. The foundation is obviously very important because the whole house rests on it, and if it moves, the house moves. Houses generally are not supposed to move.

Foundations are usually made up mostly of concrete and steel: concrete footings, masonry foundation walls, concrete slabs, etc. But many older homes and even some new homes also have some wood incorporated into the foundation. These houses are generally raised up above the ground with crawl spaces under the houses.

The most common foundation issue is settlement. The ground has moved under and around the foundation and caused some damage. Maybe the slab is cracked, maybe the floor is no longer level (like my own historic home), maybe there is a void such as a sinkhole or some organic matter underneath the foundation, which undermines it or threatens to do so in the future.

Foundation problems can be massive, such as a sinkhole. Or they can be minor, such as a single support column that has dropped a little underneath a house that rests atop 50 more such columns solidly set in place. Knowing the difference is key when considering a house with foundation issues.

Bearing Wall Issues

Moving up from the foundation, the next major structural component of most houses is bearing walls. Not all walls are “structural.” Many interior walls in modern homes aren’t that important at all and can be freely removed. But you better know which is which!

Problems with bearing walls usually come in the form of some sort of damage to the original structure. This could be termites, rot or some modification that was done improperly. One way or another, what was originally a perfectly fine wall has become compromised and has to be fixed.

Can it be fixed quickly and easily, without major surgery? Or does the repair mean that the roof has to come off or the slab below is going to need repair too? If it’s rot or bugs, is the issue contained to a small area or is the whole house in trouble? Once again, knowing these answers is essential.

Beam Issues

Beams are notorious for causing structural problems. Nine times out of ten, the problem began when somebody took a wall out and installed an inadequate beam, or a beam without enough support posts underneath it.

Beams with problems are often easy to see. They sag and make you wonder why they didn’t collapse awhile ago. A good beam is level and solid. It doesn’t vibrate when someone walks upstairs. The plaster or drywall around it isn’t cracked.

Beam issues are often among the easier structural problems to fix, thankfully.

Floor Framing Issues and Roof Framing Issues

Similar to walls, floor and roof framing can be damaged by insects and water. Roof trusses rot through; floor joists weaken and break.

The real trick is identifying the source of these problems. Recently, I participated in a project that involved a thirty year old home and its visibly sagging roof. The sag could have been caused by anything from the roof to the foundation. It could be a symptom of a very contained local problem — or the first visible sign of something much more serious.

For the fortunate owners of that home, the problem wasn’t actually a problem at all, but a quirky construction flaw. The framing was simply a little “off” and easy enough to fix.

Should You Buy a House With Structural Problems?

Of course, that is a question only you can answer. And remember: Information is power. Do you know the extent of the problem and the cost to repair it? Will the repair significantly change your timeline? (Time is money, after all.) When you’re ready to sell your home down the road, will you be able to demonstrate that the repair was done correctly and according to building codes?

And finally, of course, is the question every one of those investors we first mentioned is looking at the hardest: Is the purchase price discounted significantly enough to justify making someone else’s problem your problem? Because when you purchase a home with structural problems, that’s exactly what you’re doing.