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Signs of Structural Home Problems to Watch Out for As a Homebuyer

Published January 11, 2017

As a homebuyer, structural damage presents an insidious problem that can destroy the value of your home.

When you decide to buy a home, you must watch out for the signs of structural damage. Structural damage is a major problem that can result in costly repairs. In severe cases, the home may be rendered unlivable. This type of damage may not be readily apparent, which is why you need the assistance of an experienced home inspector to identify such problems.

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Identifying major defects in your home before you decide to make a purchase can help you to avoid a financial disaster. Structural defects may not always be readily obvious and might require the assistance of a home inspector to uncover.

Although certain areas require that the homeowner disclose structural problems with a property, this may not occur in every case. Instead of having to rely on others to make a determination about the soundness of the home’s structure, you should take matters into your own hands and do a thorough review of any home that you are planning to purchase.

Here are some tips for identifying the signs of structural damage to a home.

Stand Across the Street

It can be difficult to notice when there are major defects in the structure of a home by looking at it up close. Start by standing across the street to see if you notice anything. You may discover that the home is tilted at an angle or that there is sagging.

You can also look at the roofline of the home to compare it to other homes nearby. If the roofline is tilted or sagging, this is a sign that there is a problem.

If you notice anything that doesn’t look quite right, that is an obvious indication that there are problems with the structure of the home. These problems may have resulted from damage, poor construction or as a result of the home settling. It is then up to you to get a home inspector involved to determine the origin of the structural damage.

Look for Cracks

Cracks are the most obvious signs that there are major problems with a home. Cracks typically appeal in walls and can extend from the floor to ceiling in major cases. Cracks that appear near the upper portions of walls near doors and windows are signs that a serious structural problem is afoot.

"You can’t beat visual inspection for discovering indicators of bigger problems," says Professor Jerome Connor, a structural engineering specialist in MIT's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. "If you see large cracks in the walls, you know the building’s frame has experienced some significant motion and the structural plane has a problem."

If you do not see a crack, look for the evidence. Cracks may be in hard to reach or hidden places. However, the symptoms of a crack usually include pools of water or moisture and bugs. Bugs can enter the home via cracks and are often drawn to wet areas. Cracked tile is also a sign that there may be a more significant problem with the home.

Look for Uneven Floors

Floors that appear to be uneven or are sagging may be a sign that there are problems with the foundation of the home. Doors and windows that begin to stick on the floor are a sign that the floors are not even. This could also indicate that there is too much pressure on the frame of the house.

“You can’t exactly tear up the flooring during an inspection before you buy a home. I had to hope the uneven floors was due to a minor problem that could not be seen and take a chance,” says Mark Ferguson of Invest Four More.

In some cases, uneven floors may be the result of a mistake by a flooring contractor. Uneven floors don’t always indicate that there is a severe structural problem. This is why it is so important to have an expert review your home in addition to your own investigations.

Watch Out for Large Tree Roots

Tree roots can cause significant damage to a home as the roots can grow under the home’s foundation. Large roots can put pressure on pipes and the foundation of the home. Tree roots are naturally attracted to pipes as a source of water. The tree roots may also take on moisture, which can cause the soil underneath the home to shift. If there are large trees near the home, this is a good place to start with regard to investigating signs of structural problems.

As a general rule trees should be planted so that they are some distance away from the structure of the home. However, in older homes where the trees have matured, structural damage due to tree roots is common and is something that you should watch out for.

Call a Home Inspector

If you suspect that there are serious structural problems with a home, you should call a home inspector right away. The home inspector may advise you to turn off the utilities after inspecting the home to prevent further damage. A home inspector can also help you obtain estimates regarding the repairs on the home so that you can get the damaged fixed.

If you are not interested in fixing a home with structural damage, detecting such problems early on before you buy can prevent you from making a mistake.