Mis-Matched Foundation: Insuring Your Home
LESLIE: We’re going to take a call from Ron in Michigan who’s got some foundation issues.
Ron, how can we help?
RON: Well, I’ll tell you what. I’ve got a house that was built in 1930 and I’ve got a mix-and-match foundation.
TOM: It was a very good year. What kind of foundation do you have? Is it terracotta?
RON: No, what I have is brick.
TOM: Brick? OK.
RON: Poured cement walls, in some portions.
RON: Then I have fieldstone in other portions, that is cemented in.
TOM: Basically, whatever they had laying around your lot, they threw together for a foundation wall. (chuckles)
RON: I think we bought the poor farmer’s house. (Leslie chuckles) At any rate, we’re looking at lifting the foundation and doing a brand new basement and wondering if it’s even something that you’d recommend in a house that old or is it just time to sell and move.
TOM: Well, I mean what’s the benefit here of replacing the foundation? Is the foundation – I know that it’s kind of unusually put together but is it structurally unsound? Is it buckling? Is it crumbling? Is there some deterioration?
RON: Solid as a rock.
TOM: Then I wouldn’t touch it.
RON: Yeah, we’re just getting some hydrostatic pressure from the ground water every spring and …
TOM: Well, you can fix that. The way you fix that is not – does it come in when you have every rains?
RON: Not as much as it does just from the – we’re in solid clay.
TOM: OK, so you’re managing that. Well, certainly if you have a high water table that’s not – the water’s not associated with heavy rains, it’s really a movement of a water table, that’s an appropriate time to put in a sub-slab drain system where you dig out the foundation perimeter, put in drainage pipes and a pump and so on. And by the way, that’s the only time I would recommend that. If it’s just a leaky basement, you’d fix your grading and your drainage.
But you know what, Ron? The cost of that system is a lot less than the cost of a new foundation. And there’s no reason for you to replace that foundation if it’s structurally sound; even though it doesn’t look like a new foundation. There’s lots of old foundations. My house was built in 1886. It’s an all-brick foundation and it’s got lots of personality in places, just like you’re describing, but it’s not structurally unsound; it’s holding the house up fine, it’s done a great job. In my case it’s 1886; in your case it’s 1930. I’d leave it alone.
RON: So we should just tell the insurance agent that it’s fine the way it is; it just doesn’t look real pretty.
TOM: Wait, did they tell you that the foundation needed to be fixed?
RON: It’s in their personal opinion but we had a national company come out and do testing for termites and testing for molds and the house is green light, so …
LESLIE: Have you had a certified home inspector come and take a look at it?
TOM: Well, basically are they saying unless you replace/fix this foundation, we’re not going to insure your house?
RON: Yeah, it’s one of those things. They’re just claiming that this needs to be done or …
TOM: First of all, whoever looked at it, if that’s their opinion, they need to put it in writing. And unless they’re a licensed engineer, it has no validity. Unless they are trained as a structural expert, then they have no right to do that and it’s not defensible and they know it. They know it. OK? So you tell them if they’ve got an opinion, a professional opinion by a licensed professional that your foundation is unstable, then they need to document that. If not, they’re discriminating against you and they have to insure your house. OK, Ron?
RON: Well, I appreciate your time.
TOM: Don’t take it from them. That’s crazy. I love insurance companies that just look for reasons not to insure things. It’s like when you have a claim and they take forever to pay it. You know? They just …
LESLIE: But that’s there job to insure you, to help you, to back you up; not to make it hard for you.
TOM: Yeah, absolutely. They can’t just look at something and say, “Well, we don’t like the way that looks.” They’ve got to have some training and some expertise and it sounds like that foundation is doing just fine.
Ron, thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.