East Austin – You wouldn’t build a home without first putting down a solid foundation would you? It’s a phrase people bandy about with reckless abandon to illustrate their points about putting the groundwork in first. And in East Austin Realtor circles, and those who know University Hills in particular, you’ll often here the question asked – has it had any foundation work done?
Just as the three little piggies learned their lesson about building material choice through multiple iterations of house manufacture, so the builders of the latter part of the 20th Century learned about the best way to prepare and pour a slab foundation. In University Hills, the two major builders were Bill Milburn and Walter Carrington, and through the 1960s and 1970s, they built large ranch-style houses amid the hills of 78723.
The challenge homeowners in the area have is that the homes were often built on absorbent clay soils, which swell when wet and contract in the dry summers of Austin. As they do so, the slabs that rest upon them rise and fall, often at different levels in different parts of the house, leading to an unlevel foundation. Which means that foundation leveling companies like Centex and LevelBest earn a living shoring up the foundations, returning the floor to level, and hopefully preventing any future deviations.
So what do you need to know when considering buying a home in University Hills? Has the foundation been levelled? It’s a subject of debate as to whether a foundation that hasn’t moved in 50 years is better than one that has and has been repaired. I advocate that there’s only real value in a foundation repair from a reputable company which offers a lifetime warranty. If there has been repair there are follow up questions – where is the engineer’s report to validate the work?, and is there a transferable lifetime warranty? Digging down further, the engineer may have recommendations about drainage, grading and gutters, so you need to ask if these have been followed.
A buyer’s inspector should check for signs of foundation movement, and recommend inspection by a levelling company as further due diligence if necessary. These companies typically measure vertical deflection at different points in the home and express a judgment if any deflection is out of typical acceptable tolerance. If you are buying with an FHA loan, then the FHA appraiser will have an acceptable tolerance, and may ask for further investigation from a structural engineer which might cost $400+ for a report.
So the upshot is: if you’re buying in the area, make sure you do your due diligence. If you’re selling in the area, get this checked out before you get on the market.
Garreth Wilcock used to live in University Hills, where he learned the hard way about choosing a foundation repair company that will still be in business when it’s time to sell your house. He helps people buy and sell homes there. 512 215 4785.