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Foundation Settling for Real Estate Professionals

foundation settling kansas city

Hello and welcome to the Kansas City Real Estate Industry Leaders podcast. I’m your host, John Linquist. And with me today, I have Eric Lancaster. And today we’re going to be talking about foundation settling and homes specifically from the point of view of a real estate agent. So just to sort of kick things off, what is foundation settling? Just when you’re looking at a home, what are signs of foundation settling?

Foundation Settling

Erik Lancaster:

Yeah, so the foundation settling that we’re going to be talking about today would be a vertical settlement. So when it gets really dry outside, like we kind of had recently, homes are liable to start sinking because the clay recedes. So for today’s topic, that’s what we will be talking about.

John Lindquist:

All right. So when you are, say that you’re a seller’s agent, someone approaches you, they want to sell their home. You walk into the home for the first time, and you’re seeing those signs of foundation settling. How do you speak to the person that you are representing and let them know, “Hey, this is something that might need to be taken care of.”

Erik Lancaster:

Yeah. I mean, we all know, and the realtors know that it’s very important as a seller’s agent to have your client’s home prepared. Right?

John Lindquist:
Right.

Erik Lancaster:

You want to hit the market with a perfect product. I mean, that makes for the best, quickest, highest price sale. So when you’re talking to your clients about that, first of all, they probably already have an idea, if they’ve been in the house for a while, what’s kind of creaky, what’s kind of wonky, et cetera. So obviously, talking to them about that helps a lot.

Erik Lancaster:

But really the thing that you’re going to be seeing is cracks. That’s in the sheetrock, first of all, that’s going to be a big kicker for you. So you’re going to want to walk around with them, look at openings, look at doors and windows. How do they work? Are they sticky? Are they hard to close? Do they latch properly, et cetera? Do they have cracks coming off of the corners, et cetera?

Erik Lancaster:

If it’s a basement home and it’s unfinished, awesome. Because you’re really going to be able to see a lot there. You’re going to see cracks, et cetera. And if it’s a crawl space, just again, look for those cracks in windows and doors. And also how does the floor feel? Are you walking downhill when you go in an area? Does it feel like things are wonky there? So really talking to them about that, maybe they’re not aware.

John Lindquist:

Yeah, they’ve lived there and maybe they’re just used to it at that point. They don’t really think about it.

Erik Lancaster:

Exactly. Exactly. So you get a new person walking into that situation, maybe a lot easier for you as that seller’s agent to have to figure that out.

John Lindquist:

And so where do you sort of direct them from that point? Do you have like a list of structural consultants that you would speak to, or how do you approach that?

Erik Lancaster:

Yeah, there’s a couple of ways you could go about it. We have a lot of great relationships with a lot of realtors here locally in Kansas City. And so a lot of them will just reach out to me directly and I’ll come out and I’ll take a look at the house, figure out what’s going on there.

Erik Lancaster:

If it is something pretty significant something that really is obviously needing to be addressed, an engineer is always a great way to go, a structural engineer.

John Lindquist:

Right.

Erik Lancaster:

You can have your clients call them or a lot of realtors have those connections anyway. So they’re a great tool. Have them come out, take a look at the house. And when it’s a real estate transaction, having an engineer is always a great idea. And then we’re able to bid as KC Pier, though they work straight from the engineer’s report. So that can be very helpful. All things, again, that as a seller’s agent doing upfront is the best way to go, Just address that, and then it’s going to make for a better overall situation.

John Lindquist:

Right, so let’s say that we’ve talked to a structural engineer. Maybe we’ve had work done on the house. We’re ready to start listing. How do you disclose information about settlement or foundation settling issues?

Our DynaPier System

Erik Lancaster:

So obviously in the seller’s disclosure, that’s something that you’re going to want to bring up. The great thing about KC Pier is we warranty all of our work. And a lot of it, especially with foundation settling, with our DynaPier system, is a lifetime warranty. So you’re going to get all of our paperwork that you can include in the listing package. A lot of times realtors will upload our plans, the scope of work that we did, as well as our warranties in the MLS system, so that all the realtors can see it. And all the prospective buyers can see what’s been done. People love it when things have been addressed upfront.

John Lindquist:

And if there’s paperwork there to back it up and to refer to in the future.

Erik Lancaster:

Exactly. All the warranties transfer free of charge to owners. Our warranties actually have the address of the home on it. And we of course have all that in our system. So no matter who owns the house, we’re always going to know that we worked on that house and we’re always going to carry those warranties.

John Lindquist:

All right. So you mentioned the DynaPier system, which is what KC Pier uses. And when we’re looking at foundation settling issues, is that the only type of system that KC Pier offers for foundation settling?

Erik Lancaster:

We do, yeah. DynaPier system covers a variety of situations. It covers every foundation type, block, concrete, stone, basement, crawlspace, slab, it handles everything. So that’s the only system that we need to use.

John Lindquist:

Yeah. So what are some of the, maybe the specifications of the DynaPier? How much house can it actually hold? How many piers do you need on your home?

Erik Lancaster:

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Well, obviously our consultation, I will come out to your home and take elevation readings. And that’s how I’ll determine where to put the piers. The DynaPier system for most applications is spaced every six feet. Some applications, if the home is very large or it’s full brick or something of that nature, stone, you require a little bit tighter spacing on the DynaPier.

Erik Lancaster:

But really what the DynaPier system is in more technical terms is a steel tube. It’s two and seven-eighths inches in diameter. And it’s precast with high-density concrete, 9,000 PSI concrete. And those basically stack on top of one another. They can actually hold over 75 tons per segment. So that’s a lot. That’s going to hold most any structure we’re going to need to. Basically it’s, like I said, male and female ends, they stack on top of one another, the segments are 15, 18 inches long. And then they vary.

Erik Lancaster:

One of the best parts about the DynaPier system is that it’s concentrically located, which means it is directly underneath the footing, which is what the walls are built on, which is what holds all the weight. Some systems, and I won’t get into details, but they clamp on, or they require you to drill into the footing, et cetera. The DynaPier system, like I said, sits directly underneath of it and we don’t compromise your footing in any sort of way. We simply use a hydraulic ram in between the bottom of the footing and where the DynaPier starts to push those segments into the ground. Once that’s done, we can either lift or not lift, that’s up to the homeowner. And then we put the DynaPier head on there, and then that’s what the house rests on. So it ends up being a much stronger, better, longer-lasting foundation than when it was originally built.

John Lindquist:

So how far down do the segments actually get pushed?

Erik Lancaster:

So on that hydraulic ram, we have a pressure gauge. Once we push each pier stack down, and we are receiving about eight to 10,000 PSI of resistance on that gauge, then we know we’ve hit bedrock or we’ve hit a load bearing strata, a layer of rock that is able to support a structure. We have maps that tell us different depths. And it varies all around Kansas City, but doesn’t matter how deep it goes, we’ll push until we get there.

John Lindquist:

Okay. And before you mentioned that the segments are filled with pressure. What was that pressure? What concrete?

Erik Lancaster:

High density concrete. Yeah.

John Lindquist:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). So what is the purpose of that? What does that do?

Erik Lancaster:

So it makes the DynaPier stronger. If you just have a hollow steel tube going down, it has a tendency to push out, kick one way or the other, squeeze, compress under all that pressure. But having that high-density concrete in there is really the strength of the whole pier system.

Speaker 1:

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John Lindquist:

So say that you’ve been called out for a structural evaluation. What does that look like from the perspective of the person who calls you out? What exactly are you going around and doing?

Erik Lancaster:

Yeah, so it’s going to be a full evaluation of the home. I’m going to measure the whole thing up, draw a plan up, and then I’m going to take elevation readings. That’s how we figure out what’s going on. That can be done in a couple of different ways. We of course have a laser level. That’s one of the easiest ways. I really like the laser level, because as I’m going around taking elevation readings, the homeowner can visually see the laser and they can see me taking readings. So right along with me, they’re seeing what’s happening to their home. It’s very neat.

Erik Lancaster:

So in other words, if we’re seeing things like we’ve talked about, doors not shutting properly, diagonal cracks, et cetera, I feel like we’re walking downhill, you can literally see, “Hey, the house is two inches low or here or three inches low over here.”

Erik Lancaster:

And by the end of that consultation, I will have written down all these elevations. So we’ll be able to look together at that and say, “Oh, okay, well obviously, this Northeast corner of the home is low.” And then we can come up with a pier plan from there.

Erik Lancaster:

Then actually after that, I will take that drawing and I’ll draw it up on a CAD program and I’ll write down all the elevations and I’ll put down all the pier placements. So when you get that final end product, you know exactly what area of your home it is and exactly where the piers are going to be.

John Lindquist:

So correct me if I’m wrong. But when you say that you’re talking about going through it and making readings, I believe I’ve seen this before, but you have the laser level shining a level laser throughout the home, and you’re going through and measuring the distance between the laser and the ceiling. And the variations that you are seeing are the variations in the rise and fall of settlement in the home.

Erik Lancaster:

Correct.

John Lindquist:

So when you are going through and measuring a home and you use the ceiling as your measuring point, what do you do in the case of a home where it has a vaulted ceiling, for example?

Erik Lancaster:

That’s a great question. We have another tool that we use, it’s called a zip level. A zip level is basically an altimeter, same thing like a plane would use to figure out where they are in the sky. That zip level, basically it has a little module on it and you can take that module and set it on the floor in the main level of the home. And it will take those readings wherever you place it. And it’ll let you know what’s different.

Erik Lancaster:

It’s very, very cool how it works. And it’s very accurate as well. Both that and the laser level will do the job. It’s just that the laser level is very visual. You can see that shining, you can see exactly what’s going on, but we have the ability to use both. And sometimes I will use both on the same job.

John Lindquist:

So just so that somebody who is seeing this for the first time knows what to expect. When you’re using the laser level, it’s sort of just like a little box that shoots a laser out of it. And you can attach it onto like a magnetic surface, like a door jam or something like that. But what does the zip level look like?

Erik Lancaster:

The zip level is about this big or so, and it has a main box that you set anywhere in the home, typically the middle, and then it’s actually corded. The cord has a liquid in it and yeah, it’s very crazy. And then it has, on the end of that cord, it’s a little box about this big. And so basically I unwind that whole thing, just like a fire hose. And then I’m walking around with this little box and setting it down on different surfaces.

John Lindquist:

So does that level, the elevation change in relation to that home box then?

Erik Lancaster:

Correct. You put the box there and you basically take a reading and then that’s your zero point. And then wherever you move that box to and from, it figures out how different it is from that little main spot you took the original reading in.

John Lindquist:

So taking these elevation readings, both with the laser level and with the zip level, I mean, it’s a scientific process. There’s some real foundational science that goes into that. It’s not just, “Oh, it looks like it’s too low here. We’ll just jack the house up right here or something.” It’s very, very much scientific.

Erik Lancaster:

Yeah. We’re not just going to walk in and be like, “Ah, it looks like that area over there is low. We better pier that up.”

John Lindquist:

Right.

Erik Lancaster:

It’s a whole process. You’re going to be involved as the homeowner in the whole process. You’re going to see my elevation readings. You’re going to get a CAD drawing with the elevation readings and the pier placements on it. It is a very scientific process.

John Lindquist:

And from customers of ours that I’ve talked to, they have relayed that experience to me of watching you go through their home and take all these readings. And the whole time you were explaining to them what’s happening. So you’re really getting that peace of mind. And you’re getting that background information as well. Fear itself is not knowing the answer, not knowing what you’re looking at. And as soon as you start getting that information, the fear starts melting away, which as a real estate agent is nice. But if you are representing a seller, it’s nice for them as well, and it’s going to make your job easier.

Erik Lancaster:

It absolutely is. You’re very right.

Buyer’s Agent Perspective

John Lindquist:

Okay. So maybe let’s take a pivot and look at things from the buyer’s agent perspective. Let’s say that you’ve got a couple that’s looking to buy their first home. They’ve never walked homes before and you’re walking through a house and they start to express some concerns about cracks and that sort of thing. So how do you alleviate concerns that aren’t warranted and how do you raise concerns that are?

Erik Lancaster:

I think, being a buyer’s agent, education on your part is extremely important because as a buyer’s agent, you’re going to be walking a ton more houses than a seller’s agent, right?

John Lindquist:

Right.

Erik Lancaster:

So being educated is great. So that being said, we do a lot of seminars and things for realtors, a lot and educational seminars on how to read cracks, et cetera. So that’s going to be very important. But as a buyer’s agent, again, walk through that house, you’re going to look for these cracks. A lot of times, whenever you’re in a home that’s for sale, things are going to be patched up. Right?

John Lindquist:

Right.

Erik Lancaster:

A new paint job, everything is going to look great. Right. And so it’s very important to really pay attention to the foundation in that case, because the foundation settling is not going to lie to you. You’re going to see these cracks. You’re going to be able to read that and how it’s affecting the house. Another thing that doesn’t lie to you is the floors. Right?

John Lindquist:

Right.

Erik Lancaster:

We kind of know when we’re walking downhill or uphill or whatever the case may be there. Also doors, most likely they’re going to have doors adjusted well, but definitely it’s important to be educated again, to know how to help your clients.

John Lindquist:

So you mentioned earlier about getting that education and at KC Pier, something that we provide is lunch and learns on the topic. So how does someone go about setting that up?

Erik Lancaster:

I usually reach out to a lot of our offices in the winter months. We’re generally a little bit slower and it’s a great time to go in and talk to all the real estate agents. However, you can directly reach out to us, KCpier.com, call our office, give me a ring and we can set that up. We’ll bring you Minsky’s pizza. That’s one of our favorites. We can bring you some pizza. And then of course we have our setup where we have a slideshow.

John Lindquist:

All right. So what sort of things would be covered during that session?

How to Read Cracks from Foundation Settling

Erik Lancaster:

Mainly it’s how to read cracks. We talk about vertical cracks versus horizontal cracks versus diagonal cracks. What do they mean? Each of them means something different. Today we’re talking about foundation settling, so that would be a diagonal crack. So we’re going to teach you how to read that, to which way it’s going. Typically the crack points downward to where the house is falling. Just little points like that that are really going to help a buyer’s agent be educated because a lot of times the cracks that are in the foundation are not an issue. So if you’re going in there and you’re knowing how to read this crack and that it’s actually not that big of a deal, you can give your buyers that confidence not to just run away from that house.

John Lindquist:

Okay. Well, I think that that’s all that I have for you. So if getting in contact with us is something that you want to do to maybe get that education that maybe you find yourself lacking, do not feel hesitant to get in contact with us on our website or simply over the phone. So I think that that’s going to do it for us. That’s going to do it for me.

Erik Lancaster:

All right.

John Lindquist:

So we’ll see you next time.

Erik Lancaster:

Thank you.

Speaker 1:
Thanks for joining us this week on the Kansas City Real Estate Industry Leader show on foundation settling. Please support all things local to Kansas City. And hey, be sure to subscribe and share our podcast on Facebook and LinkedIn. This has been a KC Property Guys production. KCpropertyguys.com.