If your home develops a structural problem - or you discover an existing one - it can be a nightmare. As well as being dangerous, this type of damage can also drastically decrease your home’s price when it comes to sale - and could even make it more difficult to sell at all.

The most important thing, if you think there’s a structural problem in your home, is to move fast. Tackling an issue as early as possible will reduce costs and prevent it from getting worse.

Signs of Structural Problems

Welding defects in structural steel

Many different types of structural problems can develop, from a leaking roof to major subsidence. Harsh winters and storm damage are some seasonal catalysts that can cause issues but there are plenty more. A cracked drain, unseen leak, overgrown shrubs, tree roots or a roof tile that you didn’t even know was missing can all add up to a structural headache. Some of the most common signs of a structural problem, internal and external, to look out for include:

  • Cracks in the walls or foundations
  • Bulging or bowing walls
  • Doors or windows that no longer sit flush in their frames
  • Pooling water or leaks
  • Sagging roof
  • A leaning or cracked chimney stack
  • Porch pulling away from the property
  • Slow drainage in all parts of the property
  • Uneven floors

Cracks showing up tend to be one of the most noticeable signs of a problem. They may be a sign of structural instability or unsettling. In general, if a crack grows over time or is more than a quarter of an inch wide, it’s always worth getting it checked out by a professional.

Bring in the Professionals

First and foremost, structural damage needs to be assessed by the relevant professional at the earliest possible opportunity. As well as advising you on the seriousness of the issue, a professional will be able to tell you exactly what work needs to be carried out and give you an estimate of the cost.

Depending on the problem, the professional (or team) may need to investigate further using either destructive or non-destructive methods. The former could involve, for example, knocking down a wall in the property to discover more about what’s causing the issue. This is generally used as a last resort and when it’s fairly clear that the problem is located behind the walls. Meanwhile, non-destructive methods are a more ‘gentle’ form of investigation that may involve ultrasonic or radar tools, microdrilling, or infra-red thermography.

Consider a Home Inspection

Home inspector checking the foundation

If your home has sustained structural damage, then a home inspection for insurance purposes is likely to be a wise move. While getting a home inspection could result in an increased premium, if you later need to make a claim and the structural damage hasn’t been taken into account on your policy, it could be invalid.

Some insurance providers may require a home insurance inspection before they offer coverage. This will most likely be the case with properties that are old or located in a high-risk area.

If You’re a Buyer

For buyers, it’s vital to always get an inspection carried out on the home you’re considering buying, which will highlight any structural issues you may have missed. If you want to buy a property that has structural damage, it’s worth trying to negotiate a lower price with the seller to take into account the cost of the required repairs.

If you’re planning on moving into a home with an HOA community, you may be able to get in contact with this organization for more information, including the structural variety on the property.

If You’re a Seller

If you’re a seller, you’re legally obliged to disclose any structural problems in the property that you’re aware of prior to closing - and in some states, such issues must be disclosed in the property listing. Check the real estate laws in your state to find out exactly where you stand.

Where structural problems are present, you’ll need to be prepared to negotiate with potential buyers. You may need to reduce the initial asking price or agree to carry out (and fund) the repairs prior to closing.

What to Do if You Buy a Property with Undisclosed Structural Problems

If you’ve purchased a home and subsequently find that it has undisclosed structural problems, this is likely to be a stressful time, but there are options available to you. You could have a legal remedy available through the courts, or, in some states, the listing agent may be responsible for the non-disclosure and liable to put things right. This is one of the key reasons that it’s so important to have a thorough home inspection undertaken before closing the sale of the property.

Structural Damage: Final Thoughts

Structural damage is never good news for property owners. However, forewarned is forearmed, so getting potential issues looked into promptly is the best way to stay safe and get things resolved quickly. Leaving a problem can result in a big repair bill further down the road.

If you’re a buyer, however, and want to buy a property with disclosed structural damage, the outlook may be brighter. You’ll likely be able to negotiate down the sale price, thereby allowing you to complete the work needed on your otherwise perfect home.