Slab Foundation Repair Complaints

rThe following is a paraphrase of an actual review posted on the Internet. I have paraphrased it rather than quoting it word for word as doing so would require getting the writer’s permission and I have no way to get in touch.  

My buyer had a foundation repair company to come to my home to assess the need for repair in spite of the fact that my house has never shown any scracks or other indications of foundation issues.  The buyer was simply trying to get a reduced price.

The repair company recommended that 20 piers be installed to level the foundation. This repair plan was on a single sheet of paper. No reason was given regarding why  foundation repair was needed or recommended.

I have seen numerous houses that needed foundation repair including some that had been underpinned using more piers than the redommended 20.

In my opinion, the report was false land misleading.

To appease the buyer I retained an independent structural engineer to make a report on my house. he found nothing wrong with the foundation and did not recommend any foundation repairs.

I called the company was told by the general manager that “they are not responsible for what their inspectors quote as they are qualified and have full discretion.”

I also contacted the sales person who did the inspection he had no response to poke to the employee who did the inspection named (deleted) who had nothing to say in response to engineering report. I then contacted the general manager to get the cost of the engineering report refunded. He refused to refund any of the report costs.

No matter how you slice this, the company was unethical and can not be trusted.

They may have been colluding with the buyer to issue a false report or they were just after some free money for recommending unneccessary work.

Communication issues

The Texas Board of Engineers has stated in the past that most of the complaints against engineers stem from communication issues. Much the same thing could be said about foundation repair contractors. They run ads that imply that they, and only they, can fix your foundation so it will perform well into the future. If you carefully read their terms and conditions in the contract, you typically will find that they make no or very few promises regarding future foundation performance. 

How level should a slab foundation be

Everyone wants a level slab. No one is interested in paying for it. No repair contractor will agree to make your foundation dead level. They will not bring any slab into a specific level state. Nor should they.

They will try to make the slab more level by lifting low areas. 

What, if when attempting to level a slab, that severe structural damage occurs. What if the living room with a vaulted ceiling and the ceiling collapsed with many of the rafters falling into the living room. Would you continue the work or call it a day. 

You might say this is an unlikely situation and you would be right. Regardless it was foreseeable. It was foreseen by yours truly.

From a structural engineer’s perspective, making the foundation more stable is far more important than making it more level.                  

Unsupervised workers

This is a common complaint. Homeowners expect that someone will be in charge no later than when the lifting starts. The person in charge should be a Texas Professional Engineer. The Texas Board of Professional Engineers requires that foundation repair work in expansive soil areas be done under the direct supervision of a Texas Professional Engineer.

Damage resulting from lifting the slab

Slab-on-ground foundations almost always create new distress and/or damage in the house during the lifting process.  There are several reasons for this.

(1) It is common to over-lift in some areas. What usually results is a short narrow crack in the brick veneer. Bear in mind that as the foundation is lifted in the    

New cracks in drywall, brick veneer, and floor coverings

In my view, it is a given that the large majority of homes in the Greater Houston Area will, at some point, experience some drywall cracking, brick veneer cracking, sloping in ground-supported floors, and minor door issues. Leveling a foundation is likely to create new distress. 

Changes in the weather can create new distress. In 2011 and 2012 southeast Texas experienced the worst drought on record. The result: New foundation contractors sprung up like weeds after a spring rain. Repair contractors found their phones ringing off the wall. 

Even in a normal market, the busiest time for repair contractors is September through October, especially in areas that did not get a lot of rain during the Spring and Summer.   

Damaged landscaping and lawn sprinkler systems

The foundation repair contractor may damage landscaping and the lawn sprinkler system. Large portions of these systems are buried so it is likely that some damage will result even though most contractors try to avoid it.
There is always some vegetation that has to be removed to access to facilitate the lifting.  

No return calls for warranty issues

Some foundation repair contractors are hard to reach after final payment. That pier sells person makes no money when returning calls from an unhappy homeowner. I get too many phone calls from homeowners who complain that no one will call them back.

They destroyed my home

I could not make this up. The house was on a foundation that extended to five attached units. At one end, the unit was showing signs of foundation movement. In cases like this where two or more units share the same foundation, the repair company requires that every owner sign a document that says the repair company is not responsible for any damage that might be caused by the foundation repair process.

The owner of the unit furthest from the problem unit was in Europe when the repair was executed.  Normally, the person in control of the job will be inside the house with a walkie-talkie or a cell phone. He tells the workers when and where to lift and how much to lift. Part of his job was to cease the lifting process if the structure reacts adversely. Since the owner of the unit was not there, no key was available so the interior of the unit could be monitored. The owner was not happy when she returned and found that some interior second-story walls had lifted by four inches.

Contradictory repair plans

Here is a great source of work for me: a homeowner has a half dozen repair contractors make repair proposals and they are all different. They range from doing nothing to proposing $80,000  worth of work.  

Failed foundations are the norm in Houston and adjoining areas

There is a well-known foundation repair contractor who says that residential foundations are failing at a record pace. The solution, of course, is to underpin every foundation that has not already been underpinned. 

Calling a foundation repair company to inspect for a real estate transaction

This is a really bad idea. There are several reasons why:

 (1) No one is likely to consider a foundation repair salesperson independent and unbiased. A foundation repair salesperson puts food on the table by convincing people that foundation repair is not just an option, but a necessity.

(2) If a foundation repair salesperson shows up at the house, the owner will almost certainly see him or her as biased. The owner is likely to see using a foundation repair contractor as a breach of good faith. The transaction can fall apart over this issue.

(3) The standard residential sales contract states that the owner can select the inspector of their choice so long as they are licensed by TREC or are otherwise permitted by law to make such inspections. Foundation repair contractors and not licensed or otherwise permitted by law to make real estate transaction inspections.                               

Unqualified salespeople

Most salespeople work on commission. Some are knowledgeable, some are not. There are some repair contractors operated by family members. They grew up in the business. These contractors tend to get a large portion of their work via referral. The person acting as your sales rep is more likely to be the person who supervises the work. 

A qualified, knowledgeable, and honest salesperson will not use scare tactics to get you to sign up.  

No building permit

Houston and many adjoining areas require that a building permit be issued prior to any work. Buyers should ask to see a copy. Bear in mind                

Fake structural engineers

The Texas Board of Professional Engineers regulates the practice of engineering in Texas. They occasionally publish summaries of specific enforcement actions. Most are complaints filed against individual engineers. Remarkably, some are foundation repair contractor sales personnel. Typically, the way they got caught is that they left a business card that says they are a Texas Professional Engineer.

You can verify that a person claiming to be a Professional Engineer by visiting the Texas Board of Professional Engineers and doing a quick search of the Roster. If some person leads you to question whether they are a Texas Professional Engineer, get a business card and do a roster search.         

How to become a foundation repair contractor in two weeks

I had the opportunity to serve as an expert witness for disputes related to foundation repair. In one case I was asked to read a deposition made by the owner of a foundation repair company. The owner of the foundation repair company had owned the company for only a few months before the suit was filed. It involved one of the first jobs under the new owner.

During the deposition, the owner was asked if any of his previous experience. His experience prior to buying the company was in management. Asked about any training provided by the previous owner, he described two weeks of training. The training was in how to sell foundation repair work. He was then asked if any of the training concerned the actual repair work. It consisted of going to a house being worked on where the old owner explained what each of the workers was doing.

So there it is: you too can become a foundation repair contractor in two weeks. The key skill: sales. 

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