As a Realtor, I've seen lots of different foundation challenges when working with both buyers and sellers. In Houston, this type of issue is common due to our clay soil. Houses are built on slabs of concrete and the slabs do invariably settle, crack, or fail.
The much bigger issue is foundation repair. Why's that, you might ask?
Well, since Houston has a lot of foundation issues, we also have a lot of foundation repair companies. That's capitalism at it's finest, but as a smart consumer, it shouldn't surprise you that if there is money to be made, someone, or lots of someones will line up to take their fair share. Unfortunately, these companies are unlicensed and unregistered, so it's hard to keep track of how many there are out there.
I am not saying that foundations don't, at times, need repair, but in Houston, a lot of homes actually just show signs of normal settling. Let's go through a few points about foundations to keep in mind either for your own home or a home you may be considering buying.
In Houston, most homes have a slab foundation. I've seen buyers relocate to our area and try to find a house without a slab because they've heard scary things about foundations. If you're dead set against a slab, try the Heights, many of those homes are built on Pier and Beam foundations. But for the rest of us, go ahead and do the research, it's not really all that scary.
Our geography on the Gulf Coast is different than other parts of the country, so keep that in mind when you're researching. We don't have basements here, or ice, or other things that require a different approach.
I can recommend some good foundation companies, but my overall advice is before you spend a lot of money, get a second, maybe even a third opinion. I recently had a situation where one company recommended over 10K in repairs, and another confirmed the cracks shown were normal settling.
If you're ever really in doubt, a great resource is a structural engineer who is educated in the basics of building principles and structures of a building.
When you are shopping for foundation repair, or considering a house that has had foundation repair done, look for companies with longevity (that is, a good amount of experience) and a transferable warranty.
You've heard the advice about watering your slab? One of my go to foundation guys gives this advice: Get a soaker hose, the kind that sweats, not sprays. Set it around your
foundation and hook it up to to your hose bib and a timer (which you can get at your favorite hardware store), and set it to run 10 minutes a day. This is his best advice for keeping your slab issue free.
Though let me reiterate, this is advice for the Houston climate, and possibly for other similar climates, but check with an expert in your area. In the Northeast for example, the advice is to keep water away from your foundation.
When you start considering the foundation of your own home, or a home you want to buy, keep in mind that a little education on the topic goes a long way!