Many home buyers lack professional expertise to know whether a crack along the floor or a sinking porch is serious or not.

So how can a buyer know whether to proceed or move on to another property? We asked Tim Tracy, a corporate sales trainer with Groundworks, a national foundation services company based in Virginia Beach, Virginia, for advice. He answered via email, and his responses were edited.

Q: Should foundation issues prevent a buyer from purchasing a home?

A: Foundation issues do not have to be a home-purchase dealbreaker. If foundation issues are known ahead of time, buyers can use that knowledge to negotiate for a better sale price, often leading to thousands in credits. However, since we’re in an extreme seller’s market, buyers have less control over the purchasing process than in years past. To ensure buyers aren’t walking into a mess, they should consult a foundation-services professional to assess the state of a home’s foundation and provide the buyer with a better idea of its needs before the sale is complete.

Q: What are the signs of a foundation issue that a home inspector or buyers should look for?

A: To identify the start of foundation issues before they grow, here are eight important things to look for:

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1. Cracks along the floors or walls, near windows or doors, or within columns.

2. Sticking doors that wear on the floor, or if the door jams from the door opening and closing.

3. Gaps in the caulking or weather stripping between windows, and doors that leave openings for water and/or pests.

4. A leaning chimney or stair-step cracking in the mortar joints of the chimney. Also, look at the joint where the chimney meets the wall or roofline to see if it looks like it is pulling away.

5. Sagging or sloping floors and/or bowing basement walls. The first sign of a basement wall problem will be a horizontal crack.

6. Mold, rot or mildew growing in the basement or crawl space and a musty smelling odor.

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7. A sinking front or back stoop or porch. Be sure to check the side for separation from the wall.

8. Unexplained water damage in areas throughout the home.

Q: How does someone know if an indication of a foundation issue is serious or not?

A: If you are investing a large sum of money in a home, cracks in the foundation wall should be evaluated by a trained eye. The underlying cause of the crack needs to be determined. An inspector will look at the size, shape and locations to start to determine the initial causes.

If you see small shallow cracks that are only 1 millimeter to 2 millimeters in width that do not seem to connect to other issues, you are probably looking at shrinkage cracking that will not need professional remediation but should be monitored for further movement. These types of cracks normally occur as the concrete loses water during its curing process.

Large cracks could indicate more serious problems. A foundation services professional will determine the severity and potential cost.

Q: Should buyers hire a structural engineer to look at a home before making an offer? When and why?

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A: Hiring a structural engineer will be an additional investment. If you are concerned about the home’s safety, then yes. For home buyers, the results of a professional foundation inspection should be a key component of the buying process. Whether you’re planning to sell your home, looking to buy a new one or plan to live in your home for years to come, it’s important to understand the key ways to spot foundation issues early. This will save you major time, money and headaches in the long run.

Q: How much would an engineer charge for an inspection?

A: The average cost of a professional foundation inspection can range from $350 to $500.

Q: What are some common foundation issues and what does it take to repair them?

A: Some common foundation issues are cracks and chips that allow water to seep into the structure of the home, which can damage the building’s framework and increase the risk of mold. Therefore, it is important to spot those issues early so the cost of repair is not as high. The cost of foundation repairs varies across the United States, with advanced repairs costing more than minor ones. It generally takes between one to three days to complete foundation repairs.