Seattle Home Inspector's Blog


Do I invite the wolf in—or try to keep him out?

Everyone knows the story of the three pigs.  From that story, we learned that we should all build our houses out of brick if we are to keep the wolfs at bay.

disintegrating brick columnOur houses have to deal with all kinds of wolfs.  There are water-wolves, earthquake-wolves, tornado-wolves, wind-wolves and the dreaded lightening-wolves. 

No matter what we build our houses out of, they all need to be maintained or the wolf WILL get in.

In a recent house I inspected, that was 111 years old (built in 1902), I discovered, much to my buyers chagrin, that the wolf was having his way with the brick foundation.  Those pesky mortar-wolves were patiently eating away at the foundation.  Almost anything after 111 years would likely show deterioration and certainly all three of the pigs are dead by now regardless of their choice of building materials.  The brick foundation has done its job quite well considering the number of significant quakewolves it has stood up to.

But now it is likely beyond repair—or at least extensive repairs that would amount to a new foundation will be necessary.  The mortar joints and bricks are crumbling and some beams are no longer supported at all. 

 Unsupported beam and collapsed brick

Unsupported beam and failed brick

Someone will have to make a decision as to whether to let the wolves have it—or to try and keep them at bay for a few more years.


Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Seattle Home Inspector


The Human Rights Campaign   QR code for Charles Buell Inspections Inc


WA State, Home Inspector Advisory Licensing Board

Comment balloon 61 commentsCharles Buell • September 16 2013 05:33AM


tough decision, as long as they let all parties know that it could fall at any time..

Posted by Mark Loewenberg, KW 561-214-0370 (KW of the Palm Beaches) over 5 years ago

Hi Charles,

Looks like there has been a lot of deferred maintenance on this crawl space.

Better have someone get in there and get it taken care off.

Best way is to replace all the pillars for everything.

Have a great day in the Seattle area my friend.

Best, Clint McKie

Posted by Clint Mckie, Desert Sun Home, Comm. Inspection 1-575-706-5586 (Desert Sun Home, commercial Inspections) over 5 years ago

Yikes, anything structural scares me, and most buyers too....thanks for sharing!

Posted by Kristin Johnston - REALTOR®, Giving Back With Each Home Sold! (RE/MAX Realty Center ) over 5 years ago

This is really good.  Your photography captured the defects perfectly.

Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley,, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) over 5 years ago

That looks like it's going to be extensive.  I'm sure you love the time you get to spend in the crawlspace.

Posted by Marc McMaster, Putting my clients before myself (RE/MAX Centre Realty) over 5 years ago

Very good and I have a similar not exact situation now that is tolerable....Good post and the pictures...well done

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) over 5 years ago

Charles, that looks down right scary.  Whew!  It looks like some pretty extensive foundation repairs are in their near future.

Posted by Mike Cooper, GRI, Your Neighborhood Real Estate Sales Pro (Cornerstone Business Group Inc) over 5 years ago
Posted by Brian Sharkey, SharkeyRE - #SouthFloridaBroker (SharkeyRE LLC) over 5 years ago

Charles, your pictures really tell the entire story! It looks like an expensive fix, but if the home above is in reasonable shape, probably worth the expense.

Posted by Tom White, Franklin Homes Realty LLC, Franklin TN (Franklin Homes Realty LLC (615) 495-0752 or over 5 years ago

That just goes to show that 111 years is a long time to be standing around holding a house. .

Posted by Fernando Herboso - Broker for Maxus Realty Group, 301-246-0001 Serving Maryland, DC and Northern VA (Maxus Realty Group - Broker 301-246-0001) over 5 years ago

Fun post. I imagine the wolves have come to visit many houses in this age group. 

Posted by Jeff Stevens, Jeff Stevens REALTOR®/Associate Broker (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New Mexico Properties) over 5 years ago

Huff and puff but hard to blow by this blog post. Whether you have a curly tail or not.

Posted by Andrew Mooers | 207.532.6573, Northern Maine Real Estate-Aroostook County Broker (MOOERS REALTY) over 5 years ago

One of the pitfalls of wanting an older home. You always run the risk of expensive issues like this.

Posted by Suzanne Otto, Your Montgomery County PA home stager (Six Twenty Designs) over 5 years ago

Now those are timbers! They don't make wood like they used to :-)  Was there any floor sagging yet? There's gonna be!

Posted by Fred Hernden, CMI, Albuquerque area Master Inspector (Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area) over 5 years ago

Mark, exactly.  It is all about the information so that the parties can decide what to do

Clint, in this case it may not be worth it

Kristin, this is one of the inspection finds that would be a deal breaker for many parties

Lenn, thanks---there is nothing quite like "obviousness" to communicate a concern :)

Marc, well "love" may be a bit of a stretch :)

Richie, hopefully not in your own house

Mike, in this case it may take more than repairs

Brian, thanks---and you are welcome

Tom, in this case the house above, as one might expect, has had the same care

Fernando, nothing lasts forever

Jeffrey, the vast majority of homes built from this time period are long gone

Andrew, thanks

Suzanne, not a home for a first time home buyer that is for sure

Fred, yes---floors sagging all over the place---and springy too as one would expect when your floor system is a diving board :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

I've shown some of these old homes.  It's hard when, as an agent, I can see daylight between bricks.  The debate is always - do I try to direct them away from it so they don't even spend their money on the inspection, or do I allow them to make their choice and let the inspector tell them what I've already seen.  

I'm not a contractor or inspector - so my advice is merely opinion, and a relatively uneducated opinion at that.

Posted by Jim Beitz (Keller Williams Success Realty) over 5 years ago

Charles, If the home is historic then make the repairs. It looks like they need a lot of bricks and mortar or concrete walls to fix this problem. Are there grants available for this, for older "Historic Homes"?

Posted by Helen and Larry Prier- Re-Max Gateway - Residential Real Estate, Anacortes & surrounding Skagit & Island Counties (RE-MAX Gateway- Residential Real Estate Sales) over 5 years ago

Utah, with even your untrained eye it sounds like you are capable of preparing your buyer for at least some amount of expense.

Helen and Larry, I am afraid I am not much of a fan of fixing up older housing stock---historic or otherwise.  While in selective cases I can see some value in it, in general, I see a lot of houses where it just results in good money chasing bad.  When all is said and done, you still have an old inefficient home that will be costly to maintain forever.  People are free in this country to do whatever they want with their money, however I would hope that they at least get the full picture of what they are getting themselves into.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago


Another well informed and written post. Your photos tell the whole story. Someone is going to have to make some serious decision before they sign the dotted lines.

Posted by Les & Sarah Oswald, Broker, Realtor and Investor (Realty One Group) over 5 years ago

Great storytelling, photos and purpose.  Thank you for the entertaining and informative blog.

Posted by Troy Huerta, Changing the way Home Buyers BUY! (SRE Technologies) over 5 years ago

Sarah and Lester, for sure---I personally think the wolves have won this battle

Troy, thanks and you are welcome

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago
Great pics. I would say if they want to keep the wolves at bay on this one, they are going to have to invite the elves in. It's going to take some little guys to fit in that space to fix the problems:-)
Posted by Frank Nolan, Jump and the net will appear (Nolan Realty Team / Pacific home Brokers) over 5 years ago

I hate to see these old homes go but if the rest of the house is in similar condition, it may be the best thing to do.

Posted by Tammie White, Broker, Franklin TN Homes for Sale (Franklin Homes Realty LLC) over 5 years ago

Frank, I think the elves will be no match for the wolves :)

Tammie, it is sad, but all homes have a life span--they come and they go.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

I like to keep the old homes in good shape if  possible.  We own on of those 100 plus homes and the expense is enonormous..But...It is still a viable home..

Posted by Ginger Harper, Your Southport~Oak Island Agent~Brunswick County! (Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Advantage) over 5 years ago

Hi Charles. I love your title and I think it is apt. One way or another the wolf does get in eventually.

Posted by Sheila Anderson, The Real Estate Whisperer Who Listens 732-715-1133 (Referral Group Incorporated) over 5 years ago

Scary shots and lesson; don't like to see what happens to us as our bodies get older, either.

Posted by Elise Harron, Rural Vacant Land and Development Specialist (Dirt Road Real Estate) over 5 years ago

Wow, the first picture of the brick pier is a bit haunting.

Posted by Jay & Michelle Lieberman, Creating Calm in the Buying and Selling Chaos (Keller Williams World Class) over 5 years ago

Ginger, they are indeed labors of love---or hate at times :)

Sheila, the best we can do is keep him at bay for a while

Elisa, I am with you there---sooner or later the wolf gets us to I am afraid

Jay & Michelle, Halloween is coming :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

It is hard to let any wolves in but your point is well taken Charles!

Posted by Paul S. Henderson, REALTOR®, CRS, Tacoma Washington Agent/Broker & Market Authority! (RE/MAX Northwest.) over 5 years ago

One of the jobs I had in construction was jacking a building up and putting down a new foundation, then let it down.  It can be done, but I am sure it cost a lot.

Posted by Gene Riemenschneider, Turning Houses into Homes (Home Point Real Estate) over 5 years ago

Do you know if the buyers bailed on this one . . . huff and puff and POOF . . . buyers gone!!

Posted by Carla Muss-Jacobs, RETIRED (RETIRED / State License is Inactive) over 5 years ago

Paul, I am sure that none of us willingly let the wolf in---but we can't watch all the openings at once

Gene, unfortunately the foundation on this house might have been the least of the big issues.

Carla, I am not sure.  The property has a lot of value as additional parking for the two appartment buildings on either side---so lots of value there, perhaps more without the house than with it.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

It is especially important tnat buyers have a knowledgeable inspector when it comes to old homes.  I am sure the buyers felt the money was well spent.  Older homes can have a lot of "hidden" or not so  "hidden" issues and they can be very costly to repair.

Posted by Joan Whitebook, Consumer Focused Real Estate Services (BHG The Masiello Group) over 5 years ago


   There are many things that can cause the integrity of mortar to degrade over time, even including air quality.  But I'm curious -- Are there horrible creatures wandering around "lightening" the colors of people's houses?


Posted by John J. Woods (Aardvark Appraisals) over 5 years ago
Charles - I thought the wolf couldn't get in the brick house. Lol
Posted by Christine Donovan, Broker/Attorney 714-319-9751 DRE01267479 - Costa M (Donovan Blatt Realty) over 5 years ago

The magical floating house!  Not supported by beams at all!  Well, I have seen it demonstrated how heavy the air is, so I suppose the air here must be heavier than the house.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 5 years ago
Charles-In this case I guess there is sentimental value of the house vs economic value of the land for parking. Which will win?
Posted by Wayne Johnson, San Antonio REALTOR, San Antonio Homes For Sale (Coldwell Banker D'Ann Harper REALTORS®) over 5 years ago

Sad. I always hate to see the ones go. They are often more than houses, they are history and memories.

Posted by Marshall Brown, BSEE, CHI (Mid America Inspection Services, LLC) over 5 years ago

The gas line holding up that beam is a disaster waiting to happen!!!  I hope that was quickly corrected!

Posted by Shanna Hall, I love selling houses!!!St. Louis, MO 314-703-1311 (Real Estate Solutions) over 5 years ago

Sad to see the possible demise of a grand old lady, but if the structural integrity is gone . . .I also would have to wonder at the advisability of jacking up a house of that age.

Posted by Geri Sonkin, Long Island Real Estate & Staging Expert (Douglas Elliman Real Estate 516-457-7103) over 5 years ago

Joan, often too many issues to deal with

John, as in color or in heft?

Christine, isn't that what we all learned in the "Three Little Pigs?"

Jay, and at the same temperature dry air is heavier than moist air :)

Wayne, while sentimentality usually wins---eventually even it must give way

Marshall, sometimes bad history and bad memories :)

Shanna, that me electrical conduit---not gas line---but still should be fixed nonetheless

Geri, lots of people don't realize how much damage to the interior of a home can occur by leveling it.  One best be prepared to gut the interior in many cases

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

Charlie, That looks like someone is going to have to make a very big decision.

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) over 5 years ago

We live in such a young country and few homes make it to 100 years in the scheme of things. When traveling to places like Europe, I marvel at the life span of the homes.  There are homes that were built in the 1700's or earlier and will be around for many more centuries.  

It is amazing to see. 

Posted by Sheri Sperry - MCNE®, (928) 274-7355 ~ YOUR Solutions REALTOR® (Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage) over 5 years ago

WOW - some scary photos. Guess I'd have to see the rest of the house as to whether it's worth the expense and effort to repair. I tend to lean towards older homes, but they can be money pits!

Posted by Travis "the SOLD man" Parker; Associate Broker, email: / cell: 334-494-7846 (Team Linda Simmons, Enterprise, AL 36330) over 5 years ago

Most homeowners are aware of essential maintenance issues, especially if it's their primary residence, however, the wolf will bite them if they aren't concerned or fail to maintain their property. Incredible pictures.

Posted by Kimo Jarrett, Pro Lifestyle Solutions (WikiWiki Realty) over 5 years ago

Valerie, it sounds like you have an oldie but goodie

Don, I am afraid so

Sheri, we certainly do not know "old" in this country when it comes to buildings

Travis, even new homes require maintenance, but they can be more maintenance free than older homes

Kimo, for sure

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

It would be a fairly inexpensive repair around here. Just $500 to $700 per pier, but I suppose it depends on how big the house is.

Bet they have a lot of 'give' in the floor when they are walking around.

Posted by Than Maynard, Broker - Licensed to List & Sell - 405-990-8862 (Coldwell Banker Heart of Oklahoma) over 5 years ago

Business decision, (for me anyway) keep emotions out of it and do the right thing. A banker once told me, "you can ride a good horse to death".. Might be time on this one, but then again............

Posted by Robert Hicks (United Country River City Realty) over 5 years ago

I'm not sure these owners did a really good job of keeping the wolves out. Some of those beams were not supported at all. I've seen in a couple of occasions where those bricks literally disintegrated if they are old enough in a crawl space. Not much use then.

Posted by Lyn Sims, Schaumburg IL Real Estate (RE/MAX Suburban) over 5 years ago

I suppose it is to be expected to find things like this in a home as old as this one.  It says something about the construction of the home though that those piers lasted as long as they did.  I have had homes far newer than this one where serious foundation issues were discovered during inspection.  I do feel for the sellers though, this is not going to be an inexpensive thing to fix.  Hope the home is worth the expense.

Posted by Sandra Paulow, REALTOR, Associate Broker, GRI, SFR (Aspen Properties, Inc. ) over 5 years ago

Hi Charles, fortunately in those days almost everything was "over-engineered" so there is a large safety margin.


BTW, nice new pic!  lol

Posted by Bob Miller, The Ocala Dream Team (Keller Williams Cornerstone Realty) over 5 years ago

Than, I am afraid in this case, anything short of a whole new foundation is probably not practical

Robert, yes in this case I think it is a good idea to get off the horse--or at least out from under it :)

Lyn, in 111 years there have been a lot of owners that have let things slide

Sandra, for sure---some types of construction can be more forgiving than others.  Sooner or later they all give way.

Rob, overengineering of homes from that time period is actually a myth.  The vast majority of homes from that time period are certainly no longer standing.


Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

I wonder what brand of electrical conduit is in place in the second picture - it's holding up the entire house!  Maybe they could come up with a slogan along the lines of a well-known deodorant.  "Strong enough to hold up a house, but made for electrical cables!".

Posted by Michael J. O'Connor, Eastvale - 951-847-4883 (Diamond Ridge Realty) over 5 years ago

Micahael, I suspect that something involving "athletic supporter" could also be conjured :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

I live in a home over 111 years old.  I need to crawl under there and have a look around.  After seeing your photos, I am almost afraid to.

Posted by Karen Steed, Associate Broker Haralson Realty (Tallapoosa, Bremen, Waco, Buchanan, Temple, Carrollton) over 5 years ago

Those old houses are great, but to survive, they need homeowners who are vigilant and can step in before drastic repairs are needed.

Posted by Carolyn Roland-Historic Homes For Sale In Delaware and S. Chester County PA, Carolyn Roland, GRI, CRS (Patterson-Schwartz Real Estate) over 5 years ago

Location, Location, Location.  If it has it it will win a continued life.  If not the wolves will win.  Let ua know how it comes out.

Posted by Ric Mills, Integrity, Honesty, and Vast Real Estate Knowledge (Keller Williams Southern Az) over 5 years ago

Karen, that is what home inspectors are for :)

Carolyn, true---but more and more people have no clue what that means

Ric, I sure will---will make for a great addendum post

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) over 5 years ago

This reminds me of a house I showed once. It had a rock stem wall - and I could take chunks of the mortar from between the rocks with my bare hands. 

Posted by Marte Cliff, Your real estate writer (Marte Cliff Copywriting) over 5 years ago

Foundations made entirely out of brick are very uncommon here. Usually the older foundations are stone until just at grade, then brick was used to finish it off and provide a level and aesthetically pleasing finish. Crumbling brick and mortar here is simply from years of moisture in these old basements (no quake wolfs here). Stone leaks and dirt floors are damp, damp, damp. 

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) over 5 years ago