Friday, May 2, 2014

H/3 - A CAUTIONARY TALE

We are very much into real estate frenzy, as you know. In the last 8-12 months we've heard many stories about bidding wars, properties sold over the asking price, etc. Some people, afraid that they might lose out on yet another dream home, aren't doing the necessary background checks for the property they want to buy, or actually end up buying. Usually home inspectors bring up the obvious problems with a house, but the costly and most important structural issues can remain undisclosed. I want to bring up a very common situation our office faced several times recently, so it appears to be "trending", as they say.

Building laws for hillside properties have changed drastically since the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Our office was involved in over 400 home structural inspections and helped the local Building and Safety departments to craft new "Hillside Ordinances" to avoid the most common hillside construction problems. There are several related new building laws, but I think the most important is the H/3 rule. This rule requires the foundation of a new construction, or remodeling of an old one, on a hillside to be of a minimum depth, without consideration of the underlying soil characteristic, based on the height of the existing slope only. Without going into the technical details, foundations on hillsides, without exception, have to be on deep piles - sometimes 40, 50 or even 60 feet deep.

Recently our office faced the unpleasant task of explaining to a few new home owners that their proposed addition on their recently purchased hillside property would be much more expensive than they thought at the time of the purchase of the property, because of this H/3 rule.

My advice is to consult a soil engineer, or structural engineering company, or have an approved, recent soil report included in the contingencies of the purchase.

Re-posted from our newsletter on 10/16/2013