Over the last few weeks, we’ve experienced several moderate earthquakes in the Bay Area. No major damage, no deaths and no injuries. So no big deal, right? We must be used to this by now.
In reality, though, earthquakes are a major factor for home buyers. They can be a great source of fear and anxiety. Let’s explore how buyers can consider these natural occurrences in the smartest way before closing a deal.
Unless you’re buying a new home, chances are that the one you’re considering buying has been through dozens of small to moderate earthquakes. To get a sense for how the house has held up, be sure to closely inspect the foundation for major cracks. This is routine in home inspections under any circumstances, but especially significant if you’re buying in this area. Pay attention to the small details during your home inspection, and seek advice from your agent if you’re not sure of the impact.
When was the home constructed?
If it’s an older home, has it undergone any seismic upgrades or retrofitting in the last 10-20 years? While these upgrades are no guarantee that a home will outlast “the big one,” in many cases they will ease your mind and help prevent small problems from growing much worse over time through several small or moderate quakes.
Proximity to a major fault line
We’ve all seen and heard stories about homes on the Hayward fault that have walls and floors that are separating more and more each year. Just because your home is close to the fault line doesn’t mean this will be you in 10 years. But if it’s really close, you should consider having an engineer check whether there’s any current shifting going on with the house. (And you really should know how close your home is to the fault line to begin with.)
When to call a geo-technical engineer
Not all home purchases in the Bay Area will require a visit from a geo-technical engineer. However, a big red flag would be that the house is built on the side of a hill that is very close to a major fault line. Houses in these circumstances may actually be sliding down the hill by an inch – or fraction of an inch – each year. Again, this might be fine, but better to know before you buy the house. No surprises!
Do you need earthquake insurance?
Earthquake damage is usually not covered by typical homeowner policies, so don’t assume you don’t need it if you’ve already got property insurance. A good way to think about it is to consider how much of your investment in your home you are willing to put at risk. If an earthquake caused major damage to your home and its contents tomorrow, how quickly could you get back on your feet with your own savings? You’ll want to think about the amount of equity you have in your home and the approximate value of your belongings when considering how much earthquake insurance to buy.
In the Bay Area, earthquakes are to be expected and many of us aren’t surprised when the building starts to shake without warning. But when buying a home, these are the basics all buyers in earthquake-prone areas should think seriously about. These may seem routine, but it’s surprising how many buyers will overlook these things – especially when they’ve already fallen in love with a property.