Real Estate, Smart Agent Advice

It’s Foundational – Basements! (Blog)

Today’s Smart Agent Advice is about construction techniques and soil composition which are both going to be different from area to area.  But even if this info doesn’t apply to your area, it makes a good story to share with Home Buyers about how real estate and building standards differ.

I transact in the Triangle area of North Carolina covering Durham, Wake, Johnston and Harnett County.  This area is experiencing tremendous in-migration with many home buyers coming from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.  I have lived in 3 of those states and I know that buyers from those areas are used to homes with basements and wonder why basement homes are so rare here.

And I’m happy to explain! 

Just to define terms, a basement in the northeast is a square or rectangular hole in which the below-ground-level portion of the house is built.  The basement homes I grew up in, had a foot or so above the level of the ground, or had half-circle ‘wells’ dug into the soil in front of windows set high up on the basement walls to allow some light in.  So to these folks, ‘basement’ means dirt on 4 sides of the house – which are not common in our area.

Why you ask?  Because much of this area has heavy red clay soil, similar to what you’d see in Georgia.  So much so that driving past land being dug up for new construction looks like looking into a red clay flower pot! In fact, I tell newly-arrived youngsters that North Carolina has the world’s only red elephants – because elephants cover themselves with dirt as a natural sunscreen and our dirt is so clayey that it turns them red!

And clayey soil is so heavy that it’s expensive to dig.  And clay holds water so older homes with basements in this area tend to have moisture issues.

In the Triangle area of North Carolina, I tell clients that “basement home” is code for “the-lot-has-such-a- steep- slope- that- to- keep- the- back- of- the- house- level- with- the- front- required- such- a- tall- foundation- that- we –made- it- a -basement”.  On the plus side, that means most basement lots have a nice private, treed backyard – because the house generally backs to a gully where nothing can be built.  On the negative side, you’re unlikely to get much, if any, of a useable backyard.

The Southern term for “basement”, I tell buyers, is pronounced “bonus room” or, if there are kids present, I tell them they’ll get to play in a FROG – the Family Room Over Garage – and to ask their parents to take them to the zoo to see our red elephants!

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