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Steve McLinden, the Bankrate.com Real Estate AdviserNew basement under old house is expensive

Dear Real Estate Adviser,
I've read about the costs and nuances of moving a house, but what if you're only moving it a few feet? We're considering buying a home and moving it just enough to put a basement underneath. Is this doable and reasonable?
-- Heather N. Yonn

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Dear Heather,
Just about any project is doable with the proper engineering and construction practices. But as for "reasonable" in cost -- well, that's a sawhorse of a different color.

For starters, moving the house you want to buy is not your only option, nor is it necessarily your best option. The problems with moving a house even 50 feet or so are not just the expense. The structure may resettle, possibly resulting in cracked walls, leaking pipes and jammed doors -- even if it's perfectly balanced atop its new locale.

It's often possible to dig a new basement beneath a house without moving it. In such cases, a contractor will jack up the house and put it on cribs (stilts), install additional supports, remove the tons of soil beneath it and construct a new foundation, new supports and then your basement.

But dig this: That's not where the money pit ends in these projects. You have permits, fees, engineering costs, regrading and drainage costs, and you will have to add new plumbing and electrical lines. All told, you could be looking at $30,000 to $50,000 -- or much more depending on site factors -- for a basement to be built beneath a 1,200 square-foot home.

Many pragmatic contractors would suggest you build a basement next to the house as part of an addition instead of facing the perils of moving the place or digging a basement under the existing location. This approach sounds like a real possibility in your case, since you would apparently not be lot-constrained on the property. You would be adding square footage for the same price or even less.

Before you do anything, research local lay-of-the-land nuances. Some locales are not as conducive to basement construction because of soil instability and climate, although new sealants can provide adequate waterproofing in some borderline cases. Also, be sure to research your local building codes and zoning laws to make sure that what your planning is even permissible. A good contractor should have all this information. To find a suitable contractor, call your city's building department and ask for reliable builders and foundation contractors who have served in this capacity for years. It is also quite likely a civil engineer will have to be brought it as well to assure a safe, watertight and quality project.

So Heather, there's probably a little more to this job than you first thought. Of course, you could always buy a different house with a basement. But you're the boss.

I wish you the best of luck.

To ask a question of the Real Estate Adviser, go to the "Ask the Experts" page and select "buying, selling a home" as the topic.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy-- Posted: March 4, 2007
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