Dear Patti,

Our home has an addition, built without a permit before we owned it. Until recently, there were no problems, but lately we've noticed settlement cracks in the foundation and a slight sloping of the floor. My husband says this is not a big deal, that most homes in the area have cracks because of the clay soil. If we paint the house and sell it, do you think the small cracks in the foundation would hinder the sale? --Linda

Dear Linda,

In today's litigious business environment, the last thing you want to do is paint and sell. Foundation cracks and an uneven floor may or may not be signs of serious structural problems. But a definite determination should be made prior to selling the property. If you were to sell the house, and a major foundation problem were later discovered, you could spend three years and large numbers of dollars in needless litigation. The safe and sensible approach is to hire a licensed structural engineer to fully evaluate these conditions. If the cracks and sloping indicate no significant problem, you'll have engineering documentation to assure buyers and to protect yourselves from future liability. If a serious problem does exist, you'll be able to disclose it to buyers or have it repaired prior to sale.