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10 Tips for Buying a Residential Rental Property, Part 6: Beware of Houses Built on a Cement Slab

This article was written by in Real Estate and Home. 22 comments.

Simplicity, accessibility, and replaceability are important aspects of rental property construction, but at the foundation of your investment is the foundation itself. This week, a caution:

6. Beware of houses built on a cement slab.

Not having a basement can cost you much more than storage space.

In some places, like parts of Florida and Texas, all houses are slab construction, so real estate investors have no other options. Even then, it’s important to understand the issues with this type of construction, as it can have major financial impact over time.

Generally, in such structures, ductwork, heating pipes, plumbing and electric lines can all be buried in or beneath the slab. If your plumbing pipes are set beneath the cement, to fix a simple leak you may end up jackhammering out the floor. Basements or even reasonably-sized crawlspaces provide access to critical systems within the home, systems that may break either on their own or with your tenant’s help. A simple job can end up costing many times more in such a home.

Moisture and drainage issues are exacerbated in structures which are built on a slab. If a moisture barrier was either not installed or improperly installed at the time of construction, moisture from the ground can leach upward and cause mold problems beneath flooring or cause floor tiles to pop off. I’ve seen a number of slab homes which are set low to the ground, making flooding more possible and more damaging in areas without proper grading and drainage.

Termites love below- or at- grade homes, since they have easier access to the wooden beams of the structure. If you have a low-lying home and moist conditions, watch out. In slab homes, it can be much more difficult to detect and remediate damage from termites or other wood-boring insects.

And any time you have a slab home, you’re looking at less living space because you may lose a room to utilities such as the furnace and water heater. It’s a safety violation to house these items within the bedrooms, so they’ll need a room or walled space all their own.

Lastly, there’s the issue of the washer and dryer. I must caution that laundry facilities located on the main level or above are more likely to cause severe damage when they flood, destroying interior finishes. This concern pertains especially to landlords because tenants may be unaware of loosening hoses, may fail to report leaks or, in the case of a rupture, be ill-equipped to stop the deluge in time. Having these facilities in a basement can limit the potential for damage.

Besides alleviating the concerns listed above, basements can be beneficial in terms of rental property value if the potential exists to finish them in the future.

Updated September 27, 2007 and originally published September 11, 2007.

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About the author

Along with her partner, Sasha owns and manage six residential rental units. Sasha endeavors to support the causes and organizations she believes in through more conscientious spending practices. View all articles by .

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

“In slab homes, it can be much more difficult to detect and remediate damage from termites or other wood-boring insects.”
This depends, actually. I just had an inspection done on a slab house yesterday and the inspector told me that so long as the slab ends a few inches above the ground, you’ll be okay. What you don’t want to do is plant a raised garden against the house. You should be able to see the cement all the way around the house.

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avatar 2 Anonymous

Although slabs do have some negatives, I’m not totally peachy about crawl spaces either. In my current home, my crawl space continues to have moisture issues even after another layer of plastic and gravel was laid. I’m looking into the possibility of putting a dehumidifier down there that empties directly into the sump pump. This way I don’t have to worry about changing it constantly.

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avatar 3 Sasha

Hi Kurt,

I’m glad to hear you got an inspector, which I always think is a good move. His advice is helpful regarding the exterior of the slab and keeping dirt far away, however remember that there always exists the potential for minute cracks in the slab. This is a common occurrence.

We do have one property (our first purchase ever) which was built on a slab a good 6″ off the ground and cleared its termite inspection with flying colors. When we were renovating, we removed interior walls to find that certain studs had been eaten away entirely, completely hollowed out. They also got under the entire kitchen floor and ate the subfloor.

Any hairline crack in the slab is a conduit for termites. If you read your inspection report, you may find there’s a section regarding limitations of inspections for homes built on slabs, since the structure is not exposed.

If you see any swarming of termite-like insects in the Springtime (their flying phase), try to catch some and have them analyzed. I wish you the best of luck, and hope your experience is a good one.

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avatar 4 Sasha


I have your same dehumidifer setup in my own home’s basement, with it draining into the sump pit, and find it works well. I live in a wet area.

Crawlspaces are certainly less than ideal–they’re hard to ventilate and often too small to enable access to anything. Basements are best, in my opinion.

Some advice from my partner the contractor–if the crawlspace is of sufficient height for workers to get in, you can have a 2″ layer of concrete (known as a “rat slab”) pumped in–this could help keep the moisture down and the bed of gravel below would then act as a big drain into your sump pit (assuming the pit would be in the crawlspace)

It’s important to address this to prevent mold issues, as I’m sure you know. It’s not a bad idea to get a professional assessment, too.

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avatar 5 Anonymous

In some places, like parts of Florida and Texas, all houses are slab construction, so real estate investors have no other options.

Living in Texas I agree that a lot of new homes are built on slabs, but pier-and-beam homes are also usually available to be done as well. It costs a bit more but, for a place like Texas, is well worth it. Any foundation change and the house can, literally, be jacked to a proper level. Slabs, although initially cheaper, will likely end up more costly over the long run.

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avatar 6 Anonymous


Do not put a dehumidifier down there! That will cost you $25 and up per month in electricity!

A cheap way to go would be a bath fan in the lowest part of the space that you can plug and unplug or turn on/off when you want to vent the air out.

Just vent some air from Inside the house to the crawl space below, and the movement of the air will take most moisture out.

Search Humidex for a commercial version, but a bath fan will be a cheap do it yourself version.

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avatar 7 Anonymous

Thanks for the tip, Quinton. I’ll definitely look into that. I didn’t even know it was possible.

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avatar 8 Sasha

Yes, running it full-time can get expensive. We just run ours when things get very sticky, 1 or 2 days a month maximum.

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avatar 9 Sasha

Thanks for the insight. I don’t know much about pier-and-beam construction, but it sounds like it can help alleviate some of the concerns I mentioned. I’ll have to investigate next time I’m in visiting Texas.

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avatar 10 Anonymous

Concrete slabs are the norm where I live in Florida as stated in the post. They are actually desired over wood foundation in most cases. I live in a house built in 1958 and had some termite problems when I first bought it. The termite guy just drilled very small holes in the foundation and inserted a liquid treatment and have not had a problem since. The strength of a concrete slab is so much greater in my opinion. However, living in Florida I lose out on having a basement. I am envious of northern homes that have the ability to have a large basement for storage.

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avatar 11 Anonymous

Im a fan of crawl space too — so much easier to do repairs and remodeling projects. Both of my rental properties have crawl spaces. I don’t know why people buy homes with slab foundations when they have a choice. Seems short sighted.

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