Great Views = Landslide Waiting to Happen? Looking for a Geologist to Evaluate Slope Stability

Wow, what a view!  It takes your breath away…now let’s not let it take away good judgement too.

Sometimes a great house, with a fabulous view needs a little extra inspection and evaluation to help our clients make informed decisions when buying a house.  I have been working with a wonderful couple for awhile now and it looks like we have finally found their next home.  This home is hitting all the important criteria, and has a bonus of a beautiful view. 

There is a BIG territorial and mountain view because the home sits on a high, steep bluff.  So while to my untrained eye there does not look to be anything that indicates a problem, I have suggested to my clients that we have the slope’s stability looked at and evaluated by a professional to be reasonably sure that this is good home for them.

Since I have not needed a geologist technician before, I asked around and found one one who was referred to me by a commercial Geo-tech company and will probably have him evaluate the slope.

My question is, have any of you needed to have a slope evaluated either for clients or yourself?  If you did, who did you use?  What did the evaluation determine?

32 thoughts on “Great Views = Landslide Waiting to Happen? Looking for a Geologist to Evaluate Slope Stability

  1. I haven’t yet but I will need such a person eventually because of the steep slope on my lot in Magnolia. One of these days I’d like to build a house on it or, better still, sell it to a developer. So, I’d love a referral to a good geologist, geo-tech company, or consultant who can advise on such matters.

  2. Hi Mark,

    My clients have not yet gotten to the point where we need to have the geologist out to the house. When we do, and I have a good idea of the geologist’s service/performance I will post it.

    I am hoping that others will comment on their experience and share the name of the geologist who helped them. Since Seattle is very hilly and everyone loves the views that homes can have on them, we might see some helpful comments.

    Your lot in Magnolia sounds interesting, I hope you do have the opportunity to build yourself a home on it someday!

  3. You really go the extra mile Deb.

    Depending on your state, assuming the house fell off the hill and the agent gets sued, I wouldn’t think this would be grounds for a court case if the agent never suggested to have the sloop looked at by a trained professional or would it?

    I see it kind of like an electrician, an agent wouldn’t possibly have the knowledge to evaluate things like that so in the case of an electrical fire, the agent would not be held liable. Of course, that would be a different case if the agent was also a home inspector.

    Anyone have an opinion on this one? If so I would like to hear it!

    The way I kind of see it is like this. In NC we have a lighthouse that keeps getting closer and closer to the ocean. If you ask me, I’d say it is far enough out that the ocean present no danger but according to the state it does. If I was to sell the lighthouse, I don’t think a court would find me guilty for not disclosing that the lighthouse was in danger of becoming washed up under the Diamond Shoals or the so called “Graveyard of Atlantic.”

  4. Hi Derek,

    LOL, I want my clients to make an informed decision regarding whether or not to purchase the house, too often emotions can get in the way. As I wrote at the beginning of my post:

    “Wow, what a view! It takes your breath away…now let’s not let it take away good judgement too.”

    Suggesting having an expert inspect and give an opinion based on their knowledge, training and experience is a good idea to help buyers make informed decisions and evaluate their risks.

    Of course all slopes will erode over time and gravity will win in the end. The question is how likely is to do so during the buyer’s ownership? No one can say with 100% accuracy one way or another, but an expert can give an opinion based on their inspection that can help the buyer to make the best decision for themselves.

    Seattle is a very hilly place and many homes are sited on top of or on steep slopes similarly to this particular house, and with the exception of a very few examples, all are lived in for many, many years, and are bought and sold every day. Very likey few of them had a geologist give an expert opinion. In my clients case, a view home was not on their list of what they were looking for, so they have not looked at similar homes and have little frame of referance as to slopes with which to make an informed decision.

    Buyers don’t often know what they need to know to make good decisions, that’s where a good agent can help.

    I like your Lighthouse example, and someday it too will wash into the ocean. While no one can say when, an expert (the state’s experts in your example) can give an opinion based on records showing the shoreline erosion history for that area, and I am sure on storm record history as well.

  5. Husband and I purchased a Sound view lot on Bainbridge Island 12 years ago. Before we did that we had a well regarded geotech firm do a study. Were I a purchaser I would do that AND have a civil engineer tell me about the potential for problems from storm water at/around the site, and how well the house is tied to the underlying soil structures. Ask an architectural firm for the names of consultants they would use in this situation.

  6. Hi Nell,

    Thanks for sharing your story, I am sure it adds a great deal to your peace of mind and the enjoyment of your home! You also make a good point about understanding storm water issues too.

    Sometimes it is all about peace of mind, because of past bad experiences that someone may investigate a concern further that another buyer would not.

    The house my clients are considering has a concrete and brick patio between the house and the slope. I looked for parallel cracks in the patio (to the slope) to see if I could see any indication of earth movement, while I did not find any, there should be other indicators that a trained geologist would be looking for.

    If I was buying the house I would have a geologist investigate further for my peace of mind, so if I would do it for myself, I would certainly suggest it to my clients.

  7. Isn’t it kinda like an inspection this is how I found the property on such and such date. Anything can happen after that to alter the report. (Tornado, Hurricane, Earthquake, Severe Rain)

    I think it’s a good idea to get one for immediate peace of mind but I have a neighbor who lived in CA and lost his house sliding down the slope so I am a little bias. You have to be a little bit in denial it will happen. Something I would not put my family in harms way. I be the first one out of town during a natural disaster.

    If it’s perched ready to go it’s probably gonna cost more to insure also and that is to be considered.

  8. Insurance does not cover land slides although earthquake insurance is often available.

    Homeowners/purchasers often neglect to consider the impact of storm water. You don’t need to live on a steep slope to find yourself with soil issues. As communities develop the % of permeable service decreases, pockets of soil can become super saturated and move. It can be the slope behind you that causes trouble.

    Were I a realtor I would include a couple consultants in my contact list for clients to call if they voiced a concern. This is an area for experts.

  9. Hi Florida,

    You are right, it is for immediate (and possibly longer-term) peace of mind. There are no guarantees concerning anything because given enought time all things deteriorate and are destroyed, but having a trained, knowledgeable person can help a person evaluate the risk (if there are) and make the best decision for them.

    Homes in areas that are tornado, hurricane, wildfire, flood, tsunami, landslide, earthquake, lahar (a destructive mudflow from an erupting volcano [ Mt St Helen’s and Mt Rainier ] and a concern for some Washington areas and cities) prone areas all have some risk to them. Everyone has a different tolerance to each of those risks, you have a low tolerance to landslides because of your friend’s experience.

    I have high tolerances to earthquakes (grew up in Southern California) and wildfires, low ones for tornadoes, hurricanes and flooding, and somewhere in the middle for landslides and lahars. It’s a matter of past experiences and how knowledgeable a person is in understanding the risks, and how to either minimize the risks, or deal with the risks if they ever occur.

    The house my clients are considering is not “…perched ready to go….”. As I commented earlier, if I was buying the house, I would have a geologist check it out, I could not do less than suggest the same for my clients. From my examination, looking for cracks (none) in the patio that are parallel to the slope, I am satisfied with that aspect. However, regarding the slope itself, I don’t have the knowledge and training to evaluate that either for my clients or myself which is why if it was a house I would consider buying, then I would have it looked at. Of course that is a reflection on my tolerance and not clients.

  10. Hi Nell,

    You are right, the storm water issue is an important one. Excess water, it’s control and diversion can help to either improve saturation or cause a big problem somewhere down slope. Homeowners must make sure that when they divert excess water from their property it is not onto a neighbors property causing a problem.

  11. Although traditionally the best selling season is the summer, the best time to buy can be the winter, after a series of storms. That is when moisture problems, if any, can be more easily detected.

  12. Hi Nell,

    Yes, that is very true. Last November when we had all that rain that caused so much trouble and damage, I asked some buyer clients to drive by a house they were thinking about (and they had expressed concerns about water drainage) to see if there was standing water in the yard. There was very little standing water in the yard, so their concerns were diminished.

  13. Deb: Ardell says she ain’t no hillbilly!

    But I think you should go to work on Monday and say “hey Hillbilly” when you walk past her office!

    We gotta put her in her rightful place you know!

    PS: The lighthouse was Cape Hatteras. They moved it back a few steps off the coast a few years ago. Seems like it took them forever to move the poor thing but I guess they needed to spend the tax dollars somehow because the state darn sure hasn’t done much of anything else.

  14. Hi Deb,

    After your request for a good engineer, did you have a list that you can share? My client’s inspector just called for an additional study on the soil that is rotting near the pillars of the house (house is built on wood pillars) and the house is on a sloped hill. Any good engineers within reasonable expense would be appreciated. Inspector said that a water diversion expert shld help prior to hiring engineer. If you know one, please pass along. Thank you!

Leave a Reply