Brick Foundations and Why It Matters in the Bay Area

Deniz Kahramaner
8 min readJun 24, 2022
Image: Crumbling Brick Wall | Source:

There are almost too many variables and factors to consider when one is in the process of buying or selling their own home. A brief, yet incomplete, list of concerns for buyers and sellers alike includes mortgage, potential renovation and repair costs, HOA fees and regulations, market volatility, and a multitude of natural hazard risks. With so many topics and concepts to worry about in the buying and selling processes, it can be easy to overlook key characteristics of homes that, at first glance, are seemingly unimportant. Particularly, there are many who are unaware of the complicated problem regarding brick foundations.

Image: Bay Area, San Francisco, CA. | Source:

While California is popular for a variety of reasons, one that is unquestionably tragic is the state’s reputation with earthquakes. Due to the many fault lines running throughout the state, earthquakes are quite common in California, the frequency at which they happen second only to the number of quakes that take place in Alaska. According to the California Department of Conservation, “California generally gets two or three earthquakes large enough to cause moderate damage to structures (magnitude 5.5 and higher).” Because the possibility of a moderate to catastrophic earthquake is quite high, one must always question the very foundation of the homes they are thinking of buying. More specifically, brick foundations, in a state riddled with earthquakes such as ours, are a foundational hazard that should not be overlooked.

Brief History of Brick Used in Construction

Brick was a commonly used building material in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s in England and its colonies. In San Francisco, many historic Victorian and Edwardian homes from that era have brick foundations to this day.

Image: Edwardian homes: The Painted Ladies, San Francisco | Source:

Brick Foundation is a Red Flag

Brick foundations are inferior to modern foundations in an earthquake prone region. They have a strong tendency to shift, crack, and crumble as shown in the video below. While many San Francisco homes built on brick survived the last great earthquakes of 1906 and 1989, they continue to carry a higher risk profile as small tremors weaken their structural integrity over time. Their weaknesses would be ultimately exposed as they take damage from big earthquakes.

The alternative commonly used today are concrete foundations. They were also found in buildings in the early 20th century. Major structural improvements were made to concrete foundations over the decades. Concrete quickly became the material of choice as it provided better structural rigidity, was more cost-effective, faster to produce, and allowed for structural upgrades. In short, concrete is a superior foundation material versus brick, especially in earthquake prone regions like the Bay Area.

The Troubles of Identifying Brick Foundations

To an undiscerning buyer, there is no difference between a brick and concrete foundation — assuming the brick is not crumbling. Buyers intrinsically value what is outwardly apparent: the latest kitchen and bath renovations, location, and elegantly restored Victorian charm.

To prudent buyers, they will avoid buildings with brick foundations entirely as they understand the inherent risks, especially when brick foundations shift and sink more on liquefaction or soft soil. You can read more about liquefaction in our article linked here.

An alarming statistic is that most homes you see on MLS/Zillow/Redfin do not report if the building has a brick foundation. To demonstrate this, we gathered condo sales data since 2018 from the MLS in several top San Francisco neighborhoods.

We found that:

  • 25–30% of sales list the type of foundation at the property
  • Roughly 1% of sales list brick foundations or any combination of foundations that have brick. That is roughly less than 5 properties per neighborhood.

Agents understand brick is not good. To ensure that they show the home in the best possible light, they withhold this information. The goal is for buyers to fall in love with a home before they perform their due diligence.

With such underreported numbers, it is incredibly difficult to know if a building has a brick foundation UNLESS you gain access to visually inspect the foundation or read inspection reports on the property. These reports are not publicly available. They are typically found in disclosure packages when a property is listed on the market. EVEN IF inspections were done, it is not guaranteed that the inspector can fully access the foundation if it is covered behind walls. They can only perform a visual inspection on foundations that are accessible.

Our team has extensive experience in analyzing inspections. We also work with the Bay Area’s best structural engineers, who are specialized in inspecting foundations and architectural/structural plans. If you would like to learn more about our process, please reach out to us at

How do Sales of Homes with Brick Foundations Perform?

When buyers are bidding on brick foundation properties in a hot market, they can pay almost as much as (if not more than) an equivalent concrete foundation property. In order to successfully sell this type of property, we advise selling in a hot market.

Take this top-floor Eureka Valley Victorian condo, for example. Buyers fell in love with its unique high ceilings, timeless charm, and renovations that appealed to most buyers. Even more so, it had an ideal location near Dolores Park. Utilizing an effective underpricing strategy, this condo first sold in Sept 2017 at an impressive 36% over the listing price within 10 days on the market. It was highly competitive. At $1.62M, this home sold at $1,515 PPSF.

The owners sold in April 2022 as potential buyers were scrambling to lock in lower interest rates. They achieved 30% over the listing price within 7 days on the market. At $1.95M, this price was a little over $1,800 PPSF. This valuation was well over concrete foundation condos in most cases and, consequently, a record-breaking sale. They were able to capitalize on the hot market with minimal changes to the condo.

Where the sale of a brick foundation sale can go wrong is if the property was purchased in a hot market and sold in a cool or recessionary market. This Russian Hill condo with a brick foundation is similarly beautiful, in a great location, and 500 sq ft larger. It first sold in May 2019 at $1.56m ($1,050 PPSF). Despite sitting on the market for 56 days, it was priced similar to most condos sold at the time.

After 2 years of ownership, the owners sold the property for $1.615m in Dec 2021 within 12 days on the market. This was marginally above what they purchased it for.

If you buy a brick foundation home during a hot market, then sell in a hot market. If you decide to sell in a cool/recessionary market, it is more likely that you sell at a loss. Most buyers are more discerning during recessions and are not comfortable with a brick foundation home. We strongly recommend homes with concrete foundations as they offer better structural strength, especially if the price difference is marginal.

Your Options if You Want to Buy or Own a Property With a Brick Foundation

If you are still considering a brick foundation home, there are a few options varying in price range, some of which are difficult to offset the cost.

  • Concrete Capping — This process is exactly what the name suggests. Rather than replacing a brick foundation, concrete is poured over un-reinforced masonry (brick foundation) and bolting the layers together. This is not recommended, as forces from earthquakes would still act on deteriorated brick.
  • Seismic Retrofitting — This process involves modifying the existing foundation to make it more resistant to ground shaking and soil failure normally caused by earthquakes. It includes expanding the existing foundation with concrete or adding materials like steel braces, bolts, or shear walls to a foundation to increase its capacity under a home. These types of improvements can start at $50K.
  • Replacement — Replacing a foundation is the most costly process, as it entails removing the brick foundation entirely and replacing it with reinforced concrete (reinforced, meaning there is rebar inside the concrete). It can happen in either sections or be done holistically. Its costs can start at $150–200K.

The exact cost of each process will vary depending on square footage, location (what county, city, or district in which you reside), and what contractor you end up speaking with. No matter what process sounds the most appealing to a seller or buyer, you should always speak with your structural engineer or contractor about the process and what it would mean for your home and expenses.

Ultimately, the only person who can make the decision for you is yourself. Our aim is to keep readers, buyer or seller, as informed as possible about the homes with which you are working. Atlasa values integrity and honesty over anything else, and we want to ensure that you, client or not, have all the necessary information laid out before you so that you can make the most optimal decision.

Should I Buy a Brick Foundation Home?

We at Atlasa recommend the following considerations when assessing a brick foundation home:

1. Are You Getting a Big Discount?

If you are paying the same for a brick foundation listing as a concrete foundation listing, then do not buy a property.

However, if you are getting a sizable discount for the listing you are buying, then a brick foundation listing could be a good option.

2. Structural Engineer Assessment

If you are getting a discount for a brick foundation building, it is still very important to hire a structural engineer to assess the structural integrity of the building.

The engineer will advise you on:

  • The condition of the brick foundation
  • What work needs to be done to strengthen the foundation (if any)

This will help you decide if you’d like to proceed with purchasing the home.

About the Author

Deniz Kahramaner is the Founder & CEO of the data-driven Real Estate Brokerage Atlasa. His mission is to help home buyers understand the tradeoffs of different home options using big data and analytics. Feel free to contact Deniz if you need help with the home buying or selling process at

To see what we have to say about the market, specific neighborhoods, alternative red flags to watch out for, and other real estate topics, follow our social media or check out our website blog at