Post-earthquake tips for home buyers and sellers in Southcentral

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Last month’s earthquake may have had home owners, buyers, and real estate licensees shaking about the prospect of buying and selling homes.

Despite this, real estate agents hope the quake will not deter prospect buyers and sellers from hitting the market.

Valeria Rojas, a real estate licensee in Anchorage, was working on selling a home in the valley when the 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit. After the quake, she says buyers dried up.

"We had the earthquake right after we put it on the market, and after that it was completely dead," Rojas said. "It’s a really nice neighborhood. Usually homes really sell in that area."

Her potential buyers spooked when widespread damage rattled Southcentral Alaska on the morning of Nov. 30. Rojas' advice following a damaging earthquake: call a home inspector.

"All the time. Every time,” Rojas said. “For my buyers, the clients that I represent that are purchasing a home, always I recommend getting a home inspection."

She says home inspections give piece of mind, function as cheap insurance, and are due diligence for anyone looking to buy or sell a home. Rojas said she had homes in the process of closing before the quake struck that had to be re-inspected post-earthquake.

According to Associate Professor of Engineering at the UAA Civil Engineering Department Scott Hamel, there's not a single place in Southcentral Alaska completely invulnerable to seismic activity.

"It doesn't really matter where you are, because the next earthquake could occur somewhere else," he said.

Hamel said engineering in Southcentral Alaska involves a fair amount of "learn as you go", and that's why he says an international team of engineers is currently studying the different forms of damages across Southcentral, to pinpoint what went wrong at each respective location and find sound structural alternatives.

Larry McBain, an inspector, says he's been making inspections in the time since the earthquake, receiving five calls a day for home damage inspections and is booked out for two weeks.

He says structural damage has varied so much in this particular quake because of the way seismic waves interact with different types of soils. For example, he says he's inspected homes east of Earthquake Park with sand and gravel foundations that weathered the quake without major damage.

"And then a mile to the west, they were on the buttress there, and there was just a major ground failure," McBain said. "So that just goes to show you it's different from mile to mile across Anchorage Bowl."

McBain says when certain low-lying areas in Anchorage with high water levels are hit with seismic waves, they actually liquefy the soil beneath the foundations of homes. He says several homes have sank, some more than eleven inches into the ground from this process, called liquefaction. This has been a major culprit of damage resulting from the earthquake, according to McBain.

That being said, for prospect buyers, he has pinpointed one recipe for structural stability following the earthquake. "Newer homes that were built on stable soils with a concrete or block foundation, and under the new building codes from the 2000's forward, have done really well through the earthquake," he said.

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