Start with a proper home inspection. I can’t begin to come to any conclusions based on one photo, plus a typical consultation on foundation cracks involves a discussion of the client’s own tolerance of the potential future scenarios (maintenance, monitoring, etc). It could have happened 5 years ago, or during construction 86 years ago. One photo won’t tell the story.
And to top if off, there is such a thing as allowable settlement, and standards exist whereby cracks are graded in severity according to their physical characteristics. And some structures are more tolerant to settlement than others.
Here are some good resources for foundation cracks:
Forensic Geotechnical and Foundation Engineering, Day
Geotechnical and Foundation Engineering: Design and Construction, Day
With that said, my general comment here is that you should communicate your concerns to the inspector or engineer that you hire. Have a discussion and communicate your position and concerns, along the lines of one or more of the following (and this isn’t a complete list):
- I don’t want to buy something that ends up sliding down the hill.
- I can live with cracks, as long as it doesn’t end up progressing into a train wreck.
- I can’t live in a house with cracks.
- I see the cracks, why are they there, and I want you to tell me if this is going to be a problem, and how much will that problem cost.
The unfortunate side of this is that no one will have 100% of the information. It will be an assessment of conditions at the time of the inspection. And information on the level of compaction of the soil, design of the footer, quality of materials and methods, etc, won’t be completely known.