Here’s What You Need to Know About Water Damage Before You Buy a Home


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Whether it’s a flood, hurricane, or burst pipes, water damage can wreak havoc on a home. Not all water damage is visible at first glance, so home buyers must know what to look for before they purchase a new property. There are many causes of water damage, but inevitably, it all leads to serious issues if the problem isn’t caught early — or corrected as soon as it’s found. Before you put in an offer on a new home, read on to discover what you need to know about water damage, and what you can do if it happens to you.

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What is Water Damage?

The term "water damage" refers to any type of physical damage caused to property that has come into direct contact with water. It can stem from natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, or torrential downpours. Other common causes of water damage include leaky plumbing, burst pipes, or even a leaking roof.

If leaks go unnoticed, they may create long-lasting, hard-to-correct damage to your property. Water damage can have both immediate and long-term consequences. Mold and mildew thrive in moist environments, and mold is one of the most common issues related to hidden water damage. Rotting wood and foundation problems are also common, and if a home’s foundation is unstable or damaged, you’ll end up with some serious (and very expensive) problems later down the road.

If you’re in the market for a new home, it’s important to understand more about water damage — and how much it could cost you — so you’re better prepared.

How Water Affects a Home

Water can create serious problems for a property, and it only intensifies with time. Each issue results in more time and money spent by the homeowner to correct the problem and ensure the home is structurally sound and safe to inhabit. Here’s what happens during a serious water infiltration, like a long-term leak, burst pipe, or flood.

Minutes. As soon as water infiltrates a home, it starts to spread contamination. Flooring and furniture become soaked and damaged, and drywall soaks up water from the floor like a sponge.

Hours. Within hours, the water-logged furniture begins to swell. Humidity levels rise, and unpleasant odors become noticeable. Any dyed fabrics will bleed or become discolored

Days. It only takes a few days for fungi and mold to start growing. Solid wood starts to warp, and hardwood floors are typically ruined by this time. Paint may blister, or wallpaper may begin peeling off the wall. The home’s wood structural components will start to swell and may split.

Weeks. Homes exposed to water for weeks, such as an unnoticed broken pipe behind a wall, will have more widespread mold issues. The property may need to be evacuated due to health risks, and people with allergies or respiratory problems may have difficulty breathing. Homes that deal with heavy long-term water exposure may need to be gutted and rebuilt from the inside out.

Common costs associated with water damage include replacing flooring and furniture, mold repair and removal, and installing new drywall. Wood beams and other structural elements will often need to be replaced. If the home must be gutted and re-done, the costs can be astronomical — which is why having a comprehensive homeowner’s insurance plan is a good idea.

Not all water damage is detrimental to a home, as long as the problem has been corrected. But it’s important to know what to look for and how to proceed before you purchase a home that’s had previous water damage.

Signs of water damage

When you’re looking at a property to buy, do a thorough walkthrough of the home and look for signs of water damage, including:

• Peeling paint
• Wet or dark spots on the walls or ceilings
• A damp, musty, or moldy smell
• Flaking or cracked drywall
• Bowing or warped wood
• Standing water in the basement, or signs that the basement has been flooded, like water marks on the walls.

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Should I Buy a Home with Water Damage?

Not all water-damaged homes are a bad buy, and you can even use water damage as a negotiating tool if you think the repairs needed would be easy to complete. Talk to your real estate agent about offering the seller a lower price if you’re OK with doing the repairs yourself. But before you decide if the home is a good choice for you, here are a few things you should do.

Find out if the property is located on a flood plain or in a flood zone. If so, there’s a good chance that the home will deal with serious flood-related water damage again in the future. Ask the homeowner if they have proof of repairs done on the home so that you can confirm that past issues have been corrected professionally. If the water damage is minimal and has been fixed, the home could still be a great buy.

Schedule a Home Inspection. Hire a home inspector before buying property if you suspect water damage. You need an expert who knows exactly what to look for and who can spot issues before they get out of hand. Make sure that the inspector determines:

• The source of the water damage (i.e. from a flood, burst pipe, or leaky roof)
• How much damage was done and how long the water was present before it was corrected
• What the homeowner did to correct the problem – did they make repairs or have a professional mold remediation service come to the home?
• Whether the home’s HVAC, electrical, and plumbing systems have potential issues
• That all receipts and proof of prior repairs have been provided to confirm the appropriate work was done
• If testing was performed to confirm that the water issue was fixed and that mold was removed
• Whether the home repairs were covered by insurance and whether it will cover problems in the future

Get an Estimate on Necessary Repairs. If the inspector notes the presence of damage, get at least three to four professional estimates from companies specializing in water-related repairs. You can present these estimates to the homeowner and they can opt to pay for the repairs, or you may be able to use the estimates in your negotiations to try and get a lower price. Either way, you should never purchase a home that has not been repaired if there’s still water damage present.

Consider water damage restoration and mold remediation. Mold damage can cause significant problems including odors, stains, and serious health issues. Get estimates from a professional mold remediation company if there’s mold present in the home. A water damage restoration company will determine the cost to repair other problems, such as a warped wood or water-damaged drywall. Before you make a bid, you should do the following:

• Get a CMA or Comparative Market Analysis report from a real estate agent so you have a better idea of the current market value of the home.
• Go over the home inspection and contract reports carefully and determine what the average cost would be to make any water damage-related repairs.
• Subtract the repair costs from the home’s market value to give you the amount you should bid on the property. You can always start by making a lower offer, then work your way up to this number if the homeowner decides to counteroffer.
• Talk to your real estate agent to find out if you can work the repair costs into the offer or if it’s better to simply offer the seller a lower asking price.
• Make sure that you include the repair costs in the bid so that everything is in writing before it’s presented to the seller.

Look Into Homeowner’s Insurance. If you need a mortgage, any home will need to have insurance coverage before you can close on the property, but it’s a good idea to look into what the policy covers in terms of water damage. Talk to several insurance agencies near you to get more details on what their policies cover and how much it will cost. If you live in a flood zone, you’ll need to purchase a separate insurance policy offered by the National Flood Insurance Program, since private insurance companies will not cover flood damage.

Dealing with water damage is stressful, but it’s not always impossible to fix. With the right plan in place, you can still buy the home of your dreams, even if it had some water damage in the past. Learn how to spot the signs of water issues before you buy a home, and make sure you get help from the pros like a home inspector and water damage restoration companies before you put in an offer. With a bit of knowledge and the right negotiating tactics, you can find the perfect home and enjoy it for many years to come without worrying about water getting in the way.