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Chat Plus: Perils of a Damp Basement

Every other Friday I do the Real Estate Live web chat with readers. Here's one of the questions that couldn't be handled in last week's session. Next Chat day is scheduled for June 12.

Silver Spring: After nine months of looking, a house just came on the market in our dream location and in our price range, with newly remodeled kitchen and baths. Heaven, right? Well, apparently the basement is "damp," which is common along that street (most houses are built into a hill). Due to allergy issues, mold would be a nightmare to live with. So my question for you is: Do you think it's reasonable to ask the sellers to fix this? What is involved? I'd love to hear your take on this issue. Thanks!

E.R.: You're fortunate to be looking at homes during a rainy period, when dampness problems are more likely to reveal themselves. If I were genuinely interested in the house, I would make an offer, but with a home inspection contingency -- and with an extra contingency calling for a repair estimate from a good waterproofing contractor. Get your real estate agent or lawyer to make sure the contingency allows you out of the deal cleanly if you are unsatisfied with their reports. If there is a dampness problem, and the contractor gives you a reasonable waterproofing estimate, I would simply factor that into the price. Try to negotiate as low a price as possible, but insist on getting the repairs done yourself, after closing. That way you have more control over the quality of the job. It's also possible that extra ventilation or air conditioning could help control the situation.

What's involved with waterproofing? It can vary depending on soil conditions and other things. You might get away with re-grading the dirt so water drains away from the house, or with installing bigger rain gutters and piping the water away from the foundation. Or the fix could involve excavating around the foundation and applying sealant to the walls, and/or adding drains around the outside of the house. Sometimes, though, even these efforts can fail. You can find more info at the National Association of Waterproofing and Structural Repair Contractors Web site.

If your family's allergies are severe you may need to look to another neighborhood. Any home can develop a damp basement, but your risks might be lower in a different area.

Anyone else want to chip in with their own experience in pursuit of a dry basement?

By Elizabeth Razzi  |  June 1, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Buying , Chat Plus , Remodeling and repair  
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You are, indeed, fortunate to be looking during the rainy season. If it's a neighborhood problem, save many headaches and allergy issues by simply looking in another location (sorry!). It is NOT reassuring to be told all your neighbors have the same problem. If you have active mold allergies, they are not going to magically disappear because of a good price tag, nice bathrooms and a shiny kitchen.

Interior and exterior waterproofing solutions are temporary and generally not completely successful, plus the products - even the best ones - break down after a number of years and you have to start all over. Interior waterproofing on a finished basement can be a nightmare, depending on current mold growth and can include the hidden costs of replacing all the drywall or paneling and carpeting that's been affected by mold in the area between the cinder block and the final finish. Depending on the structure, exterior excavation is also expensive for both the actual work and also to replace all the landscaping that gets destroyed by the process - and it WILL get destroyed.

After trying those two options, we ended up installing a "system" which brought us estimates of $15,000 to $35,000 for the full basement and this is not a large house. Granted it's a good system and appears to be holding up even in the current wet spring, but for severe allergies it doesn't eliminate them all.

Hate to be negative, but better to let this place go and try a home on the flat or on top of the hill, away from underground streams. Look for a house without a basement and multiple levels above ground. Good luck!

Posted by: retiredlady2 | June 1, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

You should also make it contingent upon a mold inspection (where they take samples at different places in the basement and then "grow" the mold.) It will tell you exactly how bad things are.

Also, as someone who has a bad mold allergy, I agree with retiredlady2 that you should just find another place. If mold starts growing, you will HAVE to move out. Then you'll be stuck with mortgage, rent & medical bills.

Posted by: abcd51 | June 1, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

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