How To Look At A House

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Should I buy a house that has hurricane flood damage?

Sunday, June 17, 2018

We inspected a home a while ago for a young real estate investor who was excited about rehabbing it to flip for a quick profit. The home had been flooded by Hurricane Irma, with a water line on the interior walls between knee and waist high, and was priced $40,000 less than comparable homes nearby that did not suffer flood damage.

     It was two weeks after the storm but, unfortunately, the seller had not hired a professional flood remediation contractor to dry out the home. One of the ways to tell is that the bottom of the walls had not been opened up to air them out, which is a required part of the dry-out process. Our moisture testing equipment indicated the walls were still saturated with water, the wood flooring was severely cupped, mold was beginning to grow on wallboard, and there was an intense mold smell throughout the home.

    As we reviewed a list of all the work necessary to rehab the house with him, the most significant being mold remediation, the buyer gradually realized it was not a quick-flip project. But he had made an honest mistake. Although the swirling gray patterns of mold on the lower part of the walls, which is shown below, looked ominous, the worst part of flood damage was out-of-sight.

    Here’s a list of problems, many of which are not readily visible:

  • FOUNDATION - Flooding can erode away soil under a concrete floor slab. Also, in areas like ours with clay soil, saturated ground expands and lifts the slab, usually unevenly. As the soil dries out, it shrinks, again unevenly. Look for the typical signs of structural settlement, such as doors or windows that are stuck and diagonal wall cracks. 
  • SOAKED DRYWALL AND INSULATION - Wall insulation sucks up and holds water like a sponge, prolonging wetness and mold growth in the wall. It has to be removed. Crumbling or mold-infested drywall will also have to be replaced. Flood water is considered “Category 3,” which means it is assumed to be contaminated, and the standard for remediation is removal of the drywall to at least one foot above the highest level of moisture in the wall.
  • WALL FRAMING AND SHEATHING - Flood-soaked wall framing lumber swells and can twist when it dries. Some types of composite wood wall sheathing will swell and buckle. 
  • ELECTRICAL SYSTEM - Any wall switches and receptacle outlets that were underwater need to be replaced. Wiring may be okay, unless it was saltwater flooding. 
  • MAJOR APPLIANCES - HVAC systems  and refrigerators are usually lost; but other appliances, like the water heater, may survive.
  • FLOORING - Capet and padding has to go. Some wood flooring may be salvageable with repair.
  • BASE CABINETS AT KITCHEN AND BATHROOMS - Usually not salvageable due to delamination.
  • MOLD - This is the big bugaboo. Unless the home was quickly dried-out by a professional, mold growing on the surface of the drywall is just the tip of the iceberg. Mold-saturated insulation and wood framing inside the wall will be much worse. The insulation needs to be replaced, and the wall framing scrupulously sanitized or replaced. This can easily be the biggest expense. For a summary of what should have been done promptly after the incident, click on the link below.

    It’s important to start with a home inspection and report, then follow up with estimates for parts of the work that you don’t want to, or can’t, tackle yourself. Make sure you use professionals familiar with all the issues, including any wind damage. 

    A flood-damaged home can be a buyable rehab project, but only after careful evaluation of all the costs of necessary restoration work. The house may also be too far gone to be financially viable to restore, and a cost estimate—including bids from key contractors—must be done before you make an offer on the home. 

    HUD has prepared an excellent guide to restoring a home damaged by a natural disaster, entitled “Rebuild Healthy Homes.” Here’s their Top-10 tips page for restoration of a damaged home, and click on the image to download their full 71-page report.

    To find out what to look for when buying a house that has had the hurricane flood damage repaired, see our blog post “Should I buy a house with hurricane flood damage that has been repaired?”

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  To learn more strategies for getting the best possible home inspection, here’s a few of our other blog posts:

How can I make sure I don't get screwed on my home inspection? 

How thorough is a home inspector required to be when inspecting a house?

Should I trust the Seller's Property Disclosure Statement?

Can I do my own home inspection?

How can homebuyers protect themselves against buying a house over a sinkhole? 

The seller gave me a report from a previous home inspection. Should I use it or get my own inspector? 

    To read about issues related to homes of particular type or one built in a specific decade, visit one of these blog posts:

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1950s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1960s house?

• What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1970s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1980s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1990s house?

What problems should I look for when buying a country house or rural property? 

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been moved?

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been vacant or abandoned?

What are the most common problems with older mobile homes?

What do I need to know about a condo inspection?

   Visit our HOME INSPECTION and “SHOULD I BUY A…?”  pages for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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