Should I buy this house? Is the water issue fixable?

I’m under contract for a home, but the home inspection showed a lot of water problems. There’s standing water in both lawns after a generous rain. It’s either come through a seal in a door or straight through the wall, but it’s soaked the lower kitchen cabinets.

Besides that, the living room floor’s laminate is bubbling/warping and the moisture level read 20%. It’s a slab-on-grade house, so that means it’s coming straight up through the slab.

If I put French drains in the yard, seal the slab edges, and build some collection points in the low areas, is it problem-solved, or do you think the issue will (heh) resurface?

We can afford the work, but the issue is whether it’s fixable. Anyone deal with this? Any builders have advice for me? Buy or run?

Hooo boy. Yard may be fixable. But the flooring will almost certainly need to be replaced, as well as drywall and kitchen cabinets. And think - Mold.

We already know we have mold, so the whole wall will have to be re-drywalled and the floor needs torn out. We can repair anything if the price is right (ballpark $35,000), but what I’m vacillating on is the risk that the problem is unsolvable and we end up replacing the walls and floor every year, endlessly.

Apparently, you have chosen this home based on floor plan, neighborhood, neighbors and location. But, its got problems. Maybe negotiate with the sellers for a reduced price.

Where is the home located?

It’s all going to depend on whether you are dealing only with surface run-off and pooling water, or if the water table is approaching the surface after heavy rains. If it’s surface water you want to grade the property to carry it away from the house. If it’s the water table you need a deeper pump to keep the ground under the house from getting saturated. When the problem is the water table you may never get it all right, and the water table may rise higher in the future.

That’s the game plan, but I need to know what I’m looking at. If repairs are $25,000-$50,000, I know what I’m doing. But right now, it’s more like 25,000 - ???,000.

It’s northern Virginia.

The house is at the foot of a 50’ hill in the back, but about 15’ higher than the street, which is itself 15’ higher than the nearest flowing water. The water table can’t come above the street without flooding, right? I suspect it’s surface runoff and/or underground channeling, but what does that mean for under the slab? Is there a top $ figure when I can say “OK, we did X, Y, and Z, so we’re 99% sure we got it under control.”

Just the interior work you’re describing is going to run into thousands, unless you do everything yourself. A house built between a high spot and a low spot will always have water trying to cut a direct path through it. I think you’re looking more at $???,000 than $50,000.

We, plus a few neighbors, had a similar problems from houses sinking into the ground over the years.

The biggest problem was dry rot of the wood just above the foundation. Our house had to be jacked up and the rotted wood replaced. That caused some drywall cracking. We also had a sump pump put in plus lots of landscaping work to have the water drain away from the house. Cost? About $30K.

Another neighbor had their home jacked up and a new row of blocks placed under it. They had to do things like new steps into the house plus the driveway re-poured so that they could get their cars into the garage. Expensive.

I wouldn’t touch that home unless they fixed it first or cut many thousands of $ off the price.

Like free? I, personally, wouldn’t touch a home that has that many flooding issues and who knows how many more you’ll find once you open the walls. Also, mold can be a real bitch to get rid of.
What happens when you put in french drains and they aren’t enough? What happens when open the drywall and find out the first floor and basement have to be torn out to the studs to get rid of the mold? What happens when you replace everything and find out there’s mold left and it spreads again (or it’s in the HVAC system)?

Keep looking, you’ll find another home you love that doesn’t flood every time it rains.

If you’re that in love with it, you might want to get a contractor (maybe one that works with mold) to check it out and ask for that money up front and then some. Remember, you need the money now, not the savings over the next thirty years. They’ll probably say no, but then you can low ball, really low ball them on the offer. Like if it’s going to cost $40k to fix everything (including the drain) as well as anything else that was found, maybe offer them $60k-$80k under asking.
They’re in a jam, they now legally have to disclose all these problems to everyone else that’s looking at the house.

And, just thinking out loud, you might want to have a lawyer write something up that says you’ll start work on abating the mold as soon as possible (give a time frame to install the french drain, ‘test’ it, and then start removing the mold) but that you want them held responsible for any future illnesses caused by the mold.
Even if you don’t do any of this, have a landscape contractor and general contractor give you bids on all the work that needs to be done and reduce your price by at least that much, that’s more than fair. Don’t guess at what it will cost. It’s fine if you want to tackle some of it yourself, but find out the real costs first. You won’t be happy if you low ball them by $20k, you’re payments are $100/mo lower and you find out you’ve got $50k worth of work ahead of you.

You may want to see if you can get an HELOC on the house, maybe even make it a contingency to buying it. You’re going to need cash the second you move in.

One last thing, how bad is the mold problem? Someone I know moved into a house (of someone else I know) and finally got so fed up with the mold issue that he called an abatement company. When they came out they said ‘we’ve been here plenty of times for the last family, you’re not getting rid of it, it’s way too bad’. New family sued the old family for not disclosing it and the house was razed and rebuilt.

How much distance from the back of the house to the hill? With enough distance simple channels can carry the water away from the house. As you get closer you’ll need deeper gravel filled channels put in. You can get a could price from a construction contractor. That’s just going to stop future water damage though, what about the damage already done? You’ll have to rip up flooring and maybe there’s damage to the foundation also. And then there’s the mold issue Joey mentions too.

I have a high degree of confidence in my ability to assess houses, their ills, and possible fixes.

There have been a few I wouldn’t touch at any price:

  1. Built on mud sill - no foundation of any kind. (I also saw an ad for a house which stated it had no foundation - and that was NOT built in 1890’s)
  2. Bricks and mortar are not permanent - see “re-pointing”. One house had a 2-storey brick fireplace/chimney. The mortar had failed, and the chimney was falling down - separated from the house by 15" at the top.
  3. Another failed chimney - open the wall and you have several tons of brick on your head.
    (and the place had a failed foundation, and incredibly under-sized joists).

The place you just described would be my #4.

If it were me, I would only proceed with the purchase if the seller fixed all the issues in advance.

If he does, he’s probably going to fix everything as cheaply and minimally as possible with the lowest bid he won’t get in trouble for. If I had the finances to do the repairs myself after buying the house, I would much knock the price down, but the house, then get contractors I trust and be sure that the work is done properly. If you push the owner to do it, I would expect to see more problems down the road, and possible damage just covered up.

I read that as a new row of books placed under it. Sadly I’ve seen enough shitty ass repairs, it didn’t strike me as that unbelievable that someone would just jam some books under the wall like it’s a wobbly table.

There should be more than one source of the water. Yes, heavy rains, but the other source of the water could be coming from underground from a spring or whatever they call it. So while regrading the property might work, there could be other hidden costs associated with this. As for the mold, there might be much more mold than you are aware of and what if the entire house needs to be treated for mold?

The biggest question to ask is, if this was a fixable problem why didn’t the home owners have it fixed? Maybe they found out it can’t be fixed in a cost effective manner and decided to sell it to someone else who thinks they can fix it?

Every home we have purchased came with some degree of a hidden problem that we didn’t discover until after living there. So there might be more problems waiting for you that you aren’t aware of and neither is the seller. Water is a nasty problem and can end up costing you plenty more and if it’s mold can end up making people sick.

I would contact a couple of architecture companies and ask for recommendations on very good engineers to do the inspection on this or to have them advise you. At least with with having an architect you can ask them worse case to go through your options and ballpark estimates of cost.

We were looking at a property years ago with an ideal location and a charming house. The owners didn’t live there, but the renter did. While being shown the house by the realtor, the renter after a conversation about the home revealed that they were moving because the house had mold and were concerned for their health. We dropped our interest in the house immediately, because while the price was too good to be true, the evidence of mold in the home was not disclosed to our realtor or on any of the information provided by the seller about the home.

This one looks to me like the smart thing is to budget for bulldozing the house, regrading the land, putting in extensive underground water management, then building a house in the right spot on the modified land.

IOW you’re buying raw land with an obstacle on it. If you can buy it at the right price for all this, AND you were looking for a 2-year project before you can occupy, then go for it.

Otherwise not.
My possibly relevant anecdote:

I used to own a house backed up to and overlooking a lake. From the front of the house the land sloped down about 1v:1.5h to the lake. So not quite a bluff, but still a pretty steep drop-off. It had a walk out basement and from there it was another 40ish vertical feet down to the water. There were several houses all built at the same time more or less side by side. There had originally been a creek that cut through the bluff and ran down to the lake. It had been dammed a few hundred feet upstream, a 1/4mi square pond formed, and the channel filled.

The two houses that were built on the hillside on the filled channel had continuous water intrusion problems that were never solved despite multiple hundreds of thousands being spent. The adjacent houses (fortunately including mine) had no such problems.
Back to the OP:
So we had houses with major water problems that were uphill from any surface water source. And you’re talking about buying a house with water problems at the base of a hill. IOW downhill from the water sources.

For whatever reason, the evidence is that your proposed house has water intrusion problems. The intrusion source(s) can be fixed only with great expense and great difficulty. And only after they’re fixed should you begin to consider how to repair or replace the damaged parts of the house proper. Color me skeptical in the extreme.

Walk away. There will be other houses.

That’s not a bad idea. It’s possible the foundation is still good, but once the house is down you can tell for sure. Even if a new slab is needed the cost of grading and putting up a new house is very reasonable when you have an already developed property. With a modular or panelized house it can all be done in a few weeks.

The house next door to me has a flooded basement every spring during the thaw. There is no slope between us but we have had a flooded basement only once in 42 years and that was when we got 14" of rain in one day, including 4" in one hour, and the flooding came up through the basement drain. I would shy away from a house with water problems. It might be fixable, but our neighbor has never succeeded. I believe that an underground stream might be running under his property.

My back yard turns into a lake every spring, but there is a very slight slope up to the house and we don’t see anything in the basement.