How to Tell if a Home has been Damaged by Water

Whether you’re looking for a new home or you’ve recently bought one, the last thing you want is a huge list of problems you only discovered after the fact. Owners and realtors aren’t always forthcoming, and sometimes the excitement of that first walkthrough in what seems like the home of our dreams can overwhelm our judgment, causing us to overlook deal-breaking evidence of pre-existing damage. A house is a huge enough investment without the addition of major repairs bills you never saw coming, and we can’t stress enough the importance of having a proper inspection performed by a licensed inspector, on top of whatever credentials the seller provides. When you walk through a house on that first showing, even the most thorough inspection can only shed light on about 35% of the whole structure. Since so many secrets can exist within the walls, voids, and layers of the remaining 65, it’s important to learn everything you can about the building’s history, especially concerning water damage.
As you probably know, water damages homes in a number of ways, from plumbing mishaps to roof leaks and natural disasters. Even though events like this are legally supposed to be disclosed to prospective buyers, it’s not uncommon for people to attempt to hide the problem without ever mentioning it. So, if knowing is half the battle, then knowing where to look takes care of the rest. As you walk through the property, look around for tell-tale signs of discolored or stained ceiling material, around windows and doors, near plumbing fixtures, or the bottom of walls. Stains are a guarantee that water was there at some point, and if enough was there to leave a mark, then you definitely shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions until you are fully convinced that the issue was dealt with properly, even if a second opinion from a licensed professional is necessary. Water can eventually deform finished surfaces like paint or varnish, leaving bubbles or cracks. Also, look for any changes in the smoothness or texture of drywall surfaces where patches may have been made, and ask what they’re all about. Mismatched wood in framing and trim can also indicate prior damage from water.
Musty odors in the home are always a sign of moisture, and it may also mean that the damage is still ongoing in the form of mold, which is not only expensive to repair but extremely unhealthy in large amounts. There is really no such thing as a healthy amount of mold in an indoor environment, and even if a homeowner is honest with you about the home’s history of flooding, there should also be documentation from a licensed remediation company stating that proper steps were taken to restore the property and to protect it from future damage.
Take some time scanning the exterior of the house. Look for patches in the shingles on the roof. Newer shingles always stand out from the older ones, and this will give you a clear picture of the roof’s history, hinting at possible roof leaks or moisture intrusion points. If the home is built on a slab, look for stress cracks along the foundation and brick ledge. If the cracks continue up into the brick itself in one part of the house, this is usually a sign that the slab is sinking in that area, which can lead to extremely expensive repairs in the future. Sometimes the sinking is due to improper pouring and forming of the foundation, while other times it’s the result of large trees on the property whose roots have grown and shifted the soil. These stress cracks are also great access points for termites and other destructive insects to gain access inside the home.
If you’re unsure about whether or not the seller is telling you the truth about the home’s history, why not ask the neighbors? Most of the time, they have nothing to gain from lying to you and are happy to share any information that might help you make the right decision. It’s also a great way to pre-screen your neighbors before moving in!