Selling A House With Water In The Crawl Space

Selling A House With Water In The Crawl Space

Selling A House With Water In The Crawl Space

Selling a house with water in the crawl space is a problem when that water is always standing there in puddles, permanently, whether it rains or not, because it affects the foundation of the property, and the selling operation, furnishing the prospective buyer with an undesired bargaining power who will magnify the issue when even it is surely still safe to live in that property. There would be just some foundation repairs required at a cost, as they are not covered by homeowners insurance.

It is not just an issue when there is heavy rain, but permanent water present, without leaking water heaters, without flooding due to a sudden rise of the water table, or visible hydrostatic pressure because this pressure occurs in the basement and not in a crawlspace.

We will concentrate on selling a house with water in the crawl space in two ways: without solving the issue and discussing its effects with the prospective buyer on one hand, like a credit on the purchase, or with an escrow.

On the other hand, the other option of actually solving the problem by doing, first of all, complete removal of that water, and then preventive measures, such as crawlspace waterproofing, usually by installing a vapor barrier and probably a sump pump with a dehumidifier, as needed.

Obtain Several Estimates When Selling A House With Water In The Crawl Space

You may also want to get a few other contractors out to give estimates when selling a house with water in the crawl space. Do not rely on one estimate from a single contractor, especially when this estimation comes from a contractor or service provider introduced by the prospective buyer of the real estate object.

This happens frequently: Someone expresses interest, a problem is found, a contractor, who curiously happens to know the buyer, comes out and gives an inflated estimate. The seller pays, then the buyer backs out. Or the seller does not use that contractor, and surprisingly the deal falls through somehow. And sometimes all this work is not even needed, because you can remove the water from the crawl space yourself, add some lime and install a vapor barrier quite cheaply.

If you want to sell, then work it out where you credit the buyer back the agreed amount for the crawl space water removal, repairs, and waterproofing, at the closing stage of the acquisition process. That way they will be dealing with the contractor, in the future, as owners, and not you. Since you will not be living there anymore, that would seem to make sense. There is always time to add an escrow to get anything fixed if needed.

Small amounts of water on top of the poly vapor barrier are absolutely no problem. It is safe to live in a house with some foundation problems if they are of this type.

If there is not even a hint of a mold problem or other damage even though there’s been water on and off down there standing, gives you an idea of the entity of the issue. And there you will see the prospective buyer insisting on an elaborate and expensive drainage system in order to obtain a higher credit at the closing stage.

There should be a french drain around the foundation of the house so that there is no water in that crawl space, anyway, and a way to discharge water excess at least 20 feet outside your foundation. 

Using An Agent When There Are Issues In The Crawl Space

You can sell the house by yourself or have an agent. If you have an agent, get him or her off their backside and have them earn their money. They are supposed to be a liaison between you and the agent of the prospective buyer. There should be no contact between you and the buyer, except to exchange niceties.

The agent will get paid only if he sells the property. If he can convince you to perform more work at the request of the buyer, you will pay to have it done, not the agent. The agent will make the sale, get the commission, and will not remember you tomorrow. Basically, you need to treat an agent like your employee, since you are paying this agent with a commission. Demand nothing less than total support on your side, and his presence any time the opposite side decides to move forward and advance the discussion on the operation.

Get An Independent Crawl Space Inspection

The inspector works for the buyer, and will normally do what is needed to please the prospective buyer and his agent. Even if it costs you $300 or so, get an independent inspection by a professional inspector hired by you to back your position up, and verify that the standing water in the crawlspace is something that must be taken care of or not: when there is water in crawl space, it is not the same to have raw sewage than to have only some water during heavy rains in summer, or that it is just flooded when the water table gets high.

Also, your own inspector can counter the inspector brought in by the buyer should it be in error.

We’ll cover:

  • What causes water to enter a crawl space
  • How to find out if there’s water in a crawl space
  • How much it costs to fix
  • Whether insurance covers water in a crawl space
  • What a homeowner needs to disclose to potential buyers
  • When you should deal with the issue, and when you should sell a home as-is

How do I know if my home has a crawl space?

Typically, homes are built on one of three types of foundation: basement, crawl space, or slab. While it’s easy to tell if a home has a basement or not, the difference between a slab or crawl space foundation is a bit more nuanced.

crawl space is basically a small buffer, usually between one and three feet tall, between the soil and the ground floor of a home. The logic behind building on a crawl space foundation is that it allows many of the home’s inner workings — think heating and cooling, electrical, plumbing, insulation, and the like — to be accessed by crawling underneath. This makes doing maintenance on a home with a crawl space much easier than on one sitting on a solid concrete slab.

Whether a home has a crawl space depends on a variety of factors including the home’s natural environment and local zoning laws.

So in some areas, you can know if a property has a crawlspace or not just by knowing the zoning and the year when it was constructed.

To gauge whether a home has a crawl space or not, just have a look and see if the first floor is relatively flush with ground level, or if you need to go up a couple of stairs to access the front door.

A little poking around may reveal an access hatch in the home’s exterior, keep an eye out, as it’s often covered with weather stripping, though it can also be located inside a home, even hidden in the floor of a pantry or closet.

What are the sources of water in a crawl space, and what effects can it have?

There are numerous ways for water to get into a crawl space, including gutter and downspout issues, a downward sloping of the ground towards a home, or soil around the house being over-saturated. In all of these cases, the water comes from rain or snowfall.

But there’s also the rare possibility of a natural spring below the home sending water gurgling upwards, which is pricier — though not impossible — to deal with, and will most probably require the installation of a sump pump.

Practically speaking, the moisture from the water in a crawl space can damage a home’s foundation, as well as bring pests, mold, and even higher energy bills. It can also cause warping and cupping of the floorboards above.

Know what you’re dealing with so you can make confident and informed decisions

Warped or cupped hardwood floors are a “sure sign” there’s water underneath the house, and suggests that if a would-be seller has reason to suspect there might be water in the crawl space, the first thing they should do is to get a regular home inspection right away.

It’s kind of like bulletproofing the transaction. They can do a full once-over on the property and tell you everything that needs to be done. And it’ll let you know if you have a major crawl space issue that needs to be remedied, how severe it is, or if you don’t have one at all — because sometimes it’s easier just to know so you’re not living in fear.

Not only can it be easier for sellers to make good decisions when they have a full picture, but they can also more confidently negotiate contracts and ultimately ask more for the house. This is especially true if there’s an inspection report with invoices showing that repairs are complete or that no repairs are necessary.

I don’t recommend a pre-listing inspection for everyone. It should be judged on a case-by-case basis depending on when the home was purchased. If it was bought within the last two to five years, we can imagine that another home inspection is probably just going to be a punch list. But if we go in and there’s very obvious issues like the hardwood floor is cupping — which is a major red flag — then a full inspection is a good idea.

If my home doesn’t have hardwood floors, can I check the crawl space myself?

If you’re comfortable with getting down and dirty, and potentially meeting some creepy-crawlies, it’s possible for you to have a look inside the crawl space for yourself — provided there’s enough clearance.

You’ll want to look out for standing water, but there are other more subtle signs of excess moisture to look out for. Efflorescence, or white crystalline or powdery salt deposits on the walls is one signal that there’s been too much water in the crawl space in the past. Additional giveaways are mold or fungus growth, mineralization, and moisture on the soil or vapor barrier. You’ll also want to check any metal fixtures for signs of rust.

If you don’t have the constitution for crawling around in a dark, enclosed space, or if you would like a trusted professional’s opinion, it may be best to find a good home inspector to come in and have a look.

Who you gonna call?

There are a couple of different vendor types who deal with crawl spaces. The obvious choice would be foundation specialists – businesses which specialize in drying out crawl spaces. However, it’s possible to save a significant chunk of money by turning to an unexpected source.

Sometimes pest control people can come in and put down a vapor barrier for a whole lot less than a person who specializes in encapsulating crawl spaces. So I can get a vapor barrier installed for $600 sometimes from the termite guy, where it would be thousands and thousands if I went to a crawl space specialist, and it really essentially does the same thing.

There are signs that you do want to spend the extra money and go to a foundation specialist. If the floorboards are already warped, it indicates a more serious issue. In addition, the pest control professional will usually let you know. While they’re able to put down a vapor barrier, or a vent to help circulation, anything more complex will probably require a specialist.

How much will it cost to dry out the crawl space?

The cost of drying out a crawl space, and making sure it stays that way, can vary wildly depending on location and the precise services required. The problem can be solved for as little as $600 if pest control puts down a simple vapor barrier, or as much as $15,000 if the space needs a full encapsulation, including sump pump installation, by a crawl space specialist.

We turned to HomeAdvisor for a rough online estimate, listing mold and mildew, dampness, discoloration or rust, white deposits on walls, and buckling or bowing walls on a hypothetical residential home in Flushing, New York. Based on 4,000 self-reported answers by HomeAdvisor members, most homeowners spent between $2,117 and $6,612, with an average cost of $4,340. The lowest reported cost was $600, and the highest $11,900.

As the numbers suggest, the most expensive fixes, which would likely include sump pump installation, are the exception rather than the rule. (If a sump pump is required, professional real estate agents say not to be too put off by it — having one can actually be an advantage when selling a house.)

And then there’s the $10,000 question: Will homeowner’s insurance cover the cost of waterproofing a crawl space? Most flooding and water events in houses are only covered if it’s a one-time event. If it’s a long-term problem, it’s generally not covered. Of course, the surest way to find out if water in the crawl space is covered by your homeowners insurance is to call and ask.

Pro tip: Get multiple quotes before deciding a course of action

I strongly suggest getting a second opinion before embarking on a potentially costly repair. Case in point: We recently had a pest control professional say that they squishy wood, a moisture problem, and other issues in a crawl space.

That didn’t track with me, because we’d already had a home inspection done, and that would have definitely come back on a general inspection.

So I had a second termite inspector have a look at the crawl space, who found no issues at all. It turns out the first guy was just trying to upsell the homeowner for a $3,000 treatment that was completely unnecessary.

Negotiate a deal to sell a home as-is

If a would-be seller doesn’t have the time or capital to invest in repairing a crawl space, it’s absolutely possible to put the home on the market in its current condition – all you would need to do is adjust the price and disclose it.

While it’s important to check the law of the state you live in, it’s fine to disclose a problem such as water in the crawl space on the seller’s property disclosure statement. A note can then be made providing a credit at the close of the sale, or the price can simply be adjusted accordingly.

How much to disclose: Too much is better than not enough

While it may be tempting for a seller to simply ignore the problem, it’s always better to be forthright, honest, and disclose anything that may be an issue – and not just for legal reasons.

“t’s better to give more information than not enough, and always be very truthful. If you disclose something and it doesn’t surprise the buyer – well, first of all we wouldn’t be breaking the law – but we also have a much better chance of keeping the deal together. The buyer will have made an offer with all the information, so they’re not going to get a big surprise and try to renegotiate the price with you later.

Preemptive measures against water in the crawl space can be worthwhile — sometimes

For those looking to do something ahead of time to prevent water coming into the crawlspace ahead of an intended sale, installing French drains can be an aesthetically pleasing way to keep storm runoff from getting close to the house and entering the crawl space.

Another idea combining form and function is cultivating plants to naturally soak up some of the extra rainwater. This list of water-absorbing plants is a great start, and you can boost efficacy by choosing plants indigenous to your region. This can prevent soil erosion and make water drainage more efficient. This list of 34 plants native to north America can provide some ideas.

The EPA also recommends rain gardens as a means of soaking up rainwater and preventing it from entering the crawl space. Essentially, a rain garden is a bowl-shaped depression in the ground which can be landscaped with lovely — and absorbent — flowers and shrubs. They can be made in 5 easy steps — and, according to the EPA, in addition to being beautiful, they can filter pollutants from runoff, as well as provide food and shelter for butterflies, songbirds, and other wildlife.

Professional landscapers can take more acute measures, if necessary. You can also re-grade your lot. Basically, what you want is a gentle slope of the dirt away from the foundation of the property, and you want to make sure that the flower beds don’t build up too high.

Overall, the investment can be worth it – we’d look at it on a case-by-case basis. Most landscapers would bring in a grader, it would cost a couple of thousand dollars – and then you’d be replacing landscaping and grass when they were done, so it wouldn’t be a minor undertaking. But it may be less than the damage that water could cause over time.

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Photo of author

BY M. Kogan

Hello, I am Marcio. I am an architect and designer, alma mater is Mackenzie. Retired in theory, but an architect never retires completely. Along with architectural projects, I am a filmmaker and have completed some short documentaries. Filmmaking and design are my passions. In HomeQN I write about home decoration and foundations. The goal is to teach homeowners to DYI as much as possible, and when this is not possible, enable them through knowledge, to evaluate service quotations and choose the best service technicians.

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