How to Help Your Buyers Avoid Post-Winter Water Damaged Homes

kitchen faucet with water coming out of it

There have been some harsh weather conditions across several states in America this winter, especially in places like Colorado. This not only takes its toll on residents, but it can also leave a long-lasting impact on properties. 

If you’re a real estate agent working with buyers, you’ll need to be aware of the potential issues to watch out for. Otherwise, you might find yourself facing a lawsuit. Imagine if you recommend a property to a buyer, they buy it, and soon after, they find it has significant water damage from winter weather? 

Here’s what you can do to help your buyers avoid buying a post-winter, water damaged home while also minimizing your risk as a buyer’s agent. 

1. Familiarize yourself with what can go wrong

According to the Insurance Information Institute, winter storms caused more than a billion dollars worth of property damage in 2019 in the United States. Homes can even deteriorate without winter storms. In colder areas, the constant damp conditions during winter can wreak havoc on a property. 

Potential property damage during winter is mostly due to water. The most common issues are found in the roof/ceiling, plumbing, and foundations of a home.

Roof/Ceiling issues

In harsh winter conditions and stormy weather, water can collect on a roof and potentially collapse into the ceiling and/or cause damage to the gutters. In snowy areas, this is even more common, because the weight of ice and snow can accumulate and put undue stress on the roof structure. 

Water damage might also occur if gutters haven’t been cleaned out properly before a big rain, which results in the stormwater not being able to escape properly.

Plumbing 

In cold climates, it’s common for pipes to freeze or even burst, and this can cost thousands of dollars to fix. What do you think your buyer might say if they discover a major plumbing issue after purchasing a house you recommended to them? It’s not an ideal housewarming gift.

Plumbing issues are difficult to identify unless you’re an expert (or unless it’s an obvious plumbing issue like a leaky toilet, basin, or a water damaged wall or ceiling, for example). This is why a proper building inspection is essential for buyers. 

Foundational Issues

Winter water damage can affect the foundation of a home. When this happens, it’s a major problem, because the foundation supports the structure of the property. If the foundation isn’t supporting the structure correctly, all sorts of issues can ensue, including:

  • Diminished foundation integrity
  • Cracks
  • Damage to footings 
  • Movements in the structure of the home
  • Moisture in basements and/or crawl spaces
  • Mold 

2. Look for obvious signs of damage

As a real estate agent, you’re not expected to inspect as a building inspector would. You are not a builder or a plumber or an electrician. However, to help avoid lawsuits from angry buyers who discover they’ve bought a water damaged money pit from you, you should hone your skills in spotting obvious signs of water damage. 

It’s relatively easy to see the external effects of winter water damage. You should be able to spot any major damp areas inside the property too, such as leaky ceilings, windows or flood damage in a basement. Leaks can leave marks on ceilings, walls, and mouldings. And wooden doors may not close properly.

When checking out a home, have a look at the drainage and identify where the runoff is going. Does the home have gutters? Where are the gutters depositing the water? If the runoff is headed towards the foundation of the property, that’s an issue. Also, be wary if you see items stacked up against the exterior walls outside. The owners could be hiding a bigger issue.

Many water damaged properties show no visual sign of damage at all. But beneath the surface, moisture could be permeating the walls, foundations and roof. Sadly, there’s a chance no one will notice until it becomes a major and expensive problem. This is why you should recommend that your buyers engage an independent building inspector to inspect the property, so they can make an informed decision.

3. Advise your client to do their due diligence

A building inspector or plumber will be able to find issues that real estate professionals and clients simply won’t be able to identify during a simple walk through. While engaging an inspector costs money, the return on investment can be priceless and help give your buyers some peace of mind. 

Plumbing issues, roof/ceiling issues, and problems with the foundation due to water damage — all of these are complex and expensive issues to fix. An inspector will be able to identify the source of the moisture and recommend repairs that are required to fix the problem. 

Water damage may not dissuade your buyer from buying a property. They may be willing to compromise for the right price. But, at least they’ll be aware of these potentially costly issues and can make an informed decision.

4. Help your buyers identify the right time to buy

While it’s true that winter time can cause water damage for some properties, particularly in cold climates, post-winter isn’t a bad time to buy. Early Spring is actually an ideal time to spot any post-winter water damage and moisture issues. If a basement has been recently flooded, or there’s a leaky, moldy ceiling, you’ll likely see the damage quite clearly at this time. In Summer, properties have had a chance to dry out, and it’s harder to find these potentially costly maintenance issues hidden beneath the surface.  

5. Contact CRES to minimize your risk of a lawsuit with CRES Real EstateE&O + ClaimPrevent® 

As real estate E&O specialists, CRES can guide you to the right coverage choices for your real estate business. With CRES E&O + ClaimPrevent®, you’ll also have access to a qualified legal team 7 days a week to answer any legal questions you may have. Contact the friendly team at 800-880-2747 for a confidential discussion about your insurance needs today. 

This blog/website is made available by CRES Insurance Services for educational purposes to give you general information and understanding of legal risks and insurance options, not to provide specific legal advice. This blog/website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state. Claims examples are for illustrative purposes only. Read your policy for a complete description of what is covered and excluded.

Originally Published March 24, 2021

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