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Basement flooding may put a damper on your home sale

(Lindsey Bauman/AP)

Jill Chodorov, an associate broker with Long & Foster, writes an occasional column about local market trends and housing issues.

Thanks to the recent rains, lawns and gardens in the Washington region are looking inordinately green and lush.  But the recent abundant rainfall has also left behind a homeowner’s most dreaded plague — wet and seeping basements.

As a real estate agent working with buyers and sellers on a daily basis, I have experienced first-hand how rain can put a damper on a real estate transaction.  It can delay settlements, cause disputes between parties or completely sink a deal.

In a recent transaction, my clients were under contract to purchase a small rambler in Rockville, built in 1954.

At our initial visit to the home and during the home inspection, there was visual evidence of long-term water intrusion and leakage via peeling paint and stains on the foundation walls.  In addition, there was water pooling inside the basement at the base of the walls due to the recent heavy rains.

As per the buyers’ rights in the home inspection contingency clause, we requested that the sellers install a French drain to remediate the water issue.  Two weeks passed, as the sellers and buyers volleyed back and forth on who should assume the expense of waterproofing the basement, resulting in a deadlock.

[The warm-weather home repairs you should be doing now]

By not remediating the water issue quickly, the sellers were running the risk of mold.  That is not a risk you want to take as a seller.

Sellers are required to disclose any known latent defects to potential buyers, which include water leaks and mold.  Thus, a delay in remediating basement water issues could multiply into an additional sandbag in a home sale.

[Mold: What every homeowner fears but probably shouldn’t]

If you are experiencing water seeping or flooding into your basement due to the heavy rains, what should you do?

If there is substantial damage and you want to inquire about the potential of filing an insurance claim, call your insurance adviser, not the customer service representative with your insurance company.

Be careful, though: Several insurance advisers told me that insurers track the risk level of you individually and of your home, not only on the claims filed, but also on the inquiries made even if you never file a claim.

But Steve Gillard, product principal at LexisNexis Risk Solutions, says the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE) claims-information database it operates is not designed to report cases of policy holders calling in questions.

“The LexisNexis Contribution Specifications Guidelines specifically instruct insurers to not report instances where a consumer [asks] questions about policy coverages or deductibles,” Gillard said in an e-mail.

[Read my article about insurance CLUE reports.]

Filing an insurance claim most likely will not pan out, however., the official Web site of the National Flood Insurance Program, states that damage caused by moisture, mildew or mold that could have been avoided by the homeowner is not covered by flood insurance.

In addition, the Web site states that flood insurance coverage is limited in basements no matter which flood zone you are located.

The bottom line is that old cinder block or cement foundation walls will inevitably start leaking over time.  The best a homeowner can do is to maintain a consistent and scheduled waterproofing regimen.

A good regimen would include regularly grading the property so that it slopes away from the house; ensuring that downspouts drain away from the foundation; keeping gutters and downspouts clean and clear of debris; installing a sump pump or French drain; and/or hiring a licensed and insured waterproofing company that will provide a warranty on its work.

With all of the development and new construction in our region, it is even more important for individual homeowners to make basement waterproofing a priority.

As new construction continues to change the lay of the land — by removing trees, hills and rocks that block water, it is possible that more homeowners will be plagued with basement water intrusion.

If you pay attention to your basement and make immediate repairs, you can potentially avoid a dead in the water outcome on your next home sale.

Catch up on Jill’s latest columns:

What you need to know before buying an ‘as is’ house

Low credit scores may mean higher homeowners insurance rates

How much value does landscaping add to your home when selling?

Jill Chodorov can be reached at