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wmayne

Potential for basement flooding

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Inspected a 50 year old home on Saturday that had originally been a cottage sitting on blocks, which was raised onto a full basement foundation in 1988. A double wide driveway slopes over a distance of about 35 feet to the garage floor, which is level with the basement. Basement is about 5 feet below grade.

The only drainage for this natural "catch basin" is a 1 1/4 inch pipe opening flush with the concrete outside the garage door. The pipe leads to a small sediment pit inside the garage, which is drained by another 1 1/4 inch pipe (I don't know where it drains to, if I was the homeowner I would hope the storm sewers).

The whole setup is kind of scary. The man door to the house is just a cheap plywood veneered door, no closer. A lot of the supply and drainage plumbing for the house is exposed, hanging below the garage ceiling. A lot of drywall was removed to install this plumbing, hence no gas tight barrier between the garage and the house. All of this plumbing would freeze in the winter (southern Ontario) except there is a hot air vent and cold air return in the garage.

Now I have several times commented to clients, while trying to explain the importance of proper grading, roof gutters, etc. that a basement is basically just a hole in the ground. If you don't take certain measures, nature tries to fill the hole with water. I've never been partial to basement level garages with sloping driveways, because this arrangement just acts to funnel more water into the hole (not to mention the problems of driving your car up a snowy or ice-covered driveway).

While trying not to sound too alarming, my report did make mention all of the water stains on the wood paneling and concrete in the basement (basically all the wall areas below four inches), the loose floor tiles, and the presence of two (not one.......two) sump pumps. I was careful to explain the implications of questionable drainage, and recommended having a basement waterproofing contractor evaluate the drainage system. I don't like passing the buck like this, but I am honest about my limitations.

The buyers (a couple near retirement age) were happy with my verbal assessment on Saturday, but their agent called this morning to say that my report had them spooked, they were walking away from the deal.

I'm a rookie in this profession, about 100 inspections so far. I have some background in homebuilding and renovation, but I often have trouble with the wording in my reports. How could I present a balanced assessment of this garage and basement, without glossing over the possible problems, and without sounding like Chicken Little ("the sky is falling!). Is a 1 1/4 inch drain big enough? Would the interlocking brick on the driveway, being a permeable surface, really catch and funnel much water? Naturally, I have been getting a lot of referrals from this realtor (probably 25 percent of my business so far), but I need to be able to sleep at night.

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Originally posted by wmayne

. . . While trying not to sound too alarming, . . . .

Eliminate this consideration from your reporting process.

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The driveway drain is inadequate. It should be a 3" pipe or bigger, IMO. There is evidence of flooding and 2 sump pumps.

If the realtor is choked, he/she will get over it.

There are plenty of good homes on the market.

Finding this old couple a nice trouble-free home should be the realtor's top priority, no?

I do believe you should try to be objective and refrain from expressing personal dislikes. Just state the facts, and if the facts are alarming to some people, it's a good thing you reported them.

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Maybe open up a water hose into the catch basin for 15 minutes or so and see how well the installation handles that flow.

I'm unaware of any specification to drain such an installation so I couldn't help the buyers by telling them what they need to do. If the 'water hose' test failed, I'd simply report that and add that driveways shouldn't drain into the basement level garage without an adequate drain system installed. If it sounds alarming, maybe it should.

Marc

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Kogel's right; minimum floor drain size is 2", 3" is better. If you're draining all that area, no way is 1 1/4" going to work.

You want to sleep at night? Stop thinking about what the realtor thinks.

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Ditto about forgetting what the Realtor thinks.

While I love referrals from almost anyone (even Realtors), I cannot and will not write my report or guard my words to appease anyone, especially not a Realtor. The good Realtors want you to protect their clients and realize there are lots of houses but not lots of clients, the bad one's... well I don't want to be associated with them anyway.

I do try to temper my words to convey the right amount of alarm to the clients since some can get spooked for little stuff that is present on almost every house.

In the case of what the OP described, the client SHOULD BE ALARMED you have the potential for an indoor pool with evidence that it has been partially filled before.

I rarely tell a client this but from what the OP indicates, my words would be "Run, Forest, Run!"

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Thank you for your advice, gentlemen. It always sounds so logical and simple when someone with the experience and training that some of you have had chimes in. I like logic. Simple is good too.

I believe we are bound by our respective standards of practice and codes of ethics to explain to our clients any significant issues (even latent ones) that we have found during an inspection. However, often the hard part is to help them keep the items in the report in proper perspective. No house is perfect, right? We tell them what we found, what might happen as a result, and move on. Yes, I had one instance where I really wanted to tell the client to run ......., but I don't think we can (or should) make that decision for them.

Reminds me of something I heard about air traffic controllers. If I have the story right, they cannot legally tell a pilot he shouldn't fly, even if the weather is really nasty. Unfortunately many pilots of small planes, especially if they fly only occasionally, are not good at making this kind of decision themselves.

But sometimes the controllers will present every snippet of information about the weather that might dissuade the pilot from taking off. "Low ceilings, limited visabilty, wind shear, hail 200 miles south, thunderstorms 200 miles east, local streams are higher than usual, that small tree at the end of the runway hasn't been trimmed in a year, and it's getting dark in a few hours too".

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Keeping things in perspective means understanding what perspective is.

Until you have that understanding, you'll worry about things like keeping stuff in perspective.

FTR, anything that involves water in a house is serious. If you think a basement could flood, tell folks "I think the basement could flood because of XYZ".

That's perspective.

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. . . However, often the hard part is to help them keep the items in the report in proper perspective. . . .

You're fooling yourself. Keeping items in proper perspective is exceedingly easy. "This is a big problem." "This is a small problem." It's not in the least bit difficult.

The hard part is explaining away big problems to make them seem like small problems in order to protect your referral source. That can be a real bitch.

If you find that you're having a hard time "putting things in perspective," it's probably because you're not really trying to put them in perspective. I suspect that it's because you're trying to explain away a problem without offending an agent. That's hard to do.

No house is perfect, right? We tell them what we found, what might happen as a result, and move on.

What does "no house is perfect" have to do with telling customers about defects? Is a defect less important because no house is perfect? What's the function of that particular rationalization here?

Yes, I had one instance where I really wanted to tell the client to run ......., but I don't think we can (or should) make that decision for them.

That's one of the oldest puzzles that home inspectors have had to deal with. It's been discussed endlessly here and on every other home inspector venue on the planet. Kind of charming that you seem to view it as a new concept.

Reminds me of something I heard about air traffic controllers. If I have the story right, they cannot legally tell a pilot he shouldn't fly, even if the weather is really nasty. Unfortunately many pilots of small planes, especially if they fly only occasionally, are not good at making this kind of decision themselves.

But sometimes the controllers will present every snippet of information about the weather that might dissuade the pilot from taking off. "Low ceilings, limited visabilty, wind shear, hail 200 miles south, thunderstorms 200 miles east, local streams are higher than usual, that small tree at the end of the runway hasn't been trimmed in a year, and it's getting dark in a few hours too".

Sounds like a stupid way to control air traffic.

If a customer asks me a question, and I know the answer to it, I answer the question.

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By far the best source of information I've found so far in my career is this site. My thanks to the many people who take time to share their knowledge and experience. Posts are almost always short, not always so sweet. (Sounds like the recipe for a good report?) Hey, if I want a pat on the head, I'll go see my mom.

Jim, I tell all clients during my short little explanation of what I do that no house is perfect. I've seen a few people (especially first time buyers) bounce from house to house, scared off because each one has a "punch list". It may save everyone some hassle if I tell them ahead of time that yes, I will find flaws, my report will be x number of pages long, this will be the case for any house, even new ones. And I remind them that no house is maintenance free, there is almost always something needs painting, caulking, fixing......

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I've been in that situation before where the client thinks any finding is reason to move on to the next house. I do as you have...explain to the best of my ability that the expectation of a perfect house is unrealistic. If a problem remains, it's not my problem and I don't ever allow my report to bend to accommodate that. I got liabilities to look after.

Marc

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No house is perfect, right? We tell them what we found, what might happen as a result, and move on. Yes, I had one instance where I really wanted to tell the client to run ......., but I don't think we can (or should) make that decision for them.

I have never gotten into the "no house is perfect," business. That's the job of a realtor and I know it hurts my bottom line dearly. I can only make the buyer informed and often unhappy. I wish I could make everyone less unhappy but I'm not good at that.

I rarely tell a person not to buy but I do sometimes and it is a private matter between my client and me. This is not a part of the inspection report but a part of my inspection consulting service which is free with any inspection. It may fall under the Illinois SOP,

f) These Standards are not intended to limit home inspectors from:

1) Including other inspection services, ... in addition to those defined in these Standards;

We do have a stipulation that prohibits us from advising on not buying a property and it's not something I take lightly.

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I do something similar.

Whether or not to buy is a financial issue, and a determination if the customer is capable or desirous of undertaking repairs.

First thing, you got to get the hell away from the realtors; 99.9% of them don't know squat about construction, cost basis, or anything else. I walk the customer through whats necessary and what it will likely cost.

If one isn't familiar with costs in their area, one isn't capable of providing useful information in this arena.

After you do a little arithmetic and expectations gauging, it's apparent whether or not the person should buy or not.

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If you want to put things in perspective, don't do it with the "no house is perfect" speech; instead, do what I do, tell them at the onset of the inspection to expect their sensibilities to be shocked over the next few hours, tell them that every house is a huge maintenance item that is in constant race with its owners to return to compost. Make them understand that what you find will only be the tip of the iceberg and that unless they are prepared to accept that reality they might just as well stop the inspection immediately, get in their car and leave.

I've told plenty of folks to run like hell. I've got to write a memo today to a guy that I told in December to run like hell. I told him in December to get an engineer out and estimated that there would be at least $150k needed in slope stabilization measures behind the home before it would be stable enough to repair the major settling and tearing that's taking place in that structure. He didn't listen to me.

In May he asked me to go back and reinspect . I returned to the home to find that absolutely nothing had been done to stabilize the slope or fix any of the structural issues; instead, the insurance company had paid to replace all of the drywall throughout the house that had been damaged when a pipe had broken due to the settling and flooded everything. Since December, new cracks 1/8-inch wide had developed in some ceilings and a 1/4-inch crack had opened up in a basement floor. I fully expect to see that house on the news within the next couple of years when the slope gives way and it rips in half and the back half ends up on top of the house on the slope behind and below it.

My memo is simply going to say exactly that, basically, "I warned you in December not to go ahead with this transaction unless/until you brought in engineers to evaluate this site, prescribe corrective measures and had those measures implemented before you agreed to the sale; you didn't listen, now I fully expect that probably in one of the rainy seasons over the next couple of years I'll be seeing your house on the evening news."

About a month ago I got halfway through an inspection, turned to the client and asked him, "You got any running shoes?" He replied, "Yeah, why?" My response, 'cuz if you don't want to spend every last cent you'll be able to save over the next ten years on this house, you'd better put them on and run like hell." He nodded, I stopped the inspection, collected my check and left. The realtor looked like someone had kicked her in the stomach; but, since she hadn't referred me to him, knew who I was and my reputation, she kept her mouth shut. He called me back for another inspection about a week ago. I couldn't accommodate him but I referred him to someone who could who will be just as frank with him as I'd been. Hopefully, this will be the one; if not, maybe by the time he finds the next one I can accommodate him again.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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"...tell them that every house is a huge maintenance item that is in constant race with its owners to return to compost."

Thanks, Mike O. I gave a little speech to potential home buyers today sponsored by the IL Housing Authority of Cook County and used your "compost" metaphor.

I didn't get paid anything but handed out about 30 business cards and scared alot of people. It was good fun.

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