It's feeling a little "biblical" around here, what with storm after storm pounding the East Bay. Have you begun building your ark yet?
Like many of you, I have finished (and furnished) rooms that are partially below grade, a garage on a downhill slope, and patios that can easily collect enough water to attract a duck or two, so yes, it's all about the water, or should I say, keeping the water out! (Water is a home's worst enemy.)
It's also the season when Realtors, contractors, engineers, roofers, and handymen receive a "flood" of calls (See how I did that?) that begin with "Help, I've got a leak in my . . ."
Often, the conversation goes one step further to, "I'm sure the Seller must have known about this, but it wasn't mentioned in the disclosures. . . so what is my 'legal remedy?'"
For me, there are certain words that should never go together and at the risk of offending those of you on the other end of the line, as well as my attorney friends out there (and my legal-eagle husband at home), the phrase:"legal remedy" tops my list.
In my experience, a "legal remedy" equates to two lawyers getting together to hammer out a settlement that's incredibly unsatisfactory to both sides, all the while charging YOU by the minute for every phone call, letter, and email that transpires.
On the score board, the game ends like this:
Lawyers - 2
Buyers and Sellers - Zero!
Aside from whether or not the Sellers, did, or should have known, about the issue (and Sellers have notoriously poor recall as they have often overlooked such defects for years), you'd have to prove that the Sellers also maliciously covered up the problem before you'd recover any compensation, and that's not an easy thing to do, nor is it accurate - most of the time.
Most of the time it sounds something like this:
"Oh yeah, now I remember, we did have a minor leak that one time years ago, but my husband climbed onto the roof and cleared the gutter and we never had that issue again. I didn't think it was worth mentioning." (Note to Sellers: it is.)
So while I truly sympathize (I've certainly dealt with my own water issues in nearly every home I ever owned; that's the nature of the beast), I think we are better served seeking "solutions" as opposed to "legal remedies" and that begins with gathering bids, at which point, we'll begin to formulate a "plan-of-action" that hopefully moves the process forward and keeps your family dry, safe and sound. (That's really the most important thing.)
Can I promise you a happy ending that includes all the cash you'll ever need to fix the problem?
No, I cannot, but I can certainly do my best to help you navigate the storm.
In the meantime, let's start by taking a "rain check" of our homes before any leaky problems arise.
This includes cleaning the gutters and downspouts (they're the number-1 cause of water back-up) and even if you have virtually no trees on your property, your neighbor's foliage can blow a whole lot of debris onto your roof and into your gutters. (You'd be surprised at just how much!)
Paint and caulk exposed and peeling exterior wood. Warping wood isn't good for doors or windows and when these elements don't close properly, there's a host of leaks that can, and do transpire.
Refinish decks every few years. The goal is to keep the water out of the planks before it gets in and saturates the wood, creating soggy boards and irreversible swelling. If you have stone porches and stairs, keep them well-sealed as the framing underneath is usually wood and penetrating water will rot the supporting members over time.
If your downspouts don't drain into an underground drainage system, attach accordion hoses to keep water from pooling at your foundation. Water will seek its lowest source, so if you are downhill, that's likely to spell real trouble over time.
If water is a recurring and ongoing problem in your basement, lower level or crawl spaces, you may need to install French drains. Work with a qualified engineer and drainage specialist to get these done properly; it's not a job for your hard-working, well-meaning gardener to tackle over the course of a weekend.
Analyze your trees periodically - as well as your neighbor's. When we moved into our Littlewood home in Piedmont, the Arborist noted that the neighbor's redwoods at the property line were all leaning precariously towards our house. When notified, the uphill neighbor quickly cut them down.Years later, it was my turn when I noticed three LARGE Monterrey Cypress were now leaning toward my downhill neighbor's cottage. No, removing mature trees wasn't inexpensive or fun, but it was cheaper than a hole in his roof or an impending lawsuit. Get the point? (I thought you might.)
Whether pro-active or reactive, homes, stone pathways, stairs, retaining walls, trees, etc., are not static by nature and with one of the wettest winters on record, there's bound to be a plethora of water issues creeping, dripping and flowing into your previously dry abodes (been there with a mop at 3:00 am in the morning; I feel your pain). And while your arguments that the Sellers "should have known" may certainly "hold water," good luck getting Sellers to admit they may have left out critical information after the close of escrow. It's the very rare bird who will "make it right" after the fact, no matter how much I agree with the Buyer's point of view.
Instead, check with your home insurance and your home warranty companies, and then feel free to call your Agent. We may not love these phone calls (in fact, we dread them), but that's part of the wet and woolly world of Real Estate as well. I'm here for you whatever the circumstances. Let's jump in the boat together and paddle our way through the rapids. It's all doable when reasonable minds prevail. Now if we could only get a few days of dry weather. That would help immensely.
How can I help you?
Check out my Instagram at: piedmontrealtorgirl
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.