Water, water everywhere… and not a drop to drink

Water, water everywhere … can cause a house to sink !

The picture does not do the transformation justice. Real estate agents are very familiar with the before status. We probably see more homes over the course of our career than any other industry.

We visit homes that might be listed with us. We visit homes that our buyer clients want to evaluate. We tour homes en masse during broker opens. We visit homes on the market, previewing them for potential clients. We visit homes that are on the market to measure them against listings we may take. Some of us even do BPOs (Broker Price Opinions) for banks that are preparing to sell foreclosed properties or mortgage holders that are evaluating short sale offers.

Agents see homes and we see everything. I have noticed one common thread to most problems that home owners face in the maintenance of their home. WATER. Water is at the root of the majority of problems encountered when evaluating homes.

Most states have a standard disclosure form. It is used by the home owner to advise a potential buyer of any existing problems. (Of course, banks and corporations and mortgage holders are exempt from filling out this form. In fairness to them, they probably don’t know of any existing problems. I would not be opposed to having this loop hole closed by legislating a local government inspection certificate when the seller is exempt from disclosure, but that is the topic for another blog.)

Basic physics determines that water falls. It lands on the roof. If the pitch is sufficient, it flows down the roof to the gutter. If the gutters are clean, the water flows into the gutter. As the gutters fill, the water goes into the downspouts. If the downspouts are not clogged, the water flows down to the ground level. The water then seeks the lowest point.

Any disruption in this process causes problems for the homeowner. If there is any access area on the roof (broken shingle, old caulking of flashing, nail holes, etc.) that allows water to seep into the house, problems will follow. If the water is not captured by the gutters, for any reason, the subsequent water fall is directly below onto the area surrounding the house. When the water reaches ground level, if it is not diverted away from the home, it will seep into the area around the foundation. All of these events can cause problems.

  • moisture and mold in the attic
  • leaks in ceilings
  • mold in drywall
  • wet or damp basements
  • flooding in lower level
  • uneven or dangerous settling of the structure

These things happen.

We see the dark spots in ceilings. We see the stress cracks in the walls. We see the old water lines in basements. We smell that foreboding musty aroma in dark spaces. We can picture what might have been and think of the value lost because of poor maintenance.

It is never too late to have your home evaluated. I work closely with a firm, The Landscapers, LLC. I know the owner and I know his track record of correcting problems before they become a larger issue. Recently, their work was featured in the Washington Examiner. I have reprinted the article. If you are concerned, you might want to give Evan Brown a call at 240-388-7979.

Transforming a mud pit into an outdoor paradise

By: Dean Bartoli Smith

Special to The Examiner

January 21, 2010

Moving into their home in 2001, Sam and Eric Smith of Aspen Hill knew they faced a challenge with a sloping backyard and beech trees that provided dense shade. When it rained, the area turned into a mudslide.

The Smiths tried growing grass — even shade grass — to no avail. Rain had washed away the topsoil. They needed a place for their two young children to play. A garden was out of the question. The entire yard was useless. “It would take five minutes for the rain to come down through the trees,” said Sam Smith. “Then we would watch the chaos. It was a mud pit.”

Working with Evan Brown of the Landscapers, the couple developed a staged approach to correct the problem — with places for the children to play and the parents to entertain. “They drew their own designs,” said Brown, “and they were very hands on.” Sam is a computer designer and Eric works in IT.

At the top of the slope, a pond-less waterfall made of rounded tan stone blocks flows into a basin of loose stones to help with the drainage. Winding brick pathways section the quadrant into spaces for a sandbox and a shed. St. John’s wort, hydrangea, heavenly bamboo, Virginia creeper, climbing roses, and ferns — including autumn, ostrich, and Christmas — fill in the areas. The massive beech trees at the back of the property are linked by a hammock. “The beech trees are great,” said Eric Smith. “I wanted a koi pond for the kids, but the stones are better for drainage.”

They transformed the lower patio area into a formal outdoor living room partitioned off from the rest of the yard by a standalone fireplace. Going for earth tones, they selected “South Bay” building stones for the sitting wall and fireplace and lighter colored Copper Bay flagstones from China for the patio. The sitting wall features an inset grill. A ceramic-and-steel, face-of-the-sun artwork punctuates the relaxing spirit of the landscape design.

“It gave us an outside room that we could enjoy and entertain in,” said Sam. “We love our fireplace, inbuilt grill, and all the stonework. The fireplace was something we decided to add later on into the plans. I’m glad we did.”

Hand built by Brown, the flagstone fireplace presented several challenges. On one side, it supports an arbor made of cedar wood from Alaska and it couldn’t generate too much heat or it would burn the wood. Evan researched fireplaces and modeled it after the Orson fireplace system, but had to create his own design because of its size and the angle on the property. Brown sculpted and poured the concrete mantel and built a pocket to store wood underneath with a metal frame to support the whole structure. “We call it ‘The Brown Fireplace System,’ ” said Brown.

“We had to wait two weeks to light it. I was praying that the smoke would travel up.”

It did. Now, there is abundant outdoor space for the children to explore nature and for the adults to invite friends over and entertain at the same time.

reprinted by permission from Washington Examiner

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