Business & Real Estate

On the Market: How water damage impacts property values

It seems a bit odd to be talking about water in the middle of summer, when we rarely see a drop of rain. But water damage is an important factor when selling a house. Following are frequently asked questions about how water and related issues may affect your home’s value.

Q: What does water have to do with my house’s value?
A: When a house is sold, most sellers will bring up a few things they know about their house that need to be fixed. Rarely does that list include anything to do with water damage. Then, when the home and pest inspections are conducted, often there is quite a list of water-related issues.

Q: Why don’t most homeowners know about water damage?
A: Most often, water damage occurs in places where it is not visible to the untrained eye. The most common spots – and the most expensive to repair – occur in three main areas:
• Bathrooms, where toilets and showers tend to have slow leaks that can cause substantial damage over the years.
• Refrigerator water lines, which often drip unnoticed behind the refrigerator, where no one ever looks.
• On the exterior of your home, where wood is located in places that are constantly getting wet and then drying out. Think: eaves, trim around exterior doors, garage doors, etc.

Q: Is fixing this sort of damage expensive? It would seem like you just fix the leak and then replace a few boards and all would be fine.
A: Unfortunately, water doesn’t always just drip straight down. It will “run” along horizontal surfaces and can often cause lots of damage in places you wouldn’t expect. Also, the damage is often located under hardwood floors, walls, tiled surfaces, etc., all of which will need to be pulled out, replaced and then refinished.

Q: What can I do to avoid these big surprises?
A: Keep your eyes and nose open. If you see any discoloration of wood anywhere or if you smell something a bit musty, it’s worth looking into. An easy solution is to pull your refrigerator out once a year or so and see if there is any dampness behind it. Check under sinks and around toilets to see if you notice any spongy warping of the wood.

Q: What about under the house, on a patio or in the attic?
A: These are the areas where I see the big-ticket damage, as leaks often go undetected for years. If you aren’t handy or just don’t like crawling around under your house, it’s not a bad idea to pay a home inspector or contractor to crawl under your house’s bathrooms or kitchen every five years or so. An inspector also can look in the attic and search for signs of damage on the roof and other areas.

Q: How much do inspectors charge?
A: It usually depends on the size of the house, but figure in the $400-$900 range. That sounds like a lot, but I regularly see $10,000, $25,000 or $100,000 repair work being needed to correct an undetected water leak. Some good friends had to replace nearly all of their kitchen and floor because of an undetected slow leak in their refrigerator.

Q: Would my homeowner’s insurance cover the repairs?
A: Sometimes, yes. Check with your insurance agent.

Q: What about mold and water leaks?
A: Mold caused by water leaks can be a big problem, not to mention expensive to mitigate. There are companies that specialize in this. There also are companies that will test your house for mold, which can be especially dangerous to those with breathing problems. Remember, though, that every house has some mold and spores. You just need to make sure it’s not too much of the wrong kind of mold.

Owen Halliday is a longtime Los Altos resident and realtor who manages the Sereno Group office in downtown Los Altos. To submit a question or potential column topic, call 492-0062 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Reader Comments

election news button

Schools »

Schools
Read More

Sports »

sports
Read More

People »

people
Read More

Special Sections »

Special Sections
Read More

Photos of Los Altos

photoshelter
Browse and buy photos