Reader question: We own a 45-year-old home in a development. The house is well-built, with a full basement and sits on more than a half-acre of land. We have made some significant renovations and the house is in great shape. The major problem we have is a leaky basement when it rains very hard, i.e., about one inch or more in a storm. The water causes a stream to flow into a drain in the floor. How important is it for us to do the necessary earth moving and patching to get rid of the leaks when we sell the house?
Monty’s answer: Existing basement leaks are among a homebuyer’s most concerning issues. Fixing the leak now is the best solution. Your comments suggest that you have identified the problem as a negative grade toward the foundation. While you may have accurately identified the problem, water leaks can be tricky to isolate and repair correctly.
If your property is on a slope and there are homes higher on the hill, it is possible that the volume of water collected from higher altitudes is the chief culprit draining to your lot.
Soil conditions play a role in decisions to protect your basement. Different types of clay, rock, sand and loam affect the rate of absorption. For example, if you have clay soil water absorption will be considerably slower than sandy soil.
There are many possibilities how and why water seeps into a basement. For example, the materials utilized to build basement walls vary. Concrete, concrete block, a variety of stone and wood have been chosen to construct basement or crawl space walls. Each of them may require different solutions based on the material and soil conditions.
Short gutter downspout extensions do not allow the water to travel far enough to prevent soaking the soil near the foundation wall.
If you have a sump pit in the basement, and even one section of drain tile around the outside foundation has failed, water can seep into the basement.
Validate your assessment
Consider seeking three basement repair and landscape contractors to inspect the grounds and basement. It is likely they will have different solutions which will result in different cost estimates. Let each of them tell you how they would repair it and why their answer is the best method. While this method is extra effort, it pales in comparison to the cost of doing the work twice.
Richard Montgomery is the author of “House Money - An Insider’s Secrets to Saving Thousands When You Buy or Sell a Home.” He advocates industry reform and offers readers unbiased real estate advice. Follow him on Twitter at @dearmonty.