Water seepage and infiltration in basements can create potential problems for both buyers and sellers. Buyers who discover these issues after a purchase may demand compensation, file complaints, or even take legal action against the seller. As a buyer, there are steps you can take to limit the possibility of disputes arising after a transaction and to reduce the risk of being held responsible for damages if a dispute does arise.
TIP 1: INSPECT CAREFULLY
If you’re in the process of buying a home, spend some time in the basement and around its exterior. Look for signs of water damage such as effervescence, crystallization, mold, mildew, cracks in foundation walls, and any “damp” or “moldy” smells. Pay attention to the areas where water seepage or infiltration is more likely to occur.
TIP 2: ASK AND DISCLOSE
If you notice any indicators of water seepage or infiltration, bring it up with the seller. Ask specific questions about any past water issues, such as the source, circumstances of the occurrence, date of occurrence, location of the seepage or infiltration, and any remedial efforts taken. If the seller discloses any issues that ought to be shared with you, ensure they do so. If the issues are hidden from you, you should consider whether you still want to purchase the property.
As a seller, the best thing you can do is to fully inform the potential buyer of any water seepage or infiltration issues. If you’re aware of any issues, disclose them upfront in the listing document, property disclosure statement, or otherwise. If the buyer has any questions or concerns about water seepage or infiltration, answer them truthfully and provide any supporting documentation if applicable. If you refuse to make these disclosures, you risk losing the buyer’s trust and potentially facing legal action.
TIP 3: DON’T ASSUME
If you’re a buyer or a seller, avoid speculating on information that has not been provided by the other party. Ask specific questions and ensure that the other party answers truthfully. Avoid putting the other party’s answers in your own words. Where possible, copy and paste questions and answers in your communications to ensure that you do not unintentionally change their meaning and that they accurately reflect those made by you or the other party.
TIP 4: DOCUMENT EVERYTHING
Buyers often complain that they were not informed of a seepage or infiltration problem by the seller. Sellers can protect themselves by keeping detailed records of any water seepage or infiltration issues and any remedial efforts taken. As a buyer or seller, document your observations, the questions asked, and the answers given with notes saved to your file. Date your notes and confirm verbal discussions in email messages that follow. If the buyer is not concerned with water seepage or infiltration or is not interested in making inquiries, document this as well with file notes and confirm the buyer’s decisions with respective documents or communications.
Claims can be made several years after a transaction has closed, and memories can fade over time. Keeping such records may benefit you down the road and may be crucial to limiting the risk of potential liability in the future.