After considerable huffing, hauling and a noxious level of exposure to bleach, I can stand back and acknowledge that I was luckier than many Chicagoans whose basements recently were visited by many gallons of muddy water.
After all, no soggy carpeting had to be dragged to the curb, no boxes of treasured snapshots were found submerged.
My foot didn’t even make much of a splash as it touched down at the bottom of the basement stairs.
But rolling through my mind as I dragged around the wet-dry vac and undertook a pre-emptive strike against mold was this: Does such an event make my house, and the heretofore-dry houses of thousands of other Chicagoans, less marketable?
We’re not talking about the property values of entire subdivisions and towns that were engulfed; that’s a different, grimmer and more complex discussion.
But for those who recently wrestled with a sudden, wet mess in the basement, there will be an uncomfortable reminder of the event if you ever list the house for sale. A legal disclosure will ask you to respond, yea or nay, to this statement: “I am aware of flooding or recurring leakage problems in the crawl space or basement.”
In other words, does the term “water in the basement” send buyers scurrying away?
Not necessarily, according to several Chicago-area agents, who said there are many “it depends” angles to whether such a wound would have lasting financial impact.
“I don’t think it’s the kiss of death,” said Fran Bailey, an agent in Baird & Warner Real Estate’s Gold Coast office who said she has sold houses that have had, as she termed them, “water issues.”
Yes, she said, the disclosure, which is required by the state of Illinois, might look like a red flag to buyers, but usually it doesn’t kill a deal and can turn out to give sellers and buyers a level of clarity.
“The more upfront the seller is, the better,” Bailey said. “They need to explain, this is what happened and when, this is how severe it was, and this is what we did to deal with it. That’s the No. 1 thing to do.”
Suzy Thomas, an agent in Dream Town Realty’s Lincoln Square neighborhood office, agreed. “The more you disclose, the better off you are. If you aren’t honest, you’re setting yourself up to be sued later.”
Beyond the written disclosure, though, water intrusion can make a difference to closing a sale on several levels, agents said.
“One thing is how finished the basement is,” Bailey said. “If you have one that’s completely finished and you have hardwood and carpeting and you’ve finished the walls, water is going to be more of a deal-killer than if it’s an unfinished or partly finished basement.
Another aspect is location — buyers will see a single instance of intrusion, or maybe even multiple ones, in a different light than if the house is in a known flood zone, Bailey said.
And then there’s the level of experience of the buyers, Thomas said.
“If the buyer is a person who has owned houses several times before and understands that these kinds of things just happen, they may be fine with it,” Thomas said. “But with first-time buyers, it becomes more of an issue; they may be less comfortable.”
David Hanna, broker/owner of Realty Executives Source One in Western Springs and in Chicago, said buyers’ comfort levels may be based less on what’s written in the disclosure form than on what a home inspector turns up — and their concerns might dwell less on the water damage than the mold that sneaks up after the waters have departed.
“Inspections have become more rigorous, and buyers often pay more attention to them than to the disclosures,” said Hanna, a former president of the Chicago Association of Realtors.
“More and more often, they’re spotting what might be mold in small amounts, which triggers a follow-up environmental visit by the mold pros.”
The agents said that if water has been in your basement and you envision listing the house for sale, it’s probably best to bite the financial bullet and professionally tackle whatever remediation is called for, and get the work warrantied, in order to reassure would-be buyers.
“Some agents are going to say different things,” Thomas said. “Some are going to say, if you installed this system, you can say that the problem has been fixed. But you might also be saying, we installed this system, but it hasn’t been tested yet (by a substantial amount of rain).”
Or, coming from another direction, the seller can offer the buyer a price adjustment or a credit at the closing to cover the remediation efforts, Thomas said.
Just don’t fudge the truth, the agents said.
“I tell my clients to be truthful, that if they’re not, the buyers may come back and sue,” Thomas said. “I think that gets through to most people.”