Top real estate agent Alison Harris of Savannah, Georgia, says that having water in a crawl space is “certainly not uncommon” in her area, where elevation is low. However, she says water in a crawl space can affect any home regardless of location.
Water can creep into a crawl space in several ways, including from gutter and downspout issues, a downward sloping of the ground towards a home, or soil around the house being over-saturated. In all of these cases, the water comes from rain or snowfall. There’s also the rare possibility of a natural spring below the home sending water gurgling upwards, which is pricier to deal with and will likely require the installation of a sump pump.
As a result, the moisture from the water in a crawl space can damage a home’s foundation, as well as bring pests, mold, and even higher energy bills. It can also cause warping and cupping of the floorboards above. And that unwanted water damage can disrupt your home sale.
We researched advice from construction and crawl space pros to get the down low on crawl spaces. The result: a comprehensive guide on addressing your crawl space before your home hits the market.
- How to find out if there’s water in a crawl space
- How much it costs to fix
- Whether insurance covers water in a crawl space
- What a homeowner needs to disclose to potential buyers
- How to sell your house with water in the crawl space
We don’t recommend a pre-listing inspection for everyone. If it was bought within the last two to five years, we can imagine that another home inspection is probably just going to be a punch list. But if we go in and there’s very obvious issues like the hardwood floor is cupping — which is a major red flag — then a full inspection is a good idea.
How to assess water problems in your crawl space
Typically, homes are built on one of three types of foundation: basement, crawl space, or slab. While it’s easy to tell if a home has a basement, the difference between a slab or crawl space foundation is a bit more nuanced.
A crawl space is a small buffer between the soil and the ground floor of a home. The logic behind building on a crawl space foundation is that it allows many of the home’s inner workings — think heating and cooling, electrical, plumbing, insulation, and the like — to be accessed by crawling underneath. This makes doing maintenance on a home with a crawl space much easier than on one sitting on a solid concrete slab.
To gauge whether a home has a crawl space or not, check to see if the first floor is relatively flush with ground level, or if you need to go up a couple of stairs to access the front door. A little poking around may reveal an access hatch in the home’s exterior, one that’s often covered with weather stripping. The hatch may also be located inside a home, even hidden in the floor of a pantry or closet.
If you find water in your crawl space and are worried about selling, there are a few ways to assess the damage:
Get a pre-listing inspection
Harris suggests that if a would-be seller has reason to suspect there might be water in the crawl space, the first thing they should do is to get a regular home inspection right away. Depending on your situation, that may mean scheduling a pre-listing inspection.
“It’s kind of like bulletproofing the transaction,” she says. “They can do a full once-over on the property and tell you everything that needs to be done — you know, soup to nuts. And it’ll let you know if you have a major crawl space issue that needs to be remedied, how severe it is, or if you don’t have one at all — because sometimes it’s easier just to know so you’re not living in fear.”
Not only can it be easier for sellers to make good decisions when they have a full picture, but they can also more confidently negotiate contracts and ultimately ask more for the house. This is especially true if there’s an inspection report with invoices showing that repairs are complete or that show no repairs are necessary.
“We don’t recommend a pre-listing inspection for everyone,” Harris says. “If it was bought within the last two to five years, we can imagine that another home inspection is probably just going to be a punch list. But if we go in and there’s very obvious issues like the hardwood floor is cupping — which is a major red flag — then a full inspection is a good idea.”
Evaluate water damage on your own
If you’re comfortable with getting down and dirty, and potentially meeting some creepy-crawlies, it’s possible for you to have a look inside the crawl space for yourself — provided there’s enough clearance. Once inside your crawl space, here are some signs to watch for that indicate water problems:
- Standing water
- Excess moisture
- Efflorescence, or white salt deposits on the walls
- Mold or fungus
- Mineralization and moisture on the soil or vapor barrier
- Rust on metal fixtures
If you don’t have the constitution for crawling around in a dark, enclosed space, or if you would like a trusted professional’s opinion, it may be best to find a good home inspector to come in and have a look.
The cost of drying out your crawl space
The cost of drying out a crawl space, and making sure it stays that way, can vary wildly depending on location and what’s required. Harris says that in her market, the problem can be solved for as little as $600 if pest control puts down a simple vapor barrier, or as much as $15,000 if the space needs a full encapsulation, including sump pump installation, by a crawl space specialist.
According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost of repairing a crawl space is $6,000, with crawl space cleanings running from $500 to $4,000. The most expensive fixes, which would likely include sump pump installation, are the exception rather than the rule. As a side note: If a sump pump is required, professional real estate agents say not to be too put off by it — having one can actually be an advantage when selling a house.
And then there’s the $10,000 question: Will homeowner’s insurance cover the cost of waterproofing a crawl space?
Harris says not to get your hopes up. “Most flooding and water events in houses are only covered if it’s a one-time event,” she says. “If it’s a long-term problem, it’s generally not covered.”
Of course, the surest way to find out if water in the crawl space is covered by your homeowners insurance is to call and ask.
Pro tip: Get multiple quotes before deciding to replace your crawl space
Harris strongly suggests getting a second opinion before embarking on a potentially costly repair. Case in point: she recently had a pest control professional say that they found squishy wood, a moisture problem, and other issues in a crawl space. Her professional instincts kicked in.
So she had a second termite inspector look at the crawl space, who found no issues at all. “It turns out the first guy was just trying to upsell the homeowner for a $3,000 treatment that was completely unnecessary,” she says.
Selling a house with water in the crawl space right away
If you notice water damage in your house’s crawl space, and you still want to sell right away, you don’t have to abandon your plans. Here are a few options for quickly selling a house with water in the crawl space:
Sell your home as-is
If you don’t have the time or capital to invest in repairing a crawl space, it’s absolutely possible to sell as-is and put the home on the market in its current condition. Harris says, “All you would need to do is adjust the price and disclose it.”
While it’s important to check the law of the state you live in, Harris says that in Georgia it’s fine to disclose a problem such as water in the crawl space on the seller’s property disclosure statement. Consult our comprehensive list of all 50 state’s disclosure forms to see your requirements. A note can then be made providing a credit at the close of the sale, or the price can simply be adjusted accordingly.
Sell your home for cash
It’s also possible to sell your home for cash. In many cases, you’ll be selling to an investor, who would then immediately resell it. Selling your home for cash is an easy way to land a fast home sale. Just keep in mind that you may receive a lower price when you sell for cash.
Don’t know where to find an investor? It’s easy to get paired up with a cash buyer by just answering a few questions on the Simple Sale platform. This online tool will introduce you to a cash buyer in your area, and you’re under no obligation to take the offer.
How to minimize water issues before selling
If you identify water in your crawl space prior to your home sale, there are a few steps you can take to avoid major crawl space issues:
Divert water flow
If you want to prevent water from entering your crawl space ahead of an intended sale, installing French drains can be an aesthetically pleasing way to keep storm runoff from getting close to the house and creeping into the crawl space.
Another idea, combining form and function, is cultivating plants to naturally soak up some of the extra rainwater. This can prevent soil erosion and make water drainage more efficient.
The EPA also recommends using rain gardens to soak up rainwater and prevent it from entering the crawl space. Essentially, a rain garden is a bowl-shaped depression in the ground which can be landscaped with absorbent flowers and shrubs.
Waterproof your crawl space
You can also waterproof your crawl space’s exterior. With this approach, you use encapsulation to seal off your crawl space. By adding a waterproof physical plastic barrier, this route keeps water from leaking into your crawl space.
Disclose water damage issues to your buyer
While it may be tempting for a seller to simply ignore the problem, it’s always better to be forthright, honest, and disclose anything that may be an issue.
“It’s better to give more information than not enough, and always be very truthful,” Harris says. “The buyer will have made an offer with all the information, so they’re not going to get a big surprise and try to renegotiate the price with you later.”
Selling your house with water in the crawl space is possible
Finding water in your crawl space may be a surprise, but it doesn’t have to derail your home sale. And there’s no need to flounder around on your own trying to fix up or sell a home with water in the crawl space. Expert real estate agents have years of experience dealing with home issues and can provide sound advice, as well as refer you to trusted professionals so you don’t get hung out to dry. By understanding your options, trusting your agent, and following their lead, you can sell your home quickly and with peace of mind.
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