Keep Your Head Above Water: How to Check a House for Water Problems

Nov 9, 2021Buying Basics, First-Time Home Buyers, Homebuying Process, Real Estate Tips

Looking to buy a home and want to check if a house has water problems?

Use your nose! This sounds silly but trust me, in some cases your nose will be just as important as your eyes when searching for water damage. Whenever my clients and I enter a basement I will remind them to speak up if they smell anything musty or moldy. A basement may look clean and dry, but right beneath the carpet could be a major water issue.

This summer I was touring a remodeled home.  My clients and I entered the basement and immediately smelled a musty, earthy moldy smell. The odd thing was, the carpet and drywall were completely new. We had a bit of a mystery on our hands.

I opened a basement utility closet that hadn’t been remodeled and saw the tell tale signs of water intrusion. The cinderblock wall was wet to the touch and there was old carpet that was wet too.

Remember, you can frequently smell water issues easier than you can see them!

Use this water intrusion checklist when evaluating a property:

  1. Look at the soil around the base of the house. There should be no low spots, holes or mulch against the foundation. The soil should be graded at a 45 degree angle so water moves away not toward the house foundation.
  2. Are the downspouts directing water away from the home? If there are extensions, follow the pipe to ensure water is being directed away from the house foundation.
  3. If there is a patio or concrete walkway next to an exterior wall, is the seam properly sealed? Anywhere there is a crack or opening between concrete and an exterior wall, there is an opportunity for water intrusion.
  4. Look at the roof. Are the shingles curled? If so, the roof may be old and near the end of its useful life. Are the gutters clear of debris? Are they in good condition with no sagging or gaps between gutter and roof? Gutters full of debris will overflow dumping water toward the home foundation.
  5. Is there a sump pump in the basement? Open the lid, if possible, to evaluate the pump and interior. Sump pumps are a good sign since they are typically installed to collect water and dump it away from the basement and house.
  6. Look under the staircase in the basement and along the baseboards in closets. If the wood is original and there has been water intrusion in the basement, you may see signs of wicking and moisture damage. A home inspector will use a moisture meter to detect any current moisture issues.
  7. How does the house smell? Mold and mildew have distinct odors. If it smells musty, earthy or pungent it could be a sign of moisture problems. Pay close attention to what your nose is telling you!
  8. Is there paneling on the walls? If so, look for buckling, white flaky dust patterns and spots on the wood. Mold will grow quickly on wood paneling and what is behind the paneling could be very expensive to remedy!
  9. Look up! Check the ceilings in every room to see if there are water stains or recent patching. You must be a water detective when you are evaluating a property. Your exclusive buyer agent will act as your advocate but we always recommend hiring a home inspector to get a professional opinion.
  10. Beware of flipped properties! The bad flips always update the kitchen and bathrooms and ignore the HVAC, roof, water heater and electrical panel.

In other words, it’s the boring stuff in a house that can really cost you money!


Be sure to choose an Exclusive Buyer Agent to help you through all of the intricacies of buying a home. Find an agent here.


Victoria Ray Henderson is a NAEBA member, a licensed Realtor & Exclusive Buyer Broker in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington DC and the owner & broker of HomeBuyer Brokerage. Victoria is also the host and producer of our Listen Up Home Buyers podcast.

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