At settlements, there is a document that the title company orders, the floodplain certification. This tells you that someone checked to see if your new place is located on an area where the Potomac River or some other nearby stream or creek, is statistically likely to visit your house anytime during the next 100 to 500 years. And there are a few areas in, especially around Georgetown and Alexandria where that is more than a remote possibility. But the real issues of storms and flooded houses don’t usually involve nearby bodies of water.
Almost all homes have had water in their basements at some time after a storm. And it’s almost always about clogged gutters, blocked drains by basement doors, and issues with water drainage patterns on your particular property. And often it’s a combination of all three. And the problems can usually be solved pretty easily by good gutter hygiene, keeping your drains clear and tweaking the landscaping. If none of those solutions work, a sump pump will sometimes be the answer.
There are people who earn a living keeping basements dry, and a lot of them are as crooked as a meandering river. Before you hire one, check them out on places like Consumer Checkbook, Yelp, and maybe ask for recommendations on your neighborhood list serve.
And don’t assume that your homeowners’ insurance will cover water damage after a big storm. There is a federal flood insurance program, and some types of loans require you to get it if you buy a house on a floodplain. But your garden variety wet basement is usually not covered in a typical policy unless you get a special rider.
So, is there any way to avoid buying a house with a water issues? Not really. Obviously, ruling out properties on major floodplains is a start. And the “sniff test” is pretty reliable. Also, if you see dark green fuzz growing on the basement walls, that is an almost certain tip off.
Most jurisdictions around here require a seller to disclose basement flooding, and even though I don’t think there is any such thing as a house in DC that’s never had a basement leak, it’s highly unusual to see water problems on included on a disclosure form. I think you have to assume that, unless you are vigilant about keeping drains and gutters clear, your basement could turn into a waterpark after you move in.
And if you are planning to use your basement as living space, choose flooring that are water-friendly and will be easy to mop up in the event of a storm. I would avoid wall-to-wall carpet or wood, and even with linoleum or tiles, make sure it was designed for below grade use. And any electrical equipment (television, computers, audio equipment and the like) should be installed on shelves well above the floor.
If there is a move in your future, I’d be honored to help. Please call or text me at 202-549-5167 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like to see Monday Morning Coffee archives, please visit my website at housepat.com.