Water damage is the number one enemy of investment properties. Since an investment property is usually not in your own backyard, you probably will not be familiar with all the elements effecting it. Things such as property grade, storms, roofing materials, age, and overall routine maintenance all can contribute to water damage of the property.
Look down. A walk around the property will give you an idea of the drainage and grade of the property. Does the dirt slope away from the house or to it? Can you actually see water around the foundation? This should set off alarms for possible water damage. Look for discoloration and feel for dampness directly on the foundation. Look for cracks, settling, or shifting. This dampness will work its way up and effect floor joists, framing, and walls. If the property is on a concrete pad, check for dampness at the junction of the siding material and the ground. Water can wick up walls if the framing materials are not set correctly. If you are able to see under the house or in a basement, check for dry rot by firmly grasping a beam to see if it is crumbling. Look around closely for any sign of water or where water has been standing. A basement may also “smell” of water damage.
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Inside, check for cracks around door frames, windows, and base boards. Don’t just believe your eyes. Water damage can be hidden by paint for a short time and not bevisible. Rub the areas around door frames. Open and close every door, including closets. Look for uneven gaps around the door and ease of opening and closing all doors. Open windows to see if the frames are still square. Windows should slide with ease. If water has seeped in, or has caused the floor to sag, the doors and windows will be a tell tell sign. Get down and look at the floor for any signs of unevenness, especially at joints and near walls. Check around baseboards to see if they are laying straight or are discolored.
Look up. Check to see that the gutters and down pouts are installed correctly and are not pushing water under the roofline and sending it down in the walls. Certainly, the costliest water destruction repairs are usually from the roof. Age, materials, and incorrect installation can cause roofs to sag and separate. Also, the pitch, number of different angles, and architectural design of a roof can allow water in, causing dark spots on ceilings and walls. Depending on the age of the property, the roof may simply be worn out.
Look up. Look down. Take your time when looking for signs of water damage. Sometimes damage is not as obvious as that the big brown spot on the ceiling or the sagging area in the floor. A qualified home inspector is always suggested, and often required, before buying a property. Do your homework.