Water damage in new house discovered at possession :(

brickhouseMay 7, 2013

We closed on our new (to us, the house is 3 years old) house 1.5 weeks ago. When we got the keys and walked in to our new home for the first time with the realtor, and rounded the bend the the kitchen...:(.

The previous owners left 2-3 weeks before we closed and a leak had started in the hot water line, sometime after that, under the kitchen sink and destroyed the hardwoods, some cabinets, and the carpet in the storage closet. Mold was also starting to grow, so they did a "flood cut" in some areas of the drywall. There was a toe kick vent under the sink, and water just poured down that as well. So there was also secondary damage to the crawlspace, insulation and ducting. We had an inspection prior to purchasing, the leak was not there at that time. The sellers turned off the water heater completely before they vacated the house and the plumber said that the change in temperature in the line likely lead to the leak.

We are a military family and we waited a very long time to find our forever home. We have lived all over the world in some pretty horrible housing. We finally got to pick a place to live that we love and we have this to deal with now. I KNOW it will be OK, and there are a lot worse things that could happen in life, but I am still pretty heartbroken.

We had to go ahead and move in. My husband is still active duty and this was the only time we could be sure he would be around for the move. Their insurance is covering the water mitigation and will cover the repairs, since they were the owners when the damage occurred. They will NOT however, cover us for loss of use. We could not pay for the mortgage and alternate housing.

The mitigation included holes being drilled in the sublfoor to get air flowing through it to dry it out. The kitchen was enclosed in plastic sheeting. Heaters, blowers and dehumidifiers ran for 24/7 for 7 days straight (one of them ran off of our 220 for the dryer, can't wait to see our electric bill). They kept the heaters in the kitchen set at 100.

The excessive heat, and dehumidifiers dried out all of the caulking on the backsplash and around the trim. It also ruined the finish on some of the cabinets. The cabinets with mold on them were removed, but the counter was braced under it and not removed. New boxes will be built and retrofitted into place and the original cab faces in the affected area will be put back on. I am told I will never know the difference, but I am not so confident that this won't look frankensteined.

I know you are not 'disaster experts', but I'm wondering if you guys can help me think of things I should be sure to have the contractors fix, or advice design choices/how to improve the look of the kitchen, since some things will have to be changed anyway. I feel very much at a disadvantage here, we are the party most affected by this, but because it is not our insurance, we have no say, and are out of the loop. I feel very vulnerable.

I'm wondering:
I know nothing about granite, but could the finish have been affected by the drying out extremes? It almost feels kind of rougher? I can feel some pits (?) in the veining. I have no idea what granite it is, Could be my imagination ;)

I'm was never a big fan of the light floor and the warmer knotty alder cabs together anyway. The adjuster has not said if they will replace the hardwoods (they run through almost all of the first floor) or just patch and repair them. If we have to keep the floors, I am thinking of having them paint the cabs out the same as the trim color (Devine Whip, very similar to BM Marscapone, IMO), since they will need to be finished anyhow. I've read on the House of Fifty blog about how she did the same thing with her knotty alder, she had the knots filled. Then I guess i'd pay to have the cabs on either side of the fireplace painted to match too?

Should I ask them to repaint the walls? Again the excessive heat and moisture loss from the drying process, I'm worried what affect it will have on that as far as durability over time.

If they do paint the cabs, I'm thinking of a cheaper crackle white subway too instead of the travertine bs. That would have to be on my dime though, because the bs appears fine except for the crumbling grout caulk.

If we do get to pick out new floors I will probably go with a warmer/darker color. I do love how hard these floors appear to be. They are a prefinished engineered maple.

I know this is a jumbled mess of a post, but I am 100% overloaded right now. Sorry...

If there is anything you can think of that I should be doing/have the contractors redo, that isn't obvious, I'd sure appreciate some advice. I know i will need to make some decisions soon, and I love to pick some things out that goes better with my style if I can. I've posted some pics so you can get a feel for the space. The furniture you see, is not necessarily what will stay (the dining table belongs in the dining room obviously, when we can access it, it was affected too.) The blond table is just acting as my kitchen counter ;)))

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Holly- Kay

I have no suggestions but I want to convey how sorry I am that you are going through this. I feel so grateful for the military families who sacrifice so much for all of us.

Good luck with the renovations and please keep us posted as to what is going on.

Best Wishes,

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 3:01PM
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I don't either, but I'm heartbroken for you and your family. Please thank DH for his service, and thank you and your children for your sacrifices as well. Military families never get enough praise, imo.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 3:16PM
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I know it's too late now, but you should have done a final walk-thru before the closing (most people do) and then run away from the house. Good luck.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 3:33PM
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You might consider hiring an agent to represent you with the insurance company. They will charge you a percentage of the settlement but they often get you a lot more than you'd be able to get on your own. The goal of the insurance company is to pay out as little as possible.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 3:49PM
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I would say that you need to hire a Public Adjuster, but I don't know if that will help you since the previous owner's insurance is the carrier involved. How screwed up.

I would see an attorney, whether you can afford it or not. Don't count on the previous owners insurance company to treat you right. They won't.

I am so sorry you are going through this.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 3:49PM
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Thanks for the kind words. We have loved being a military family. We've been blessed by some incredible experiences and people that its brought into our lives. It's not easy, but we wouldn't change it for the world!

The adjuster the insurance company sent out was a 3rd party/independent contractor. Then his report will be analyzed by the insurance company's inside adjuster who will make the final determination. Do you still think we would need a third adjuster?

Yes, the walk-through. That's our fault. We didn't even know that was an option. We should've educated ourselves better. Apparently, they are almost never done in our state, unless it's new construction. Honestly, we would probably still want the house...fixed, of course. We've been in a little apartment for a year trying to find, and save for this place. It's the total package, aside from a few cosmetic choices in the kitchen, in particular, that I was willing to overlook.

We've talked with a lawyer. She felt this was more of a small claims matter, since, in her opinion, we would only be seeking to recoup costs of meals out due to an unusable kitchen and the increased cost of utilities. We are still seeking additional opinions from a few other lawyers.
@weissman- were you referring to a lawyer?

Thanks again;) I've been holding it together pretty well, but today is our first day back to normal life...kids back at school, DH back at work and me home with a broken kitchen, waiting for a plumber that was 2 hours late, I am dreading the next few months of dealing with this.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 6:14PM
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What a bummer - I am sure it can be fixed to be your dream home.
Hang in there and as others have said - get some legal help to get you through this mess.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 7:50PM
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So sorry to hear about the leak. I'm surprised that the previous owners didn't shut off the water since they know it would be vacant for awhile.

Granite can have natural pits. Some types of granite have more pitting than others. I doubt that the water damaged it. I sure hope your counters don't get cracked until you can get cabinets back under them. Granite can be quite brittle if not supported properly and evenly.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 7:58PM
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Also, knotty alder is such a pretty wood. It would be a shame to paint it.

We had some water damage to our kitchen floor shortly after we moved in last summer. It took several months, but the cupping of the boards died down. Now it is hard to tell that there was a leak. If insurance is not going to replace all of the hardwoods that got damaged, resist the temptation to refinish them right away. When we had our leak, I did some research and found where people didn't wait and as the boards dried out, they ended up cupped in the other direction.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 8:10PM
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A public adjuster typically works for the policy holder and makes sure that the insurance company complies with the policy language. Since you aren't the policy holder and don't care what the policy covers, you want what you bought - a public adjuster wouldn't likely be helpful.

I think you should advise your realtor that you expect your out of pocket to be covered, and the home to be returned to the shape you purchased. You are happy the POs insurance will cover some of it. BUT, the coverage issues are the POs problems and not yours.(what I mean is that just because insurance doesn't cover everything...is not your problem, it is the POs).

I would advise the realtor that the coverage for your expenses might be found under the liability portion of the insurance contract. Often times suing will define that the insured (PO) was liable and then the insurance company would respond.

I wouldn't hesitate to go to small claims court.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 8:23PM
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Something like this happened to us but not as bad. It was the first time buying a house and didn't know about the walk through. When I went to the front door I could see the ceiling had fallen in. Pipes had broken, tollet bowl cracked, hot water tank not working. We instantly called our realtor. They contacted the Previous owner who had a repair man out the next day. Part of the roof had to be replaced but we asked for cash to fix it ourselves which we did. We also notified our attorney in case he was needed. In your case I would get your attorney involved to recoup any losses.

Thank you for your family's service to our country.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 8:33PM
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We had bad water damage to our kitchen before discovering this site during our reno. It wasn't on possession so we didn't have the complications you are facing of having to deal with someone else's insurance.

I would say: 1) Take pictures of everything. Keep written records of every conversation and try to communicate in writing.

  1. Make a list of everything you want (replacing "dried out" drywall, etc.) and put it in front of everyone-- think big and expect to lose some things. Keep saying what you need.
    3) That lawyer doesn't know what your damages will be until she knows if the insurance company will really make you whole.
    4) I was told (in an over-simplification) that black mold is very bad news and green or white can be dealt with. If you saw black mold, hire someone yourself to check out the situation.
    5) Don't beat yourself up about not having done a last minute walk-through or whatever else. Just focus on moving forward and being made whole (meaning you get back to where you were-- or better if you'd prefer painted cabs, etc.).
    6) I'd be surprised if water hurt granite under these circumstances.
    7) Ask around your new community about the reputation of the firms you are dealing with, especially the disaster recovery people making decisions about things like leaving the counter in place, and the cabinet maker. Ask at your place of worship, your kids' school, wherever you are making connections.

I'm very sorry and I sympathize. You will get through this phase and back to regular post-renovation living.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 9:23PM
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So sorry to hear about your ordeal. Before closing on our current home from a different state, we found out that it had been struck by lightning. There was damage to the roof, chimney, some electrical damage, etc. it was crazy because we weren't even in the same state to check out the damage for ourselves.

Anyway, it all worked out. I hope it does for you as well. Hang in there. I would definitely find some legal counsel.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 9:54PM
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I am so sorry for what you are going through!! I totally understand your heartbreak. I pray that your home is even better and more precious to your family when this ordeal is all over!! Definitely make any changes you want to while doing this!

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 10:56PM
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Thank you for your service. My family is truly grateful to those who served and those who continue to serve. Tonight I had the honor of listening to my WWII veteran father discuss his military experience. Something he has not done in my presence.

My advice is no different than any of the other posters. Get an attorney involved. You have to protect your interests.

Best of luck!

    Bookmark   May 7, 2013 at 11:30PM
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I wasn't necessarily referring to a lawyer. I was suggesting you get your own adjustor. The adjustor the insurance company sent out works for and represents the insurance company, even if he is an independent contractor. Your own personal adjustor will work for you and represent your interests - you will pay a commission but generally they get you a lot more than the insurance company initially offers - it's a form of arbitration. Obviously, you can get a lawyer and sue if necessary, but that can be expensive, time-consuming and may not be necessary. Consider all your options. Focus primarily on getting the house repaired properly, not necessarily on getting things like meals reimbursed. Good luck.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 12:03AM
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I'm sorry this has happened to you. I have several single friends in the military and could not imagine what it would be like for them if they had a family as well.

Since you said there were things 'you were willing to overlook with the kitchen when you chose the house' I would try to use this to my advantage. I wouldn't call this a blessing in disguise, but maybe it is if there were things you really wanted to change.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 9:24AM
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Thank you everyone!
Yes we are definitely seeking further legal counsel.
We were very disappointed in the first lawyers view of this as a small claims matter. She only thought we could seek reimbursement for meals and such, and her unwillingness to see we needed to CYA (for lack of a better term).

Yes, the knotty alder is pretty, but not my first choice, if I had one. The finish is destroyed on about half of them from the drying process in the kitchen. It sucked the moisture right out of them, the finish is flaking off. The original builder, who will likely do the repairs, has asked for all the cabs to be refinished so they can match. We'll see if this can translate to painting them.

Still so many unknowns. The one thing I know for sure is after all of this, the kids will be long off to college before DH will let me change a thing in this house. We just finished a whole house DIY remodel at our former house, when we got these orders to move....and we took a big loss on that house.
This is the end of the road for us and mil retirement is soon, we are looking forward to growing some deep roots in a town we love, finally.
Might as well get it few things changed while I can.
I appreciate the feedback!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 10:45AM
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Rather than painting all of the cabinets, I would suggest that you paint the island black. The lower cabinets don't look as visible and seem to be blocked by the island. I think it would give you that punch you are looking for and you would not end up with a monochromatic look

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 10:54AM
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I have no professional experience in this area, but I think its good that it's already been determined that the previous owner is liable, as shown by the previous owner's insurance stepping up.

"The sellers turned off the water heater completely before they vacated the house and the plumber said that the change in temperature in the line likely lead to the leak." Sounds like PO's negligence to me.

When I had a pipe burst and incurred damage, I had the choice of having the insurance company make the repairs or taking a cash amount that the insurance company was willing to pay for the repairs. This allowed me to change and upgrade things as I saw fit. While I had some minor damage to my kitchen, I chose not to repair my 1948 cabinets.

You might want to consider whether any money was held in escrow for unforseen contingencies - this would be one of them.

Your kitchen is lovely (aside from damage). I hope you can get this matter resolved to your satisfaction. Thank you for your fami;y's service to our country.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 1:02PM
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I am so sorry you're having to go thru this. We are redoing our kitchen due to a leak - FWIW, we had the insurance pay out what it would have cost to put it back "exactly the way it was", while it was somewhat a pain to have to quote stripping and replacing wallpaper and rebuilding up the floor to the original height, this allowed us to take that money and our own funds and gut the kitchen and do it the way we wanted. Yes unplanned remodel has been a huge inconvienence and unplanned expense - but it also allowed us to remodel the way we wanted and for quite a bit less of our own money than if we had done it later. Something to think about.

I'd also highly recommend getting your own contractor you trust - dont use their people unless you feel 100% comfortable with them. Have your contractor quote what it would be to put it back the way it was - have the insurance pay you out and then decide what you really want to do. Have the contractor quote it out Firm Fixed Price (FFP) for the insurance. It really sounds like you should also fight to have the cabinets declared a complete loss -- uppers and lowers due to the mold and moisture - likely less expensive too to replace with new rather than having something custom made to match the existing. if the cabs need to come out to ensure it gets dry (likely if they were in contact with the wet floor -- water seeps up boxes and damages them - then they need to take the counter out too and are likely to replace that as well. Good Luck!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 1:17PM
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Before you panic, ask to see some of the before and after shots in the repair company's portfolio. Most of these companies do good work - it's all they do.

The granite is OK - most granite has a small amount of pitting and crevices. The backsplash can be re-grouted and re-caulked.

Drywall is more likely to be damaged from humidity than heat - an empty house in AZ in the summer gets and stays well over 100F with no damage to anything.

Heaters, blowers and dehumidifiers ran for 24/7 for 7 days straight (one of them ran off of our 220 for the dryer, can't wait to see our electric bill). That should be paid for by the insurance company. They know what they had running, and can calculate the KWH they used. Or have them pay for any excess above the bill for the same month last year.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 1:20PM
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We had a fire 10 years ago and our Public Adjuster was invaluable. However, we were the policyholders. But, it can't hurt to contact one. You have nothing to lose.

The previous owners of this home have the insurance. Their insurance company has no reason to treat you right and they will not. I guarantee it. Plus with water damage your home is now in the insurance company data base as a high risk home and will make it harder to insure in the future.

This whole scenario is just wrong.

You are seeing the wrong attorney. The advice you got is terrible.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 5:51PM
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I can only imagine how complicated this will get with two different owners involved. Ugh, I feel awful for you!
We had a water damage insurance claim just this past year when our basement sump pump died. We noticed within a few hours, but that small amount of water was enough to soak the carpeting, baseboards, etc. we had the dehumidifiers and the whole nine yards, too. It sounded like there was a jet in my basement for several days, it was so loud.
Absolutely, insurance should cover the cost of the extra electricity. They did for us, without us even mentioning it. Basically, whatever it costs to return the home to the state it was before the flood, less the deductible, insurance should be taking care of.
But in your unique situation, you should definitely get the advice of a good lawyer. I can't even imagine how it would work trying to coordinate things between you and the former owners and their insurance company, etc. How are you supposed to choose your finishes, etc when you aren't privy to the budget? In theory, even the hydro reimbursement would likely go to the previous owners since it's their policy, even though it's now on your bill. God forbid the previous owners take the payout and disappear, leaving you in the lurch with a destroyed house. Cover your butt, however you can.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2013 at 11:32PM
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Each state is different but did you have an attorney to buy the house? We need one here in NY and that's the attorney we contacted.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 7:28AM
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Brickhouse We've had this happen to us. TWICE! Broken pipes in In-Laws house we were selling. Small leak in plaster walls in old house, totally dried out prior to closing but it cost us about 15% of the purchase price in the house. Yes you read that right. This was around 15 years ago. They had an attorney.
Seven years ago we had radiators burst in our small farmhouse. Furnace had failed while we were away and pipes froze. The insurance company wanted to just dry out and repaint. Seriously. After they left we pulled a couple walls down. It just smelled musty. It ended up being a TOTAL GUT. I mean TOTAL to the studs new electrical and plumbing.
The insurance company, ours, wanted us to reuse the kitchen cabinets because they were solid wood "they'll dry out"
The whole house was a disaster should have been torn down but we took the paltry sum of $ the insurance company paid and did the total redo ourselves. Cost about four times what insurance paid.
In this day and age of the complications of mold I would gut your kitchen totally at the very least. After the insurance cleanup and dry out when we pulled apart the house you wouldn't believe the mold issues even in the sub floors and beams.
Insurance companies just want to put lipstick on a pig and call it done. You need to really stand up for yourselves and go for a total redo of the kitchen. Just my opinion.
Thank you to your family for your service to our country.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 9:57AM
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"When we got the keys and walked in to our new home for the first time with the realtor, and rounded the bend the the kitchen.

You did not perform a pre-closing inspection the morning of settlement?
You could have simply refused to close.
now you are likely going to have to sue to have things restored.

Get the best RE attorney you can find.

" She felt this was more of a small claims matter, since, in her opinion, we would only be seeking to recoup costs of meals out due to an unusable kitchen and the increased cost of utilities. We are still seeking additional opinions from a few other lawyers. "

Incompetent is the best way of describing this attorney.

The seller is responsible for the house right up to the day (even minute) of settlement.

This happened under their ownership.

They have to deliver you the house in the same condition it was in on the day the contract was ratified.

I doubt a kitchen will ft in small claims limits.

The only fix for this type of thing is to tear out to the bare studs (and even some of them may be warped and require replacement).

"So there was also secondary damage to the crawlspace, insulation and ducting."

At least you did not have a basement to fill up (and HVAC equipment sitting on the basement floor).

You want it at least restored, and since matching older cabinet colors can be a real problem just replacing them all is often the best solution.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 12:12PM
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Debbi Branka

6 months after we bought our house, 96" of upper cabinets fell off the wall. The house was 11 years old at the time. The cabinets broke into a mangled mess, and made a few dents on the hardwood floor. Because the cabinets were not made anymore (so we couldn't match them), the insurance company paid for all new cabinets in the whole kitchen. They also paid for a new (laminate) counter because they'd have to rip out the counter to replace the lower cabinets. They paid for the entire kitchen to be painted because the new cabinets most likely would not line up the the exact paint lines of the old cabinets. Finally, the paid for the entire hardwood floor to be refinished - kitchen, eating area, hall way, front foyer and powder room - because it was all continuous hardwood. I got an entire new kitchen (except drywall, which wasn't necessary) because my cabinets couldn't be matched. We worked with a contractor to replace the kitchen, and we paid for the upgrades (granite and some variations in the cabinets). In your case, I would think those old cabinets could not be matched perfectly, so they should replace the entire kitchen.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 12:37PM
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Great advice Brickeyee.

There are good attorneys and bad attorneys. We've had both. A good attorney will save your a**.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 1:13AM
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