How to Spot Signs of Water Damage When Buying a Home

Among the secrets you want to know about a house you're considering buying, a history of past water damage is high on the list. A water damage incident can present a costly issue for future owners years later. Serious structural damage and established toxic mold growth are among the permanent consequences; cosmetic effects are also evident to the eye.

Conspicuous signs of past damage—or quick fixes to cover it up while the house is for sale—frequently indicate that qualified professional water damage remediation services were not utilized at the time of the incident. This is a red flag that could, in fact, ultimately turn out to be a deal-breaker. It's always wise to have a certified home inspector conduct an in-depth evaluation before committing to buying a home that shows evidence of water damage issues.

Here are some signs to look for:

  • Keep alert for musty odors, especially in damage-prone zones like the basement. These are typically indicative of ongoing mold growth resulting from past and/or present water damage.
  • Check for ceiling water stains. There's rarely a good alternate explanation for stains on a ceiling. A water leak—somewhere, sometime—is usually the origin of it. Ask the present owner.
  • Test the solidity of flooring around tubs, shower stalls, dishwashers and washing machines. If it feels spongy or is sagging, the floor structure may be compromised by past water spillage.
  • Inspect hard flooring. Signs such as buckling, warping, cracks and de-lamination may indicate that the floor was saturated by water at some time, then improperly dried.
  • Open cabinets. Look inside cabinets under sinks for stains and other discolorations that are telltale signs of a supply line or drain leak.
  • Up in the attic. Look for signs of roof leakage that usually manifest as dark streaks on the underside of the roof sheathing. Check attic insulation for evidence of mold triggered by past roof leakage.
  • Down in the basement. Unexplained puddles, dripping, and noticeably high humidity mean you'll be dealing with a chronically wet basement. Streaked basement walls or discolored floor caused by ground water seepage and/or past flooding is another tip-off.