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Are Buyers Aware of the Potential Dangers of Basements?

Today in Seattle and around the Pacific Northwest we had record-breaking rainfall today(about 5 inches of rain in 48 hours).  At least it washed away the 2-3 inches of snow that we got on Saturday. But the heavy rain has left much damage in its wake, including wet and flooded basements. 

Today we helped our neighbor get all of the water out of his basement; he was on his way to work when he noticed the water bubbling up from the drain.  Thank goodness he had a huge Shop Vac, and that the power didn't go out.  And that he caught this before he left for work and not when he came home.  We must have dumped close to 200 gallons of water. (Geekbooks.com has a great, short video and some good information on how to deal with flooding, by the way).

This experience got me thinking more about basements.  Perhaps I have an exaggerated fear/dislike of basements because I've never lived in a home that had one.  But sometimes I wonder if people realize how dangerous they can be. 

Here in Seattle, people love to use their basement as living space(master suites, home theaters, etc).  But the fact is, with most older homes, basements were never meant to be used for much more than storage, laundry and furnace space.  

As a Realtor, every week or so I see a home with basement rooms advertised as "bedrooms" that would not meet code.  If there was flooding, or more likely, a fire, what if you need to exit your basement through a window? Can you fit through it? Is it painted shut? Is it too high up?  Is there a huge shrub planted on the outside that blocks your exit?  Does your basement even have a window or other means of escape?

Here in Seattle, new and remodeled basements must have windows that meet code (windows no higher than 44 inches from the floor, and an outside exit).  But there are so many older homes out there that do not have basements that I would consider safe for my buyers to put their children to sleep in.  Fire safety proponents advocate two exits for every room - makes a lot of sense!

So be careful out there, basement dwellers, and try to make your basement as safe as possible.  For those of you who are looking to purchase a home with a basement, know what to look out for and please keep safety at the forefront. 

 

 


 



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Comment balloon 9 commentsLisa Bosques • December 03 2007 11:15PM

Comments

Agreed. Make sure that basements are safe. Here in Arizona we do not have a lot of them, but it is still important to check out every aspect of them.
Posted by Bob & Carolin Benjamin, East Phoenix Arizona Homes (Benjamin Realty LLC) over 9 years ago
Each area is different in Michigan it is difficult to sell a home with out a basement. We don't have the quantity of rain you must have.
Posted by Terry & Bonnie Westbrook, Westbrook Realty - Grand Rapids Forest Hills MI Re (Westbrook Realty Broker-Owner) over 9 years ago

Terry:

People love their basements here too, many times because they see it as expansion space, especially because in the city we have tons of smaller homes.  If it's done correctly and safely -no problem.   

That being said, ramblers are usually easier to sell here in Seattle, and can go for more of a premium.  Funny how different parts of the country are! 

Posted by Lisa Bosques over 9 years ago

Bob & Carolin: 

There sure aren't a lot of basements, I don't remember seeing a single one when I lived in Phoenix! P.S. I sure miss Bischoff's Shades of the West in Scottsdale.  And so many other places...hope the weather is good for you guys now. 

Posted by Lisa Bosques over 9 years ago
Lisa, I think some of your fear may be related to having no basement experience but then, those of us who grew up with basements were afraid of them too - the boogey man lived down there!  There are plenty of cures for wet basements, none of them cheap if they are done right.  I agree totally with you though on the need for egress windows if there are going to be bedrooms in the space - not just code but common sense too.  I've seen plenty of older homes with usable basement space - the biggest problem that cannot easily be solved is adequate headroom - everything else can usually be dealt with and with less money than putting on an addition.
Posted by Susan Walters (Keller Williams Realty, Ann Arbor, MI) over 9 years ago
LISA:  My thoughts have changed over the years.  I used to want to finish my basement in a way that it could be a playroom for the kids.  Eventually, I started thinking that with no outside entrance, that it wasn't a good idea.  I'd rather have a room full of toys and a messier house than have them playing in the basement with only one real exit.  I still like having the basement for storage, but not for finishing.  However, I would be interested in doing so if I had an outside entrance.  Ideally, I would like a walk-out basement.  You get the best of both worlds.  Interesting topic, Lisa.
Posted by Adam Waldman, Realtor - Long Island (Westcott Group Real Estate Company) over 9 years ago

Susan - I agree, and understand the need for extra space.  If it's done right basements can be pretty cool.  There are lots of great 50's ramblers out there with large windows and doors to the outside(they used to even have space for a bar, now that was cool!)

But I still think they're spooky, especiallly when they have an octopus down there(i.e. a very old gas or oil furnace with the round, curvy ducting).  Hate those! 

Posted by Lisa Bosques over 9 years ago
Adam - I see basements with playrooms all the time that only have one means of escape if there were an emergency.  Many people don't think about the danger; when they're shopping for a house and see the playroom set up, many just assume that's fine. I think you were wise to keep it as storage. We still have tons of 50's basement ramblers that haven't been updated so I see some pretty groovy looking basements out there.  I think I'm starting to like paneling again.
Posted by Lisa Bosques over 9 years ago

Lisa,

In my market, you have to have a separate exit from the basement to be used for living space as well. We have similar problems with flooding and the issues it causes. People should think about these things before they decide to remodel below ground space.

Posted by Andrew Trevino, Wilkes-Barre Homes For Sale (ADT Real Estate) over 9 years ago

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