housing market

Buying a Home? Realtors Say to Ask About Winter Storm Damage and Repairs

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A year after the winter storm damaged thousands of homes, local real estate agents and inspectors say the damage it caused is still influencing questions buyers are asking about homes.

The storm covered Texas with inches of ice and snow. Families endured nine days of below-freezing temperatures and into weeks of power and water outages and bursting pipes. Some families spent months cleaning flood damage and filing insurance claims.

"It was crazy. It was sad," said real estate broker Shana Acquisto.

Acquisto shared her experience dealing with a home listed for sale that sustained major damage.

"I think the count was 11 pipes busted during the listing. So, it was crazy, you know, and water everywhere," said Acquisto.

A year later she encourages all of her buyers to ask one simple question that could save money and heartache.

"Did you lose power? So they know kind of how to inspect," Acquisto said.

If the answer is yes, home inspector Lee Warren said buyers should ask for proof that the repairs were done.

"Look for evidence of previous repair, sheetrock repair, fresh painting, stuff of that nature, as you're doing your initial walkthrough," said Warren. "When you're doing your initial walkthrough, look around those bathroom areas, not just the shower wall or the wall, but look at the trim down to the bottom of the baseboard. Down at the bottom, you can see if something's been water damaged because a lot of those are particleboard. And they expand and they don't quite retract like they like you want them to. But that's usually a good sign of where you can find some damage."

Warren said homeowners faced several challenges trying to recover, while also dealing with rolling blackouts and a shortage of contractors and supplies.

"Did people actually pay attention to what their insurance was going to cover? And that was another huge one. A lot of people go for the cheapest insurance that they can and they don't get certain riders on their insurance, including water damage and that type of stuff and unfortunately, a lot of people fell victim to that. And they were on their own," he said.

He said buyers may be able to find hidden damage by asking insurance companies for a Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE) report.

"It's like a Carfax for houses," Warren said.

A CLUE report is a five to seven-year history of property damage claims made by the policyholder. Some claims, including water damage, can impact a buyer's ability to insure a property. Sellers can also request one to see if the claims history is accurate.

Warren and Acquisto said the storm inspired some homeowners to make upgrades. Many people looked for ways to weatherproof their homes and installed generators, tankless water heaters and more cold-tolerant landscaping.

Warren said he and other inspectors have started spending more time showing buyers where they can find water shutoff valves, and pointing out non-insulated water lines and water heaters next to exterior walls that are at a greater risk of freezing.

"It's like, okay, how many people actually fix it? Or do they just glaze over it on the report, which, unfortunately, does tend to happen a lot," said Warren.

But at least they know what they're buying. Acquisto said the market is so competitive some buyers have been tempted to skip inspections.

"People are buying sight unseen," said Acquisto.

She said it's better for both parties to take a little extra time to do their due diligence.

"Protect your investment, you don't want to find out later, after closing, some of these issues that really may have impacted your decision to move forward or not," she said.

Acquisto also said to make sure the home isn't part of any lawsuits or subject to any contractor or vendor liens. These are issues that should surface during the title work, but knowing early in the process could make a difference for prospective buyers.

Sellers' disclosures should also list any major material facts or issues the buyers should be aware of. She said asking upfront can still make buyers more aware and hold other parties accountable if there's damage that isn't disclosed.

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