About to buy a house, and then the pipes burst — how bad is this?
August 26, 2019 5:04 PM   Subscribe

The (seemingly) well-maintained house we were about to buy just burst some pipes while being de-winterized. The owners are asking to delay the purchase two weeks so they can repair it. How concerned should I be? Is there anything I should look out for?

We just put in an initial offer on a 2-floor house in central NY. The owners had been renting out the top floor as a separate unit, and no one was living there. So, when we saw the house, the pipes on the top floor had all been winterized.

Apparently, the plumber who came to de-winterize them did something wrong, and (my understanding is) the pipes burst.

The owners have now asked for 2 extra weeks to repair the problem.

My concern is that part of the reason we loved the house was that everything was very well-built and maintained. I have essentially no experience as a homeowner, and was worried about buying something that might be a time bomb.

So, does anyone have any advice?

Is this the type of thing where we should consider abandoning a house we really love?

Is there any way for us to verify the quality of the repairs?

Is this the type of thing that can lead to long-term problems we should be scared of?

Thanks for any help or advice you can offer.
posted by bluemilker to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
Apparently, the plumber who came to de-winterize them did something wrong, and (my understanding is) the pipes burst.

I would ask for more specific information on this.

Burst pipes in an unheated space isn't that weird (stuff may have been winterized wrong) even in a well-built house. But I'd be more concerned that maybe the pipes burst a while back (when did you see it?) and there could be mold damage from moisture.

In a general sense I do not think this is one of those "Call off the sale" situations but maybe something where you have an inspector come in and make sure the repairs were carried out properly. If you have a lawyer, this would be a good time to involve them.
posted by jessamyn at 5:09 PM on August 26, 2019 [6 favorites]

The pipes burst... in late August?? I'm here in Wisconsin, and that's not when unwinterized pipes burst around here (late winter usually).

I too would ask for more information on the specifics of what happened.
posted by eschatfische at 5:26 PM on August 26, 2019 [22 favorites]

If I were to guess the pipes were not winterized correctly. Perhaps they turned the water off, but did not drain the pipes. So sometime during the winter the remaining water expanded and burst one of the pipes. When the plumber came back to turn on the water it started to leak.

If it's something like this it's no big deal, just a mistake by the plumber (although when they fix this you should make sure they insulate the pipes so this is less of a problem in the future...)

Point is, get the details and get some kind of assurance that the work will be backed up if further issues are found in the near future...
posted by NoDef at 5:36 PM on August 26, 2019 [10 favorites]

I would get that house inspected before a repair is underway. You can cover over a lot of damage and any inspector who can't see the damage won't be held responsible for missing it. Once that fresh drywall and paint go on, the space will look good as new, no matter when the pipes burst.

You definitely want your lawyer to write the letter requesting the inspection. And of course, you want to hire your own inspector, not anybody affiliated with your lawyer, any realtor involved with this sale, or anyone who has anything to gain by encouraging this sale to happen.

If you can attend the inspection, so much the better. You want someone to point out the problems so that you can visualize them. A good inspector will also take photos. But as I said above, if the inspector cannot see it, you cannot know it.

Call inspectors tonight, leave voice mails requesting call back first thing in the morning, you want someone in there tomorrow or Wednesday if at all possible.

As you can imagine, if this was something that very slowly leaked for any length of time the damage could be significant even if it was only just starting to become visible.

And of course, as others have said, there is a perfectly reasonable possible explanation and a possibility that the damage truly is minor.

As intelligence people say, "Trust. But verify."
posted by bilabial at 5:39 PM on August 26, 2019 [6 favorites]

If I were in your position, I’d want to know EXACTLY why and how this happened, and what precisely is being done to mitigate it. Regardless of source, a burst pipe that soaks walls and flooring in summer can mean mold in 24-48 hours. If the pipes were winterized, why’d they wait until they had an offer before they checked the plumbing? Did the pipe burst a couple days ago and they were on it immediately, or did it burst sometime during the winter and they only just noticed?

Either way, I’d be very wary of buying into a mold problem, and I would prepare to walk away.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:44 PM on August 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

"Is this the type of thing that can lead to long-term problems we should be scared of?"
Yes, mold is a huge pain in the ass to get rid of and can also make you sick. I would get an inspector in there ASAP (not one your agent recommends, find someone objective) and make sure you can see the damage before they cover it with new drywall. If it's anything more than a minor leak I'd walk away. Require the seller to have a licensed and insured professional do the repairs and provide you with copies of the invoices showing the work was completed and what the warranty is for materials and workmanship.
posted by zdravo at 5:51 PM on August 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

Things like this happen.

Don't walk away. Do require full information on the damage, what was done immediately after to prevent mold and the repairs. Ask to see it in person with your own inspector both pre- (or current) and post-repair.
posted by meinvt at 5:56 PM on August 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

bilabial has it right, "Once that fresh drywall and paint go on, the space will look good as new, no matter when the pipes burst." Had to walk away from a place one time because there was no way to now how deep the damage went once they'd closed everything up after some repairs. If the damage is minor they should have no problem holding off a day or three for you to get your inspector in there to see everything.
posted by Gotanda at 5:59 PM on August 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think you probably can and should buy the house but only after your inspector and independent plumber both see the house ASAP, ideally at the same time, and report to you that the problem was solved and all damages remedied.

This will cost you money, money that the reasonable and motivated sellers will knock off the price.

This should all be handled by your lawyer or realtor, and theirs. Professionals can help avoid strife on this business matter that often ends up having a lot of personal and emotional weight on both ends.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:06 PM on August 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

The one thing that I would add is that a burst pipe is not indicative of the condition or quality of the plumbing per se. Brand new and properly installed pipes can burst if they freeze with water in them.
posted by drlith at 7:09 PM on August 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone; this has been hugely helpful for us.

We got an initial clarification from our agent that it looks like the initial winterizing left some water in the pipes, and that froze over winter.

That does, obviously, raise the risk that water leaked into the walls at some point during the summer, and may have caused other issues.

We're immediately reaching out for an independent inspector, and will make sure to get the damage thoroughly inspected before they go ahead and close up the walls.
posted by bluemilker at 7:54 PM on August 26, 2019 [4 favorites]

To be absolutely clear: If they close the walls before your inspector gets there, that is 100 red flags and you should walk.
posted by bilabial at 7:59 PM on August 26, 2019 [7 favorites]

Get your lawyer and agent to stop work on that house and get your inspector in there before they close the walls. If they close the walls, walk. Tell them that if they close the walls you will walk.
posted by juniperesque at 8:28 AM on August 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

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