Why The Basement In My House Could Become A Money Pit

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For those of you who don’t know, my wife and I bought a new house a few months ago. We were buying in a hot area where homes were only on the market for a few days. We had to move fast and lost out on about five other homes we put offers on. It was frustrating to say the least.

On top of buying, we were also selling our home. We were able to sell it quickly, but the house took nearly three months to close. During that time, I made sure to be a part of most of the processes when buying the next house. It took a lot of hours to keep up with everything, but we did it. Unfortunately, I am finding out I may not have researched enough about our home and it could cost me.

Basements are Hard to Find


My wife and I were looking for a ranch style home, but we also wanted a garage. I have my toys and need my tinkering space. My Jeep needs a place to stay dry! If you have never looked at ranch homes, they are hard to find with garages.

When I stumbled across our home, I noticed that it not only had a two car garage, but a workshop as well. To ice the cake, there was even a roughed-in basement ready to be finished. With a garage and a basement, we knew this was our home. Now that we’re settled, I’ve begun to plan out what I want to do with the basement. I plan on building a custom office in half the room, then use the other as just a play room for our son with a full bath. Recently, I noticed a musty smell in the basement and bought a humidifier that sucked out so much water it required twice a day emptying at least. It just wasn’t efficient enough.

This past weekend, I was adding some more insulation to our garage and basement ceiling as I am getting ready for winter and want to keep the heat in the house. As I moved some things, I noticed our couch in the basement was smelling terrible. After closer inspection, I realized there was mold growing on the couch. I looked at a few more fabric items in the basement and noticed the same smell. I knew we had  a problem.

This is Going to Be Expensive!


After some reworking, I was able to get our dehumidifier hooked into our sump pump. Now it can run continuously in order to pull the water out of the air. The basement is already smelling better and dryer. Though the dehumidifier was a great temporary fix, it is not going to be the best solution. I took some time to look around and have found that our walls are having water seeping issues. It appears the grading of our property is actually pushing water back against the walls. This just causes it to drop down the wall and then come in through the cinder block footers.

I also found out the previous owners had done some repairs, like putting in french drains that allow any water coming through to travel down the walls and hit the drain. This is a cost-effective process, but they didn’t do the entire basement. They only did three quarters of it. Now, I am left with the rest. On top of completing that job, I also need to dig out dirt around the walls and reseal the block to make sure water doesn’t come in from the outside.

It is going to cost about $15,000 more than I originally had planned to finish our basement! Since it is not in my budget, the basement will have to wait. I could put it on credit, but I pay off my cards every month and this would ruin that. I have been in massive debt before, so I’m not doing it again.

Take the Time to  Research


When we were going through the buying process, I came with the inspector and spent the day with him at the house. He personally showed me everything and I found quite a few things on my own. We got his report and had the owners fix what we wanted and we left the rest. The big problem is I didn’t take the time to research the basement in enough detail to catch a majority of the problems. Since I was being pulled left and right for both buying and selling, my mind wasn’t as clear as it could have been.

In hindsight, I should have called a basement waterproofing company and requested a quote on how much it would cost. I could have used this in a negotiation on the price of the house or at least some concessions. Now I am left high and not so dry to fend for myself.

The basement was a selling point originally, but now it’s slowly becoming a pain point. If I would have slowed down and done my proper due diligence, I would have caught the issues and negotiated with the sellers. There is nothing I can do about it now, but share it with you and hope you don’t make the same mistake.

Have you ever bought or sold a home and experienced an unpleasant surprise? How would you handle an unexpected home repair if undertaking it would break your budget? What’s been the hardest do-it-yourself home fix you’ve taken on?


Photo courtesy of: MarkMoz12

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Grayson is the owner of Debt Roundup and Empowered Shopper. He also co-owns Sprout Wealth and Eyes on the Dollar. After going to battle and winning against consumer debt, he decided it was time to learn how to use credit wisely and grow his wealth. He discusses all things personal finance and is not afraid of being controversial. He also is a freelance writer and blog manager.

Latest posts by Grayson Bell (see all)


  • When I bought a house, the only thing I didn’t like was the electrical system. So I had make it repaired and redone. It spent lots of money there! Before buying a house, I advise you check everything and ask! Do some research, which I didn’t. Lesson learned.

  • Mrs. PoP says:

    My best friend had a very similar scenario happen when they bought their house only their basement had recently been finished and needed to install a french drain and a sump pump ASAP if they wanted to keep the basement finished. Luckily her husband was able to do a lot of the work for the french drain himself, saving them a good amount of money.

    Horror stories like this make me kindof glad I’ve never lived in a place with a basement. =)

  • This reminds me of those home reno shows where almost EVERY episode they run into some kind of issue in the house, whether it’s mold or abestos or whatever. I’m hoping that by the time I buy a house, home buying will have had enough cycles that all the old house issues will be fixed. Overly optimistic, I know.

  • Gretchen says:

    I know how you feel! We’re getting our basement de-waterized because it’s going to be a rental in a few years, but after that we’re trying to decide how much to do. We could turn it into an awesome master suite, but would that really raise the amount it could rent for? Plus, finishing it would cost about as much as the entire house cost, so that’s out, but it would be awesome!

  • Lance @ HWI says:

    I’ve never had a house without some type of issue. Part of the joy of owning a home. Our current home has a lot of clay in the backyard so water pools because of that and we had big huge pools in the back corner of the yard. I tried some temporary things, but finally just had to buck up and spent $400 on a pump and drainage and took a month to tear about the back section of my yard and today there is no issue. I’m actually kind of proud I was able to build it by myself….but what a headache. Good luck with it.

    • Grayson Bell says:

      I hear you there Lance! If you expect nothing in a house, then you don’t have a realistic view of home ownership.

      Nice job on building the pump system yourself. That is quite the achievement.

  • Mrs. 1500 says:

    If the previous homeowners knew about the mold and didn’t disclose this, they could be liable. Talk to your real estate agent and perhaps a real estate attorney. The fact that they “fixed” half of it says they knew of a problem.

    That said, I would fix it sooner than later. Many of those basement waterproofers have payment plans.

    Mold is nothing to mess around with. Does the basement have drywall? It could be growing on the back, while the front looks clean. Bleach does not kill mold. Contact a reputable mold remediation company.

    • Grayson Bell says:

      My de-humidifier has taken care of the mold. The basement is not finished, so there is no mold in drywall and I replaced all the insulation.

      The mold grew in the summer due to the humidity. We had a really wet summer here and that harbored the mold.

  • I don’t have much in the way of advice because I’ve never owned a home, but I do know you are in good company with people with basements. I guess the plus side would be that it would add value to the home eventually?

  • Carole says:

    In our area, basements aren’t considered an asset. In spite of all precautions water will come into them. Sump pumps go out at the wrong time, etc. It’s best to not use them for more than storage up on a high level. That’s in my area, it may be different where you live.

    • Grayson Bell says:

      Yes, water will come into basements, but they are an asset in our area. People love basements here and they add value to a house. There are many ways to stop water from coming in, but they all require time and effort. You have to do a multi-pronged approach when you tackle basement water issues.

  • We were excited that our home had an unfinished basement and scared at the same time. We had an amazing home inspector, though, that read the situation really well and we were prepared for what we were getting into. There can definitely be lots of surprises lurking down there, though.

  • Kim says:

    That’s a huge kick in the gut about the basement. I guess I’m glad we don’t have one. I guess the question is if you’d taken time to review and get cost estimates before you closed, would that have meant losing the house? If so, you probably did the right thing. Even a few days in real estate can mean the difference between finding the place you want and not getting it.

    • Grayson Bell says:

      I don’t think it would have meant losing the home. We did get some money back already after we noticed some moisture, so that was good. The sellers were nice people and very honest about the house. We just didn’t do enough research to ask all the questions we needed to.

  • Wade says:

    Ah basements. Our next house will hopefully not have a basement. Sump pumps, dampness, water. I am not sure if they are worth it. I wonder why there aren’t more 3 stories up homes that skip the basement. I guess there are likely height restrictions to building. Thanks for the update.

  • Ah that is such a bummer Grayson. I hope you get it fixed as well as possible on a budget!

  • So sorry to hear about this! We lived in basement apartments here in the humid south for the first few years after we were married. We can understand 100% the dampness and mold issues. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword for us though, because we’re in tornado country and basements are great for that but then the moisture and mold the rest of the time is horrible. Our house now has no basement, and we just pray that no tornadoes decide to swing our way.

  • My sister went through something similar when she bought her house. The cost to do the french draining and install sump pumps was about $4000. We went through unexpected repairs as well. At that point we just bit the bullet and used cc because it happened in the middle of our construction and we just couldn’t leave things undone.

    • Grayson Bell says:

      Luckily, the previous owners did most of the sump pump and drainage system. I just need someone to come in and finish up the quarter left. It should only be about $1,500.

  • I’m sorry to hear, Grayson. Basements are tough. We have a sump pump with drain tile so our basement stays dry, but I’ve learned recently how big of an issue water is. We had two big surprises: one was the city’s storm drain being inadequate causing it to push water out of the smaller drain in my neighbors and my yard. This flooded our basement (thank God for sump pumps and us being home at the time). The city fixed this by installing a backflow preventor and re-grading our backyard. Thankfully they paid for it (or the taxpayers did, I should say). Second issue was the sewer drain-out getting clogged. Problem was, at about 80 feet out there was a pvc pipe that was installed incorrectly making the opening very small and very susceptible to clogging. I had one contractor quote me $8k and try to pressure me into having them do it (it was roto rooter). Second contractor who I found on Angie’s list was a lifesaver. He said even if he had to do the repair it would be $2.7k max. But he went to the city engineer and told them what he saw, and they admitted a water main broke 4 years ago and their contractors must have botched the repair. The city again paid for the repair.

    I plan on redoing our bathroom (including removing a tub) as well as installing hardwood. That’s the extent of DIY I will do, though, as anything bigger than that would be too much.

    • Grayson Bell says:

      I remember hearing about your plumbing issues DC. It was good Angie’s List was there for a good contractor, but you didn’t even need it. Best of luck with the bathroom renovation.

  • In one of our rentals we had to replace all the copper piping. That particular house was getting it’s water from a well and well-water and copper don’t mix. (The water corrodes the pipes over time.) We didn’t know that until after we’d purchased the house…oops!

  • dojo says:

    Ouch, now this is indeed painful. We never had to purchase any homes ourselves, I think we’d rather build one than buy it, especially because of such issues. If you are not 100% careful at each and every detail, you can get ‘burnt’.

    Let’s hope your mold problem will get solved easier and less expensively, it’s indeed unpleasant to discover such an issue and have to pay this much to get it fixed.

  • Amy says:

    Ugh, I’m so sorry to hear about this headache!

    We didn’t have any major surprises like yours, but we were first-time home-buyers, and learned all sorts of things about our house after living in it for a while. The most costly has been that the entire, two-story house is on one heat/AC zone, making it pretty inefficient. To cool the bedrooms upstairs in the summer, we have to set the downstairs temp, (the thermostat is downstairs), much lower than we’d like. The heat is almost as inefficient in winter, but we don’t mind turning it down and sleeping under heavy comforters.

    We also learned the hard way how quickly our gas fireplace uses propane. We unknowingly emptied the tank one evening in later November/early December, and spent an uncomfortably cool night, before receiving an emergency propane delivery the next day.

    • Grayson Bell says:

      We learned a ton in our first home. We had the same A/C issues. I had to switch the zones each season to get the optimal air flow. It was a pain and it was costly on our electric bill.

  • We were on the other end of the fence when we sold our first home (which was a ranch with a finished basement). We lived in the house for 7 years, and never really had a water problem. One Spring we had a bit of dampness in one of the corners, but that was about it. 3 weeks after we moved out (we sold the home ourselves, so the buyer knew how to get a hold of us) it rained some obscene amount in one afternoon (like 8 inches). I got a call from the buyer who said the basement was flooded, and threatened legal action because she felt we lied to her about a water problem in the basement. I calmly explained that we had never received that much rain at once while we lived in the home, so how were we supposed to be able to tell her what would happen in that scenario? Nothing else ever happened, but it was not a comfortable conversation.

  • Miriam Kearney says:

    We did the same thing on the property we are in now – thought the dehumidifier would do the job until a heavy rain caused water to not just seep but flow through the basement wall. Fortunately there was a slope on the floor (intentional?) so that the water flowed right into the drain but even so the floor was wet for a couple of days. We didn’t spend $15,000 though – we hired an excavating company to dig out the side, then we hung a sheet of black waterproofing material and took advantage of having the wall open to add a layer of foam insulation and a run of weeping tile and then then excavating company came back and filled it in again. I think it cost less than $5,000 all told.

    • Grayson Bell says:

      I will be digging out the area around my house. I will then add weeping tiles and waterproofing the wall. It will take time, but from the quotes I got, it will save me about $20,000!

  • Yikes – I’m sorry that this all happened! That’s an expensive fix. We were lucky with our house – no problems except what the inspector showed us, and it’s all been fixable (and fairly cheaply, too).

  • I’ve always wanted a basement to turn into a recording studio, but a friend actually talked us out of buying a home with a basement, because of his similar experience to yours. It made sense after he explained it. I’m sure it could be a sinkhole…I still kind of want one though. lol

    • Grayson Bell says:

      I don’t think basements are bad. They just have to be water sealed in the right way. There are better standards now than when our home was built. I know quite a few people who have excellent basements with no water issues to speak of.

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