Q. I am thinking about buying a house that has been repossessed. Itís been empty since winter. The bank had the power and water shut off and had a plumber winterize the plumbing. I have no experience with this. I know that antifreeze was put into the pipes. My question to you is are there any hazards or dangers with buying or opening a house that has been shut down like this? I will have the house inspected prior to closing, but I have been unable to find anything about how to open a house thatís been closed down and sealed up.
A. My advice to you is to have whomever it is selling you this house get it completely up and running at the time of your inspection. I guarantee you that a house that was lost by someone who became cash strapped will have problems related to deferred maintenance at the least. Proceed carefully.A house that has been intentionally closed-up with the intent that it be idle and unoccupied can be prepared for that time frame in a variety of ways depending upon who is doing it and for which seasons the house will be empty. Thatís why you were unable to find a set sequence for undoing what may have been done. Each case might be a little different from the next. Not only will there be anti-freeze in the plumbing traps and the water to the house off-- and it may be off at the city or county connection at the street and not just at the valve in the basement-- but the water heater will be drained, its pressure relief valve tripped open and the electrical service to the house off renders sump pump protection useless. If there is gas service to the house that will be off too. I know when I encounter a home that has been winterized and left that way for some time is not possible to properly inspect. You canít run the water through sinks or tubs, canít check the water heater, flush the toilets, operate the dishwasher or turn on a shower. If the power is off itís even harder. You canít run the heat or the air-conditioning, turn the lights on, check bath fans or test outlets. I think the whole notion of winterizing a house in the manner itís been traditionally done is a thing of the past and really shouldnít be done anymore. Properties like this one that have been foreclosed upon routinely have the power and water service shut off to them and then trouble can really set in, further lowering what value is left in the structure. A heavy rain with the sump pump inoperable can allow for a flood in the basement which, if not pumped out quickly-- within about 48 hours of the event-- can result in severe mold and mildew issues. I once saw a winterized house with a wet basement where I originally thought the walls were green paneling until I got up close only to see mold completely from floor to ceiling-- on all floors. It was a total loss. Most modern, tight, well insulated houses really arenít amenable to being left idle and off the way summer cabins were years ago. Houses now are too sophisticated and too fragile to be left to the elements. I like to see the heating and air-conditioning turned down to a bare maintenance level to keep the air inside of the house dry and above freezing. You can then turn the water off but donít have to drain the system down. Turning off an electric water heater allowing the elements to cool to room temperature then turned back on can cause them to fail if they are weak. Not to mention what can start growing inside that empty tank. I know when I open a house that been decommissioned like this one has I donít like to do it alone. I want someone stationed at the main water valve for emergency shut-off. Sure, you can go around checking all the valves and such but when that water goes back on you will quickly locate the trap or hose that got forgotten during the winterizing process that burst over the winter and is now leaking like a waterfall. Make sure this house has been up and running-- all systems--at least one day before you go out there for your inspection. Many times have I arrived at a house in the afternoon that has been opened that morning only to find plumbers and other trades feverously working to repair what went wrong over the winter trying to get the house ready in time. Let the seller present you with a working house.