$12,000 In Unexpected Plumbing Repairs! With my level of experience?

How did this happen?

Look at the rust and corrosion on this pipe coming from the kitchen sink drain.

Well it happens to the best of us! Even after rehabbing tons of single family homes I still make mistakes along the way. Most mistakes that I make at this point in my house buying/rehabbing career are usually minor so just when I thought I’ve been in the business long enough to not make any significant mistakes that could significantly kill my profit in a rehab…. “Bam” I got nailed!

Hear and learn from my story…

A Realtor friend of mine called me about a lead on a property. The area where the property was hot so I immediately jump on the lead, met with my Realtor friend and his client at their property. I did my usual thing as far as the usual routine inspection goes. During the walk through of the house I noticed some minor foundation issues so I inquired about the history and/or if any previous foundation work had been done on the property. The sellers were seniors and lived in the house forever. They raised their kids in the house and had a lot of history there. The house was dated but very well kept and the sellers did a good job of record keeping. As requested the sellers happily obliged and showed me paperwork for a previous foundation repair. They also provided a pier map and the warranty for all the work that was done about ten years prior by a company that was no longer in business. Ten years ago is a long time and there was some obvious movement that has occurred since.

At that point I was pleased with the detail and history they provided! I then asked them if they had a plumbing inspection done as well. They happily pulled out a plumbing inspection report that was initiated about 12 month prior to my visit. The inspection report was good, it was completed by a professional service and the house passed without issue.

After I purchased the house I immediately aksed my General Contractor to address the foundation problem. They did so and installed a minimal amount of piers, seven total. All within a location of the house that was mostly garage and utility room.

I always inspect the plumbing after foundation work is completed but this time it got missed.

I hired a professional General Contractor to handle this entire rehab. An assumption on my behalf is that this contractor would be thorough and take care of the basics, like a plumbing inspection after the piers were installed. After all this General Contractor really chased me for my business for a couple of years.

Penetrating the slab with an interior concrete breakout depends on the location of the leak.

Well we did have an obvious slab leak that was repaired by the General contractors plumbers and as a result I was under the impression that the GC inspected for leaks.

Mistake #1 – I had confidence in the General Contractor and assumed they did a proper inspection

Mistake #2 – I did not request to see the plumbing inspection report. I assumed their word was good since they were a big company doing hundreds of rehabs per year

Mistake #3 – The rehab of the house was completed and all new flooring was installed. The house was staged and placed on the MLS for it’s final sale.

Placing the Propety on the Market

At this point once the selling process is initiated I like to have all warranty and/or inspection based documents ready for review by potential buyers. I called the General Contractor to attain the plumbing inspection report.

I requested the plumbing inspection paperwork from the General Contractor and to my surprise they didn’t have any plumbing inspection paperwork to provide. What???

I don’t need to get into the specifics regarding how I felt about this contractor at this point so I’ll just elaborate on my course of action.

I knew I needed to have a plumbing inspection available for buyers so I now jumped in and handled this process myself. I requested the General Contractor’s plumber to come out and perform all the required testing.

Oh No!

To my surprise the report came back with a repair estimate of $13,000. I immediately met the plumber at the property and went over the results of the inspection with him in detail. I didn’t feel the plumber was being totally 100% honest with me. At this point I’m upset at everyone involved! I also have a potential unbudgeted $13,000 repair that is weighing very heavily on my mind… Yikes!

I felt as though the best course of action is to reach out to another plumber. A plumber that I’m more familiar with. A plumber that did numerous inspections and repairs for me in the past so I’m pretty comfortable with this guy!

This plumber found issues as well but his repair estimate was $4,500, not $13,000. The $4,500 was still not in the original budget but either way I felt a sense of relief because now I didn’t need to spend $13,000, only $4,500. Stuff happens! Right?

My Newly Found Luck Stopped There!

I chose to move forward and tunnel under the house and not destroy the new hardwoods and tile recently installed. Once the plumber completed his initial scope of work, he tested the plumbing system and it failed again and as a result further leak detection and isolation was required. The plumber did uncover additional leaks and therefore further tunneling was needed. By the way tunneling under the slab is not cheap (usually $100.00-$150.00/ft) but tunneling saved all my newly installed flooring.

Mistake #5 – Installing all new flooring without a plumbing inspection report that passed.

Picture of a three way drain connection under the slab accessed via a 40 ft tunnel

Low and behold we ended up going through the repair and test process a few more times. A crack in the cast iron piping would be found and repaired. We would perfom additional testing only to find additional leaks. At the end of the day we tunneled under the house a total of approximately 60 linear feet. That’s a lot of digging and a lot of added expense! The end result was a little under $12,000 in repairs. The cost could have been much higher (mostly time) but the plumber felt he errored himself by not initially locating all the leaks. So he was gracious enough to eat some of the plumbing and digging expenses. I understood his pain cracks within cast iron piping can be obvious and they can be very hard to see visually. Cast iron pipe gets very aged, ugly, rusty and corroded over the years. It’s actually not a bad call to budget for complete replacement.

The moral of the story is;

  • Be careful when purchasing a house that needs or has had foundation issues.
  • Have the plumbing inspected and be present when they are inspecting the plumbing.
  • Make sure the plumbing inspection involves static, pressure and a visual inspection utilizing the proper cameras that fit in the smaller diameter drains.
  • Be on site during the inspection and ask a lot of questions!

It’s actually very wise to hire a professional company that specializes only in leak detection and location. Not a “do-it-all” plumber that has or rents just one camera for the larger sewage pipes and does not have all the proper pneumatic test balls to do an adequate inspection.

I’m not saying you can’t have success using a regular plumber but from my experience the folks that specialize in leak detection & repair are more thorough and faster and therefore might save you money in the long run. The downside is that the professional leak detection guys are usually all booked up with appointments and their schedule might not allow for an immediate inspection. I’ve had to wait as long as two weeks. Most of these specializes leak location companies will do the repairs but will not tunnel under the slab but instead open the concrete slab utilizing jack hammers for each leak located. I’ve had houses were there were as many as four different leaks and penetrations. I’ve had houses with more than that too therefore we chose to tunnel…. Not pretty!

Going forward I can say this wont happen to me again! But that being said every house that I refurbish certainly has it’s own set of problems with it’s own lessons to to teach you. Always be thorough and be involved throughout the inspection process. Never assume a contractor is doing everything the way it is supposed be done. If you choose to let contractors have total autonomy because you believe they are doing everything the way it is supposed to be done it will likely cost you additional dollars in one way or another.

The best way to get the job done is through teamwork! Work with your contractors, be as involved as mush as your schedule permits and make sure you ask them a lot of questions about any and every aspect of the job. Utilize a procedural checklist for repairs done and follow up with the contractors to make sure they performed all the necessary steps associated with a significant project. Hold them accountable, discuss permit requirements, engineering permits etc.

If you have questions regarding plumbing leaks under a slab please let us know. Contact Elvis Buys Houses! We are all about helping others!