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Hamptons Life

May 22, 2017 11:50 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Diverting Disaster: Five Telltale Things To Look For When Buying A Home

May 22, 2017 12:55 PM

Welcome to Eye of a Builder, a column written by a professional skilled in Hamptons zoning, environmental regulation and construction, to better inform Hamptons real estate buyers in their journey toward home ownership.

Water, Water Everywhere

What is the single most detrimental threat to a house? Moisture. In all forms. Rain, flooding, leaky pipes, condensation, vapor. All bad. So what is the single most important thing when you are assessing the health of a house? The adverse effects of potential water. Especially in the Hamptons where you are trying to buy property as close to the water as you possibly can.

When assessing a home—specifically a home near or on wetlands, a buyer must determine if the terrain around the home is pitched toward the house or away from it. Think of a drain. Is this property bringing moisture and water issues to the home? Or away from it? Having property that pitches, or slopes, away from the house for at least 20 feet will do wonders in keeping the home dry.

And be leery of folks that tell you all drainage and water woes will be alleviated by a sump pump—a pump that removes excess water when needed. Sump pumps are powered by electricity and in adverse weather, when power tends to go out, sump pumps may let you down. Generators help—if and when they work. The best bet is a well situated home. Nature usually wins and gravity always works whether electricity is working or not.

One woman I know moved into her Noyac bayfront home the day before Hurricane Sandy. Although she had insurance on the home, the “flood” insurance clause, much to her surprise, needed additional approval and therefore would take an additional month to complete. With the electricity out and the sump pumps not working—and no generator included in the sale of the property—she powerlessly watched as the bay proceeded across the lawn toward her home. Thankfully it stopped feet from the foundation, but best to fully understand the potential for water intrusion and how the home is prepared to stop it.

Here Comes The Sun

When looking at a property it is wise to note the location of the sun’s path across the property throughout the course of a day. The way the sun shines on a property is important, especially in the Hamptons when most people are here to enjoy the summer sun. As we all know, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and our latitude here in the Hamptons (41 degrees north) means that the south side of a property will get more sun than the north side. Backyards on the south side of a property will get the most premium, full sun in the midday hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., depending of course on if other obstacles are blocking the sun’s light.

If a pool is on the east side of a property, you will get morning sun, and a west facing backyard will get the afternoon sun and sunset. With most folks in the Hamptons out and about during the day, a western backyard may be preferable. Where your house is located on a property in relation to the sun will also make a difference in price on heating and cooling the interiors. Natural barriers of the sun will affect interior temperatures. For instance, a big beautiful tree shading your home from the hot afternoon sun will keep the house cooler in the summer, but the house will require more heat in the winter.

Alert! Traffic WarningWhen you visit a property it would be wise to visit it on different times of the day, and days of the week. Neighbors are often permanent, and once you move in you will live among them for some duration. Even though there has been a crackdown on sharehouses, many still seem to exist, and although nobody may be present during the week, the place next door could turn into Animal House on the weekends.

Traffic can be another concern; a perfectly quiet street can suddenly turn into a traffic jam due to various factors. For instance, I had a customer who wanted to buy a beautiful home on Shelter Island. The house was on a strip connecting the North and South ferries and the lovely lane, dead quiet in the off-season, was constantly full of idling cars—and diesel delivery trucks—waiting for the ferry, all summer long. Knowing the area, I quickly relayed the reality that the peace of the wrap-around front deck, perfect for summer reading, would be completely sacrificed in-season. We also have railroads and airports in the Hamptons. Make sure you realize the proximity of them to a property you are considering, before it’s too late.

By The Sea, By The Sea, By The Wonderful Sea

Waterfront houses are fantastic if you can afford them, but they come with hazards of which you need to be aware. Homes directly facing the water, be it ocean or bay, substantially take more abuse from the weather than inland homes. High winds and driving rain will put a beating on the exterior of a waterfront house. Winters on the shores of the Hamptons can be especially brutal, so it’s important to know that many water-facing homes will need an exterior paint job each and every year. The price to paint a 6,000-square-foot home could cost as much as $80,000, so make sure that’s in the budget.

Many builders are increasingly using PVC (plastic) trim on waterfront exteriors as well as cement board siding. These two materials have come a long way and although they can be more expensive than traditional wood, they last longer and hold up to weather much better. If you run across a house whose builder used these materials, consider it a good sign. Waterfront homes should be built with flood and wind as some of the builders’ main concerns, along with corrosion and decay. Although proper design is a key element, if they are not installed properly even the best materials will fail. It is extremely important when assessing a waterfront home to have the advice of a qualified builder familiar with the environment.

Wandering WetlandsWhen buying a house in the Hamptons, even if you’re not on the water, “wetlands”—or areas that are covered by the water in varying periods of time during the year—can be an issue. Wetlands could include visible streams, underground streams, and ponds—even a man-made pond could affect what you will be allowed to do with your property. And wetlands don’t need to be on your property. They can be across the street, on your neighbors’ properties, and still affect you. The agencies that deal with the wetlands on Long Island have gotten very strict on what is allowed. Regulatory setbacks on where you can build vis a vis a designated wetlands area can add additional headaches to building or renovating, in addition to the regular, rigorous, restrictions.

A building customer of mine purchased a 2.4-acre property on a canal in Sag Harbor with a 2,200-square-foot home. After she bought the property and attempted to begin her renovation plans, she was told that in order to start any work she would have to have a lawyer craft a restriction covenant swearing that she would never touch a protected boundary of 75 feet from the water. This meant that eventually phragmites, an invasive high grass, would completely cut off her water view, which was one of the main reasons she bought the house. Obviously, the loss of her water view also had a negative impact on the value of the home. Next she was informed she had freshwater wetlands limitations as well, which ultimately only allowed her a 36-by-20-foot piece of land to build on. The fact that freshwater wetlands were continuing to be created on her property by deficient road drainage systems meant her condition worsened over time. Know your wetland setback issues—or find someone who does!

Ed Mulderrig is a local real estate agent, as well as a builder. Contact ed.mulderrig@sothebyshomes.com or 631-374 1977.

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