Expert Answers: Why Can’t I Look at a House with Stucco?

Expert Answers: Why Can’t I Look at a House with Stucco?

A question was submitted by a Consumer in Pennsylvania recently, asking a very interesting question.

“We are relocating to Pennsylvania from California. We found a few beautiful houses we really like, and want to see. We were told that our Relocation benefits would not apply to these properties because the houses had stucco on their exterior. We investigated further and were told that some of the properties we like with Stucco have had stucco inspections and even some repairs if there were problems found. Why would we lose our relocation benefits and why are we being restricted in what properties we can purchase?”

This has been an ongoing problem with Relocation clients in this part of the Country since as early as 2009, and more prominent into 2011 and beyond. It is a valid question and one that needs to be revisited.

PA House with Good Stucco

A Home for Sale in Chester County PA has stucco but has been inspected and repairs made, yet relocation companies exclude it from their buyers options. Why?

I am not a stucco expert, a home inspector, or a builder, but I have sold enough properties with Stucco, and those with known and even unknown stucco problems. Prior to 2004 the method in which Stucco was applied to many of these homes was a manner that did not permit enough air flow behind the stucco so that when moisture built up the risk for damage to the boarding or wood behind the stucco was severe. The Stucco was being applied from at, or below, the soil line which is one of the methods modified after the discovery of many of the problems with the stucco application.

The biggest problem with stucco applications of that era were really related to the way in which windows were installed, as well as where a roof line met a stucco surface. If “kick out” flashing was not properly installed water would then run directly into the stucco and over time – since Stucco is porous, the water would get behind the stucco and damage wood – or OSB boards – beneath the stucco. Where the windows meet the house, similar infiltration would occur.

In 2006 I had clients purchase a property with Stucco. During the home inspection an area where a roof line met a stucco wall had “discoloration” which was believed to be “dirt” or in some cases “moss” because the area did not get enough sun light to completely dry out the area. In 2008 that same property was then resold and that same area of discoloration was actually discovered to have extensive damage to the wall beneath the stucco, in fact a large portion of the wall was completely rotted out, and infested with a fungal growth. What was “just dirt” in 2006 turned out to be approximately $30,000 in damages, which is a relatively low amount in the world of “stucco problems”.

Most properties built after 2003 or 2004 with Stucco were done differently, with the stucco being started well above the soil line, and with ventilation strips to permit airflow beneath the stucco. Most problems were also discovered to be directly related to inadequate “kick out” flashing installation, which is relatively easy to correct.

Yet a lot of Relocation companies – those that administer relocation benefit packages on behalf of employers, include clauses in their documents for purchases and sales that completely exclude any stucco properties from consideration of the person receiving the relocation benefit. This is archaic, in my opinion, since many properties have no either been inspected, had corrective measure taken, or built after the era in question, but people – like yourself – are being told they can’t purchase a property with Stucco without risking all, or part, of your relocation benefits.

I began to ask all my Seller clients – as early as 2007 – to do stucco inspections prior to listing a property, and complete any needed repairs. I continue this practice to this day, yet my Seller clients don’t get the exposure they deserve, and the Buyers are being restricted in their purchase choices.

You can get a sense of whether an inspection might be warranted by looking at a stucco property from the distance. If you see obvious discoloration under the windows, in the area where water would flow from the window in a driving rain, or where a roof line meets another surface – then you might have an indicator that a problem could exist. Note I said COULD. The only person to determine this with definitive certainty is a qualified Stucco inspector. Stucco inspections can be intrusive, including drilling into walls to get a core sample and expose the areas beneath the stucco exterior.

I would suggest that you contact your employer directly to discuss the question of “stucco” as it is addressed by the administering Relocation provider. The employer can review the package that is offered and work with the Relocation company to address any concerns you have, and even eliminate the restriction all together.

This out of date mindset has definitely stigmatized the sector of luxury homes with Stucco finish, and many unjustly so. I still recommend a stucco inspection be completely, which can be costly depending on how in depth it might need to be, but a $1500 Stucco inspection can prevent a Buyer from ending up with a $100,000 Stucco repair which many insurers will not cover.