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3 On Your Side: Hidden Damage In Stucco Homes

By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - In the market for a new home or maybe you're selling the one you're in?  As the real estate market seems to be heating up, 3 On Your Side Consumer Reporter Jim Donovan warns buyers and sellers about a hidden problem that could cost thousands of dollars to fix.

It was a call from their realtor that changed everything for Barbara and Scott Fetterolf.  According to Barbara it went something like this, "She said is there anywhere you can sit down?  And then she told me, and I was sick to my stomach."  The buyers of the couple's 14 year old home were walking away. "They did a stucco inspection and it's been downhill ever since," says Barbara Fetterolf.  That inspection revealed that over the years water had worked it's way behind the stucco exterior.  Their picture perfect house now needs extensive repairs.  In fact Barbara Fetterolf says, "We're basically stuck with a $70,000 to $120,000 bill."

"They literally tore the house down to the studs," says homeowner Mary Kay.  She and her husband Bob know how the Fetterolf's feel.  After learning that a neighbor was having stucco problems, the Kay's hired a water intrusion specialist to examine their home.  The news wasn't good.  Water had gotten behind the stucco and was literally rotting their house from the inside out.   Mary Kay says, "We knew that we had to have the house totally resurfaced." adding, "We didn't' see all the damage until they started to take the stucco off."

"The longer you wait the worse the damage and I have seen walls buckle. I mean houses quite literally start to collapse," says Blaine Illingworth, a certified home inspector and national expert on stucco application.  He says as contractors rushed to finish houses during the building boom of the last decade or so, they often applied stucco improperly and took short cuts.

According to Illingworth, "flashings at the windows and doors and the base of the walls needs to be installed correctly again for drainage and for ventilation."  If water gets behind the stucco and can't get out, Illingworth says, "The wood sheathing behind the stucco starts to rot.  That fungus runs into the wood framing of the house".  Staining under windows, often referred to as "stucco tears", is one tell-tale sign that a house is crying for help.   Illingworth says, "It's actually growing algae in the stucco itself and so you get these greenish black stains."

Illingworth estimates that thousands of homes across the Delaware Valley may have problems.  In fact if you drive through some communities you'll see house after house being repaired.  Illingworth says, "Some of the houses have extreme damage, some of them have very light damage.  All of them have damage."  And usually it's the homeowner footing the repair bill.  According to Illingworth, "You have these homes that are 10 years old that can easily cost $200,000 to fix."

Homeowner Bob Kay says, "We started looking at who could possibly pay.  Is it going to be the builder?  Is it going to be their insurance?"  The Kay's sued their builder, Fred Tropea, and were awarded a default judgment of $174,000.  But he filed for bankruptcy and they haven't seen a cent.  3 On Your Side's attempts to reach the builder were unsuccessful.

Left to shell out tens of thousands of dollars of their own money for repairs, The Kay's opted for siding this time Mary Kay has this advise for anyone buying a stucco covered home, "It's worth the money to have it inspected."  Moisture intrusion tests run can run between $500 and $1,000 dollars.

By the way, the worst thing you can do if stucco stains or "stucco tears" appear on you home, is to power wash them.  Forcing high pressure water in those areas, only makes things worse.

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