A damp basement can be a real pain to deal with. You may find yourself needing to have a dehumidifier installed to keep moisture levels under control, or fighting an endless battle against moldy walls and floors. When browsing homes, it's important to keep an eye out for possible signs of a damp basement, so you don't accidentally end up moving into a home with this issue.
Don't Rely on the Familiar "Moist" Feeling
Basements that are currently damp have a specific "moist" feeling, similar to the feeling you get when you step outside right after a rainstorm. However, basements don't always stay damp perpetually, and by running a dehumidifier before you arrive, a seller may be able to make a damp basement less obvious in hopes that you'll overlook it. Assuming that you'll immediately recognize a damp basement by the moist feeling you get when you walk into one is a mistake. Surely, if you get that damp, dewy feeling, you can assume the basement is damp and move on to browsing other listed homes. However, even if the air feels reasonably dry, you should continue to keep an eye out for signs that dampness is an issue.
Desiccants are materials designed to absorb moisture from the air. They come in jars or boxes and are often used in basements that have a tendency to feel damp. If you spot desiccant containers in the basement, whether they're open or closed, this may indicate that there's a moisture issue.
A Musty, Moldy Smell
Even if the basement does not seem particularly moist when you're in it, a moldy smell indicates that it does become moist often enough for mold to grow. You may not see the mold – most sellers are wise enough to clean it up before visitors arrive – but its smell may linger even after it has been wiped away.
A Bleach Smell
A bleach smell alone may not indicate a moisture issue, but if there are other factors making you suspicious that a basement may be moist, the scent of bleach may reassure you that your assumptions are correct. Bleach is commonly used to clean up mold, which grows prolifically in moist basements.
Many buyers purchase homes and later find out that they have moisture issues in the basement. Don't become one of them! Keep an eye out for these signs of moisture, and back away from any home that you suspect has a damp basement. Working with a reliable real estate agent can ensure you are shown real estate in your area that are free from this and other issues that are likely to lead to high maintenance and repair costs down the road.