Driveway slopes down into basement garage

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Hi,
Our family is considering purchasing a house that has a downward sloping driveway and were hoping someone could help us fully understand what the potential issues of a house like that might be and could provide advice on questions to ask to ensure we don't buy something we're unhappy with. This is our family's first home purchase, so we're obviously a little nervous about it.
The house is a one story ranch with the garage in the basement of the house. The driveway starts at ground level at the street, is level for about 5 feet (the sidewalk), and slopes downward towards the basement of the house into the garage. The length of the driveway is probably 25 feet long. It drops from ground level to basement level over that distance.
I know there are drains at the bottom of the driveway. There are also holes along the sidewall that runs along the driveway, which I assume those are connected to drains under the yard. We didn't observe any water damage in the basement, but will obviously get a formal home inspection to confirm that.
I've posted some pictures of the house at the links below.
Pictures of the driveway:
http://banerji.com/house/IMG_4961.jpg
http://banerji.com/house/IMG_4962.jpg
http://banerji.com/house/IMG_4963.jpg
Pictures from inside the garage:
http://banerji.com/house/IMG_4997.jpg
http://banerji.com/house/IMG_4998.jpg
I appreciate any help/guidance you folks can provide.
Thanks, PB
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Any snow, a 4wd is needed to get out, and luck to get in and stop with ice. A big rain with sewers overfilled and it floods. If it snows or rains alot there I would not want it for a home.
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Is the garage heated?
Are those water pipes and meter in an unheated garage?
Get a REALLY good home inspector...
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PB2 wrote:

    You did not mention where this home is located, but if it is where a lot of rainfall takes place, I would not buy it. Even in the area I live (42 inches of rain a year) homes with downward sloping drives are problematical. I do not have such a drive, but some of my neighbors do and they wish they did not. Ransley also made a good point about ice and snow if it is likely to occur. It is good to see you are thinking about such problems rather than being blinded by the attractive points of the home.
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This house is located in the Boston area, where we see a fairly significant amount of snow. An additional challenge is that street parking is not allowed between October and April, so we have to park in the driveway or garage.
The current owners say that they pay someone to come and clear the driveway, so getting out has not been an issue for them (or so they claim). But I have very little personal experience with those types of things - could I still have problems exiting even if the driveway was periodically cleared during a snowstorm?
Thanks, PB
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My brother owned a house with a similar driveway in the Chicago suburbs. In his own words, "Never again!"

There is no reaso to ever rely upon a seller.

Unfortunately I have spent too much of my life in "the land of the damnyankee snow" and can tell you that it is normal for snow plowers to be greatly over entended. Also be aware that street plowers will always leave a snow bank at the edge of your driveway. The worse the snow storm, the higher the snow bank.
Dick
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Their excuse of having someone come is BS, it snows, you clean, it snows more it freezes, you will have a nightmare with it and will be forced to own a 4wd to go and come home. Only if the concrete was heated would it not be an issue.
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Also, there appears to be a drain at the bottom of the driveway. Are those typically adequate for most rains? Does that likely drain directly into the sewer system?
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Yes, agree with all the above. In this housing market, there should be plenty of other homes to choose from, without this type of problem. Unless this house was truly exceptional for some reason, ie it's waterview, the price is very deeply discounted, etc, I would not even consider it.
The photo of the garage sure looks like the floor is either damp or has had water pooling on it. If you do pursue this, I'd want to know exactly how the drain system works, ie where does the water go and is it legal. It would seem to me that this geometry would require either a sump pump type system to take the water out, with it's obvious problems, connection to sanitary sewer which is often illegal, or connection to a storm sewer.
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I appreciate all the advice. It definitely feels like we should reconsider whether purchasing this house is the right thing to do. The price of the house is well discounted compared to others around it, but I'm not sure it's discounted enough to account for the issues we'll have living in it and when we try to sell it.
I know that the house has a sump pump (perhaps multiple ones), but I'm not sure what the connections to the drainage system are. Good questions to ask the broker.
I assume everything that was done in the house is legal, given what I know about the owner and the community, but that's worth checking on too.
Thanks, PB
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Like ^ he said. The slab looks wet in a way that doesn't indicate a wet car bringing in the water. It looks more like the water is coming up through the slab.

Maybe there's a reason for it being 'well discounted'? Maybe something like it floods in winter and during heavy rain storms?

The broker will have exactly no idea about that stuff and will simply ask the owner (see below). You need someone to open up the trench drain and check out the condition, and you need to check out the sump pump operation.

Do not rely on _any_ assumptions when buying a house. Unless the owner built the house/driveway himself, there's an extremely good chance he has no idea where it drains to.
R
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on 6/18/2008 8:46 AM PB2 said the following:

Check the bottom of the garage doors for apparent water damage. I also noted to another that there are scrape marks at the top of the driveway which may indicate a clearance problem in some situations. I would not depend on someone coming to clear the driveway of snow. You would need to buy a snow blower. You can then remove snow as often as you want during a snow storm. A low berm built on the garage side of the drain may keep a lot of the water out of the garage if the drain becomes overwhelmed during a heavy rain. A lot of houses have sump pumps. Whether the sump pump is to remove ground water, or water entering the garage and basement, will help you decide, one way or the other. A little water on the garage floor once in a while should not be a deal buster. Otherwise, it's a nice looking house and if the price is right and you can live with those problems, I wouldn't write it off just yet.
--

Bill
In Hamptonburgh, NY
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Something else, look at the drive angle, take a sedan in the drive and see if it bottoms out, while its over the middle look at the clearance and think what a loaded car will do, it will likely bottom out. My parents were about to rent a home till they found the car bottomed out going into the driveway. My front wheel drive car even with new Michelins would not make it up that slope in slippery snow.
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on 6/18/2008 9:22 AM ransley said the following:

Those scrape marks at the top of the driveway indicate that there is a clearance problem in some situations.
--

Bill
In Hamptonburgh, NY
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PB2 wrote:

Thoughts only, no personal experience with what you are considering...
1. It appears there is a curb on the street; consequently, any water in the drive area would come from rain falling directly on it unless there was enough to overflow the curb (unlikely, I'd think). You would also be likely to get some water in the drive area from runoff from the two yards abutting the drive but I'd not think there would be enough to create a flood situation. If it were a problem and if they do not already exist, storm drains could be put in the yards along the retaining walls.
2. The drain at the bottom of the drive should be more than adequate to remove normal amounts of water. I'd want to know it drains well. A hose would let you know...
3. If water should get into the garage, sump(s) and pump(s) would fix it. I see none in the interior photos...do they exist? If not, does the garage floor slope toward the outside drain?
4. The garage interior photos show what appears to be damp and/or moldy areas on the floor. I've not been around basements for decades but I remember them being damp so the appearance of same doesn't much bother me.
5. For more than 50 years I've avoided areas where it gets cold enough to snow but I remember snow and ice being a real PITA regardless of slope; nevertheless, I've driven many times on icy/snowy slopes equal or greater than that of the driveway.
In short, I don't think it is an ideal situation but it wouldn't be a deal breaker for me. I'm guessing other houses in the area have similar situations...you might want to talk to those owners to get their thoughts.
--

dadiOH
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Sump pumps wont pump if the pump breaks or power is out, it is to much risk to rely on that system alone.
Look at the bottom left garage door frame, it has been pieced in about a foot off the ground and rot is visable 12" above the bottom, also concrete at left is new and the yard does drain into that area, a pipe is visable at 400% zoom in photo 3, Maybe the rest of the house is trimmed in aluminum, but I can see what I belive is alot of moisture damage to the door and rot on the frame at left. The inside of the garage just looks kind of moldy. of course the place is cheaper.
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PB2 says...

Very common where I live in upstate New York. It *is* a hassle, I'd stay away form it, but if other factors were really good it wouldn't be a total deal breaker either.
Hassles are -
Drainage (best if the drainage runs to daylight or to a storm drain - most of these are like that. Sump pump is a hassle for failure and power outages. Good to have a clearout too.
Snow removal - has to go way up somewhere, and can't truck-plow the driveway - nowhere to push the snow.
Ability to use driveway limited - not good for little kids on trikes, laying things out to wash them out with the hose, etc.
But with drainage to daylight and a snowblower, many people manage with this common setup. IMO it depends on those hassles vs. the other attractive attributes of the house.
Banty
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As another poster stated, the garage floor appears to be damp with the source water from under the floor which may be an indicator of problems. You should get an engineers report on the structural and drainage conditions of this house with emphasis on the garage and driveway drainage. It is possible that it needs installation of a sump pump within the garage to dry out the underfloor area. While it is impossible to be sure from just a picture, this may be a structural garage floor. I can't see any major cracks or heaving of the floor. This is a good sign that it may be structurally adequate and dampness either can be lived with, improved by underflor drainage or maybe ventilation of the garage would be enough. Get an engineers inspection and ask the engineer such questions. Is the basement under the house damp or is there a musty odor? Is there any sign of flooding such as new walls, furnace or water heater?
I bet a structural engineer would be impressed with the shape of the concrete walls and retaining walls - they all look good in the pictures anyway.
A major drainage issue could be if street runoff can get onto the driveway during storms or from snowmelt. That amount of runoff would overload the drainage shown and flood the garage and basement of the house. If the house is at a high point on the street it might be fine. If it is along a slope of the street and near a high point then it may be fine. If it is right at a set of drainage inlets, especially at a sag (low point from both directions) location then the risk of street ponding running down the driveway is high.
I live in a cold climate with a lot of snow and drive a JEEP Grand Cherokee which has one of the best all wheeldrive systems and my Jeep could barely drive up that driveway slope when it was covered with more than an inch or so of snow. I use normal street tires. With special snow tires the Jeep could make it through a lot of snow but no normal car could. It is too steep to be easily driven when slippery. Rainfall slippery is OK, snow slippery is not. I think Boston gets a lot of snow so you might be stuck in the garage after most snow storms until the snow was cleared. Cleared means down to clear pavement for normal cars. Maybe you would have a few days a year of such headaches. Would the snow clearing service get to your house before you need to leave for work? If the practice has been to use a lot of sand for winter traction on the driveway it is possible that the drain is plugged with sand.
I once lived in an apartment block with a steep ramp out of the garage but there was room for the cars to take a run at the slope and use momentum to get up the ramp when it was frozen slippery. Problems arose when someone didn't have enough momentum to get up the ramp. The cars didn't slide striaght backwards with the brakes locked. They slide a bit sideways and slide into the side wall of the doorways. Took tow trucks to get them out once they were resting against the wall. You would need Jeeps or Subarus with winter tires and/or a bit of winter driving training to enjoy that driveway in snow.
The garage seems to be entirely concrete. Is this true? Are all the walls, floors and ceiling concrete? Is the access to the house via a fire resistant door? I would be concerned about increased risk of fire as I have seen one garage burn down and another friend had a car catch fire in his garage in the midle of the night. I imagine the house was built to building code so this would not be a deal breaker for me but I would add smoke detectors in the garage and extra smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the house. Maybe a good fire rated door if not already there. All that and I would be OK with a basement garage. There are a lot of new houses with living spaces above attached garages so this can't be a big concern but I would still overdo the detectors.
I like the looks of this house and we have Jeeps and Subarus and enjoy tricky driving so I would seriously consider this house if the engineer passed it.

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I appreciate all your comments. Some of you had other questions about the house, so I've posted a few more pictures (including a floor plan) at the following link:
http://picasaweb.google.com/pbanerji/House
Thanks, PB
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remember when its time for you to sell this house its going to be a hassle.....
myself i would look elsewhere, one big power outage storm that floods can do thousands in damage and screw up your life.
a different home = less stress and bother.
shoveling in a slot is a real drag, i have a bit of that here, and buffalo is snow city.
check realtor.com for other homes, the entire multi listing of the country can be searched there
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