Water, water everywhere, and…

#303 in a series of true experiences in real estate
November 1999, Hills Newspapers

One day this week, while chatting merrily, Anet unlocked and swung open the door to our office. Glancing inside, she abruptly fell silent and stood completely still. Only a moment passed but it was long enough for me to realize that something was amiss, and I moved to the door to see what it was.
The office floor was covered with water. “Oh, no,” Anet (or maybe I) said, and we waded in. “What could have happened?” one of us uttered. We automatically looked up to the roof but couldn’t see any holes.

The old Oriental style rug on the floor was awash with two to three inches of water. Many cardboard boxes sitting on the carpet were soaked gray. These boxes held our house flyers, advertising pieces we’ve had printed over the years for our listings, all neatly organized in file folders. They are precious to me. I use them as samples for prospective clients and so, I sprang to rescue them.

Many boxes, many flyers and folders were soaking wet. I hurried to remove them from the boxes, separating out the dry ones, lifting them to table tops and shelves.

Anet was still looking around for the source of the water. It had rained the day before but this couldn’t be rain we were standing in; there was so much of it. Suddenly, at just the same time, we both realized we were hearing water running, running at a fairly fast clip. Where was it coming from?

Anet went outside, looked around, came back, wondered aloud where the water turn-off to the house was. She went out again, found and turned it but the sound of water kept on. “Who should I call?” she asked, then added, “I’m a real estate agent. I should know who to call.”

I was still fully engaged in moving wet paper around, also briefcases, stacks of multiple listing books and newspaper clippings. Before I could answer, Anet said, “I know, East Bay MUD,” and picked up the phone.

“There’s a lot of water in our office,” she told the person at the water company. And we can hear it running. I haven’t been able to shut off the main. What should I do?”

By now I was moaning about the rug and pad, saturated, fully under water, probably ruined forever. At least the floor itself is concrete. What a sorrow if it had been wood. My shoes were wet. I lost my footing and fell hard on my knees and elbow. I felt like a fool but I thought I was probably fine.

“Are you okay?” Anet asked. I rolled up my pants, looked at my bloody knees (like a little kid’s, I thought) and Anet applied Band-Aids.

“East Bay MUD will send someone within the hour,” she offered before going back outside to try again to find the source of our problem.

The water company man showed up exactly an hour later. He offered sympathy, looked around and, by luck, found what had gone wrong. A joint in a copper pipe running along an exterior wall, one used to feed a garden spigot and the sprinkler system, had come unsoldered. The man touched the pipe and it came apart: two pieces now, one continuing to spurt water, the other uselessly disconnected.

The man turned off the water at the main, told us that we should request a credit for the extra water caused by the break, suggested that we get a plumber, and left.

“I wonder if this is something my insurance might cover,” Anet said. “Maybe I should call and find out.” Yes, good news, burst and broken water pipes are covered. Of course, there is a deductible, but within an hour Anet was told, a claims adjuster would call back to tell her what to do next.

While we waited we moved more things. We discussed sweeping the water out of the office or soaking it up somehow but didn’t see how to accomplish either. Several large pieces of furniture were sitting on the edges of the carpet, and on top of these were stacked boxes of letterhead and envelopes, reams of paper for the copy and fax machines and such. We knew that eventually the rug would have to be moved, so we spent our waiting time transporting everything portable to an adjacent room.

Exactly an hour went by before the claims adjuster called. She was very friendly. She could send out the flood clean-up people – within an hour – but the water to the house would have to be turned back on. Dirty water must be dumped in the sewer line and for that, running water would be needed.

We really did need a plumber. The broken pipe would have to be repaired before we could turn on the water to the house again. But where would we get a plumber quickly? What to do?

Anet gets a certain determination sometimes, especially when faced with ill-functioning inanimate objects. I’ve seen it when the computers go screwy. Also with cars that won’t start. (She opens the hood and wiggles everything; surprisingly often, this works.) Once I witnessed Anet’s impressive doggedness when her washing machine froze mid-cycle, refusing to agitate any further. She took the agitator apart, then pushed on it hard; it’s been fine since.

It appears that she simply gets fed up and decides to win, to beat that thing that isn’t working. This time her focus was on the broken copper pipe. How could she fix it?

First she measured it. Then she called the wonderful folks at Ellis Hardware in North Oakland and described the situation. She added that she knows nothing about plumbing. “But isn’t there something,” she inquired, “that I could buy to put over the end of the pipe to seal it off?”

To really fix it, said the Ellis person, it would need to be soldered. But, for right now, to cap off the pipe, yes, Anet would need only a something-or-other, which they had in stock. “Come and get it,” said the Ellis person.

And so we did. We stood at the counter and were shown how the gizmo worked. They made sure we had the appropriate wrenches to attach it, charged us $4 and wished us luck. We thanked them hugely.

Back at the pipe, Anet attached the cap, got the water back on, then called back the insurance adjuster. Five and a half hours later the flood rescue company people arrived with large fans, squeegees and buckets, Styrofoam blocks for raising things off the floor. It took only an hour for them to get rid of the water and take the rug away to be dried.

We were very fortunate. We must have gotten to the office within a few hours or less after the pipe burst. Had it been longer, the damage would have been much worse.

We are thankful. Happy Thanksgiving to you.

P.S. This column was written a few years ago. If we had a similar water break today, we would not call the insurance company. We would instead pay for clean-up ourselves because in the long run, it would be cheaper. Water claims these days go on the “Big Insurance Computer in the Sky” and tend to haunt for years to come.

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