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Failing foundations: Connecticut concrete emerges as threat to some Massachusetts homes

Connecticut, in its most recent budget ... or sell it at a massive loss after disclosing problem. Longmeadow real estate agent John Wynne, of Teamwork Realty, said he had clients in East Longmeadow this fall who decided to lay their cards on the table ...

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Gallery: Connecticut concrete causing failing foundations in Massachusetts Comment By Jim Kinney LONGMEADOW -- Russell Dupere digs at the inside of his basement wall with the meat of his thumb -- not even the nail -- and with no effort at all the concrete crumbles. It falls like dust and joins the pile of crumbs ringing the perimeter of what was once the finished basement in his million-dollar house on Ashford Road, where he and wife, Tatiana Dupere, had planned to raise their daughtersThe walls are pockmarked with craters, some a quarter inch deep, where the concrete has fallen away.   "We spent a lot of money on this houseIt's our dream home, and it's falling apart now," Dupere said"Slowly, but surely." He knows the footings under the house are crumbling as wellIt's just that no one can see themHe and Tatiana swear they can hear cracks forming in the middle of night. The problem with Dupere's home would be familiar in Connecticut, where some 34,000 homeowners are thought to be affected: his foundation is failing because stone ground up to make the concrete contains the mineral pyrrhotiteOver time, the iron sulfide in the pyrrhotite reacts with oxygen and water, making the concrete crack and swell. Of the 34,000 homes in Connecticut believed to have been built with the faulty concrete, more than 500 homeowners have stepped forward with complaints. According to reports issued by the state of Connecticut over the past two years, a company called Becker Quarry in Willington sold the pyrrhotite-contaminated stone to the now defunct JJ Mottes concrete company from 1983 until 2017, when they agreed to stop. It takes 10, 15 or even 20 years for the cracking and swelling to become apparentAnd the Duperes, whose home was built in 1990, fear their basement might be just one of the first cases in a Massachusetts epidemic of crumbling basements. Think, Dupere said, of all the homes in neighborhoods all over the region -- built at about the same time, by the same builders presumably using the same suppliers of raw materials. "And no one is going to talk about it," Tatiana Dupere said"Because once you talk about it you can't sell your houseThere are a lot of people who don't want to know what's going onIt's no one's faultBut no one wants to talk about it." var youtubeEmbedInfo = youtubeEmbedInfo || []; youtubeEmbedInfo.push({ div: "player_FbJ0-nYrY6E", id: "FbJ0-nYrY6E" }); 'A slow-motion disaster': Failing foundations discussed at Longmeadow Select Board meeting Above, excerpts from the Dec4, 2017 Longmeadow Select Board MeetingVideo footage courtesy of Longmeadow Community Television But Russell Dupere, an attorney who represents municipalities and school districts, is speaking out -- to the state attorney general's office, to lawmakers including state SenEric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, and the Longmeadow Select Board. "My neighbors are going to kill me," he said, reflecting on homeowners who would rather the public not know the problem exists. During a discussion at Monday night's select board meeting, town officials told Dupere more than 400 homes -- about 10 percent of Longmeadow's housing stock -- was built between 1983 and 2017, when the tainted concrete aggregate was in use.  "Add to that all the homes that had additions in those years," Dupere said"All the garagesAll the patiosAnd all the other townsWe know it's in East Longmeadow, Ware, Monson, Wales, PalmerWe know this from social media." What he wants is for the state and federal governments to work with insurance companies to make sure claims are paid and coverage is not canceled -- and for them to help homeowners fund repairsHis claim was denied by Liberty MutualThe company said the walls have not collapsed, the threshold for paying a claim.  Liberty Mutual spokespeople did not respond to questions Tuesday. Dupere is also hoping affected homeowners can get a tax abatement reflecting the decreased value of their home. A federal income tax deduction for faulty foundation repairs, an accommodation secured by Connecticut lawmakers, would be eliminated under the new tax plan pending in WashingtonEven if it survives, Dupere would only stand to see a $59,000 tax refund after spending $350,000 on needed repairs. Connecticut, in its most recent budget, approved $80 million in bonds over the next four years to help homeowners with crumbling foundations.  "I want Massachusetts to do what Connecticut is doing," Dupere said"I also think that if both states work together, we can get FEMA involved." Lesser said he's heard from a number of other homeowners in Longmeadow and East Longmeadow who have not gone public. "This is a potentially disastrous situation," he said. Not only do families see their homes lose value -- they also lose the ability to borrow against that value to pay for repairs. "It's a very terrifying situation," Lesser said"For most people, their life savings is in their homeHow would you like to wake up and find out 60 percent of that value is gone?" Insurers are telling customers the language in their polices doesn't cover foundation failure.  "I think it's a disgrace that the insurance companies are not stepping up here," he said"Is that an unfair or a deceptive business practice? Then what is the point of homeowners insurance." Lesser said he has spoken with lawmakers and insurance regulators in Connecticut, and with the Massachusetts Insurance Commissioner and people from the office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura HealeyHe'd like to create a fund like the one in Connecticut, or pass legislation protecting insurance claims.  Lesser said cities and towns should also be concerned about the impact on their budgets. "These are expensive homesAnd if their value drops by half, the amount they pay in taxes drops," he said"That could start hurting bottom lines." McCullough Builders built the Dupere home, along with most of the other houses in the neighborhood. Company head Richard AMcCullough Jr., who took over the business after his father's death,  said he has no way of knowing where his father and his subcontractors sourced materials like concrete -- and there is not much he can do at this point.  "I was in junior high school when these homes were built," he said. Russell and Tatiana Dupere discovered the problem when their water heater failed last year. Water damage forced them to remove wall coverings in what had been a finished basement. Once the drywall and paneling was gone, contractors noticed the deteriorationSome contractors offered to give it a superficial skim coat of fresh concrete. But that wouldn't have workedThe concrete underneath would still continue to deteriorate. Russell Dupere said an engineer ran tests that found the presence of pyrrhotite. He says realtors have estimate the home has lost 40 to 60 percent of its value, dropping it to about $400,000.  "My house is now worthless," he said"The property is only worth the value of the land." To fix it, contractors would have to jack the house up three feet, then remove the concrete, dig 20 feet out and build a new foundation and basement.  Tatiana Dupere said they'd be unable to live there for three months. The other options? They could watch the foundation crumble while continuing to live there, until the home is structurally unsound. Or, Russell Dupere said, they could let the bank take it in foreclosure, or sell it at a massive loss after disclosing problem. Longmeadow real estate agent John Wynne, of Teamwork Realty, said he had clients in East Longmeadow this fall who decided to lay their cards on the table and take the financial hit, if only to be free of the problem.  His clients only learned they had had a problem after they had an offer of $409,000 on their executive ranch-style home at 18 Tamarack DriveThey eventually sold it to a buyer from West Springfield for $210,000. The first prospective buyers used a Connecticut-based home inspector, Wynne said, who spotted the problem and warned the buyers off. The owners built the home in 1992, and all they had to do was look back at the scrapbook they'd kept during constructionThere in a snapshot was the JJ Mottes ready-mix truck delivering concrete. Repairs were estimated at $150,000 to $250,000. "They were retiring and downsizing," Wynne said"They didn't want to do that." So they disclosed the problem when the house went back on the market, warning potential buyers they would either have to pay with cash or get a construction loan -- likely at a higher interest rate -- to fund the purchase and repair.  Wynne said the new owner plans to monitor the deterioration, rather than making immediate repairs. "But who knows how long it will take to crumble," Wynne said"That's a pretty big risk." Wynne knew nothing of the crumbling foundations until the first offer on 18 Tamarack Drive fell throughBut he knows he and every other real estate professional in the Pioneer Valley will become very familiar with pyrrhotite in the coming months and years, as the concrete deteriorates and more homes on the market fall under the gaze of inspectors aware of the problem. "I'm sure there are homeowners who don't even know they have it," he said.  The Republican / MassLive is seeking additional homeowners, buyers, real estate agents and contractors who have encountered the problem of failing foundations in MassachusettsPlease email Jim Kinney or call 413-788-1307. 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