The first time it happened was almost 30 years ago. it still gives me the shivers. It was like watching a Real Estate train wreck. The sales commission whistle was blowing, and the buyer was on that train to owning a moldy home.
Let’s be clear. Some people don’t react to or get sick from mold. Mold exposure is a little like Russian Roulette. If it is you, or your family that gets sick, mold is a big deal. Click Here To Download A PDF Copy of Article As Published
Back to that first-time mold nightmare. I was inspecting a finished basement with nasty black mold in a closet and behind the basement walls which were open in that closet. This was in the room that the home buyers we're going to use as a bedroom for one of their children.
Mold testing proved that the visible mold was Stachybotrys. That’s the mold you would know as “toxic black mold”. There was enough mold in the home that you could smell it from the top of the basement steps, so finding the mold was not difficult or a surprise.
Instead of suggesting that the mold be remediated, the realtor hired another inspector who declared that “testing isn’t necessary because mold is present in all buildings”. He did a visual inspection and wrote a letter saying that mold is common and not a concern. I'm not suggesting that every realtor or seller tries to ignore environmental hazards to get to their commission, but some do. Most Real Estate professionals understand environmental hazards and do everything possible to protect their buyers’ health.
The buyer being convinced to buy a home with mold issues scenario has played out in front of me many times over the last decades. About 4 weeks ago, one of those times was a dad and a daughter who were sick in their home. Their family had moved into that home 2 years before our meeting. They showed me an almost identical letter declaring “no problem” from that same inspector as the one from 30 years ago. Despite that letter, they had mold and it was a problem.
The Other Scenario to Fear is Remediators Treating the Home Without Correcting the Cause of the Mold
If mold grows on a piece of bread, and you scrape the mold off, the mold will grow again. This is science and the same conditions results in the same results.
Knowing that principal, another inspector I know forwarded me a letter from another real estate deal. The letter stated that treatment was performed. The remediator wrote a letter declaring his own “visual inspection showed no need for further testing.” Testing after treatment is usually done to show that treatment was successful. It’s important for everyone to understand and recognize when environmental issues are not being properly handled. Despite the remediators letter, there was visible mold in that home after remediation.
I suggested that my colleague test the home for his clients. My advice included checking the home the night before the scheduled testing to make sure that the home was not being “aired out” ahead of the test so that it would pass. It turns out that the seller had all the windows open when the house was checked the night before the scheduled testing.
The foundation leaks that caused the mold were not corrected and the mold was still visible. The seller tried to cheat on the test. Even if the mold level was temporarily reduced, it will be back because the leaks weren’t addressed.
People do get sick from mold and the mold and its consequences become the new owner’s problem the day of closing.
The Most Common Conditions that Cause Mold in Homes and Other Buildings
Our bodies try to protect us as apart of the universal plan. If something doesn't taste, feel or smell good, it's usually not healthy for us. The idea that a house smells bad only because it's been closed-up for a while is just not true.
In many instances, a seller will work hard to cover up or disguise environmental problems.
Many people take comfort and believe that all home inspectors will look for and recognize mold or other environmental hazards. The sad truth is mold and other environmental hazards are not considered part of the standards of practice for home inspectors. It is tough to know what you don’t know, and inspectors are not an exception to that rule.
There is always a cause for an odor in any Home or Building. Some of the things other than mold include:
The bottom line is that if there is an odor, staining, history of prior problems or everything is covered up with fresh paint, the best polices are to not consider a property, or hire an independent environmental expert you can trust.
There are two real estate markets. One is the market where people want a “fixer upper.” Think what happens on HGTV. What a buyer is saying when they want a “fixer upper” is that they want to purchase a home so far below market price that they can spend of ton of money and still make a profit when they sell. Sometimes it is general condition that makes a home a “fixer upper”, other times it is decorating that belongs squarely in the 1980’s or so.
The other real estate market is the “ready to move in to” home. That is a home that has been updated and properly repaired. People will spend more money on these homes. Look at your home through HGTV eyes, not your own. If you want top money for your home, fix the big defects and drag the appearance of the home from the 1980’s to today.
Your decision is to pick which market direction you want to go as either a buyer or seller.
Living Through the Home Buying Process
So, you want to buy or sell a home. Yep, that’s the goal, but there is a messy process on the way to that goal. The best we can accomplish here is to first warn you and then validate the pain you will likely experience.
A great place to invest some time before you start the buying and selling process is HGTV. While watching the 30 or 60 minute show, wrap your head around the fact that the show really took months of time and hundreds of hours of skillfully edited film to become entertainment. Living through the real estate process is not entertainment.
No matter if you are a buyer or seller, Real Estate is invasive, disruptive, stressful and personal. Put a big star beside the word “personal” on this list.
Let me clearly say on a personal note, we have been very fortunate to have had the best of experiences with great buyers, sellers and Realtors. Any nightmare scenarios expressed here are not my personal experience in this process, but my observations across 35 years as a fly on the wall at home inspections.
It is personal: For most sellers there is personal pride involved in the sale of the home. Then there is the personal space invasion of people going through your home. Some go through your cupboards and medicine cabinet. Others will go so far as to try out your furniture including your bed.
What gets personal for the buyer is the process of qualifying for financing. What about that bill you were late on last year? Give us your bank accounts. Las Vegas? You took a trip to Las Vegas? We need a letter from your parents that the money they put in your account is a gift, not a loan. As I said, it can be personal for the buyer too.
It is uncertain: There are so many steps, so many landmines, so many places to go wrong. You have the offer, acceptance and maybe several counter offers. Next comes the home inspections which may go well, or may not go very well. You wait to get the report back from the inspector. Then the hurdle of the buyer qualifying for the loan. Next is the appraisal, followed by a title search, and then other preparation details for closing.
The uncertainty can include goofy things. The other party can lose a job, change their mind, get a transfer out of the area, decide to divorce or pass away. A deal on one house falling apart can create a daisy chain of other sales not being able to go forward.
It is a lot of work: There is preparation. There is the process of getting ready for house showings. Then the finding of financial information. Next preparation of almost endless paperwork. Following all of this is the sorting, packing and moving.
It is stressful: Let see, the process is personal and uncertain with lots of waiting time between each step. The unknown factors and the trying to sort out the order of things is nuts. Sell first and then hurry to buy? Buy first and hope to sell? Pay for an appraisal first and hope the home passes inspection or pay for the inspection and hope it passes appraisal?