Sad, but True Stories of Mold in Homes for Sale
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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.
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
· Finished basements
· Interior French drains
· Crawl spaces
· Homes that were unheated over a winter
· Flipped or foreclosed homes
· Homes that ever-had leaking basements, roofs, or windows
· Homes that have flooded
· Homes that had sewage backups or plumbing leaks
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.
· Painting over stained areas
· Using plugins or other fragrances to disguise odors
· Opening windows to air out the home before showings
· Having the home sprayed with a moldicide when listing, but not fixing the cause of the mold
· Providing testing that is inadequate or misleading
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:
· Stored or improperly applied pesticides
· Formaldehyde from flooring, cabinets and other building materials
· Defective or misused stains or coating
· Sewage backups and hidden leaks
· Defective ductwork
· Gas is from industrial waste that was buried before construction
· Spilled chemicals from construction or remediations
· Improperly installed or sized heating systems
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.