Mold: The new bad word in real estate
By ROBERT K. MAJOR
If you want to make a real estate agent cringe, just bring
up the word Mold. That nasty little fungus that destroys property, sparks
multi-million dollar law suites, and can kill a real estate contract. Mold has
shook up the insurance and real estate industries, joining the likes of Radon
gas, lead based paint, and Asbestos. It has been the focus of several major TV
programs, and has been featured in Time, Newsweek,
Business Week, and the Washington Post. With the recent media
coverage of cases brought by celebrities like Ed McMahon and Erin Brockovich, it
no wonder mold is the new bad word in real estate!
The truth is mold has been around forever, and is quite
necessary for our environment to work properly. Mold grows on dead organic
material and it aids in the decomposition process. Mold is found everywhere,
inside and out, floating through the air looking for moisture and its next food
source. Mold is ok when it attacks the backyard compost pile, but what happens
when it invades a home.
Overall people and mold have existed side by side without
many problems. However, mold may cause health hazards in some individuals
because it produces allergens, irritants, and mycotoxins. If inhaled or touched,
mold, can cause asthma attacks, nasal congestion, red eyes, rashes, headaches,
dizziness, numbness, fatigue, tremors, and breathing difficulties.
Unfortunately, the EPA has not established regulatory limits or toxicity levels
on mold. Homeowners can dramatically reduce mold growth and the associated
hazards by eliminating moisture problems and maintaining humidity levels below
In addition to health concerns, mold can also create
property damage. If left untouched mold can ruin wood, carpet, drywall, wood
trim, flooring, paint, acoustic ceiling tile, wallpaper, and any other organic
material found in a home. Mold remediation is very expensive, and may become
necessary if the problem is ignored. Although eliminating mold is nearly
impossible, there is some practical advice you can provide to sellers and
Have the home inspected by a professional. Mold is actually a symptom of a
bigger problem that any good home inspector should find. Defects in the
foundation, landscape grading, lot drainage, roof, gutters, windows, walls,
flashing, and plumbing can all lead to moisture problems within a home. Home
inspectors are not microbiologists, but with the proper tools and training they
will uncover prior water damage, cover-up tactics, and potentially hazardous
mold growth in any home.
Educate the seller.
With all the media attention about mold related cases, buyers are becoming more
educated about the risk associated with mold contamination. Advise the seller to
understand their rights and liabilities associated with mold. Covering up a
potentially hazardous situation will turn into a legal nightmare for everyone
and will tarnish your reputation.
Fix the problem prior to listing.
Prior to listing is the best time to fix all water-related issues and mold
contamination. Remember, if you do not correct the water problem, the mold will
return. When water damage occurs, moisture can collect between walls and under
floors. If the materials have no way of drying, those hidden areas become
breading grounds. Depending on the severity, a professional contractor may be
necessary. Make sure to check references, and confirm that the contractor has
experience in mold remediation. The EPA recommends that professional contractors
follow the guidelines found in EPA’s Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial
Use a professional.
Surface mold can be killed with a simple solution of bleach and water. However,
if surface mold is present, it is likely that mold exist in hidden areas as
well. Companies that are trained in mold remediation will help eliminate
moisture problems, clean existing contamination, and will dramatically reduce
future mold growth. Although no company will ever suggest a home is Mold Free,
using a professional will put the buyer’s mind at ease.
Prepare the seller to assume responsibility.
If mold contamination is identified through an inspection, the seller should be
prepared to correct the problem prior to closing. If both parties agree to
correct the problem after closing, make sure to get several quotes from
qualified contractors. It is prudent for the seller to set a dollar amount in
the contract to limit liability. Have a real estate attorney review the
contract, prior to signing, to make sure all parties are protected.
Keeping a level head.
Whether you represent the seller or buyer, handling the problem professionally
is the key in closing the transaction. The entire weight of the sales process
rides on your shoulders and your objectivity will assist your clients in making
key decisions. Mold contamination can pose serious health threats, but it is not
the end of the world. Using common sense and remaining unbiased is key as you
navigate through this moldy issue. Good Luck!
Major is president of Major Home Inspections, Inc. in