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Managing Mold

By Christopher M. Leporini, REALTOR® Magazine

Ever since toxic mold oozed its way in to the public consciousness several years ago, it’s remained a hot real estate topic. Concerns about the health risks of mold have sparked lawsuits, raised insurance rates, and lowered the value of some homes. Beyond following any disclosure requirements in your state, one of the best ways to protect yourself from mold hysteria is by helping your buyers educate themselves. What Every Home Owner Needs to Know About Mold (And What to Do About It) by Vicki Lankarge. (McGraw-Hill, 2003; $12.95.) provides a field guide to mold infestations and how to get rid of them that you can recommend to customers or read yourself.

“Chapter 2: The Fungus Among Us” lists several mold warning signs that you can pass along to buyers and sellers. These red flags include:

  • Home (or area in home) has an earthy or musty odor
  • Stains on areas that come in prolonged or frequent contact with moisture, such as wallboards or wallpaper near a window, walls that contain water pipes or air conditioning vents
  • Indentations in base board or trim
  • Whitish mats under the carpet, linoleum, behind furniture or in cabinets
  • Mushroomlike growths (fruiting bodies) on rotten wood on flooring or cabinets’ underside.
  • Swelling or crumbling plaster or sheetrock
  • Vinelike branches (rhizomorphs) growing from the soil to my home’s foundation, framing or the flooring’s underside.

If any of these problems are present, advise buyers to consider hiring an expert in mold to assess the extent of the damage and what can be done to remedy the situation before closing the sale.

“Chapter 7: The Mold House: How to Avoid a Real Estate Nightmare” is required reading for homeowners. It advises sellers to repair water intrusion or mold damages before placing the property on the marker. For larger problems, the author advises sellers to hire a professional remediator to eliminate the mold, and then carefully document the repairs. Most importantly, the book stresses the importance of full disclosure. With some court awards on mold cases in the millions, it’s important to impress upon sellers that failing to mention even a minor water problem could be the start of a legal nightmare if buyers later find mold.

To protect themselves against purchasing a property with mold problems, the book recommends that buyers schedule an inspection after it has rained. A heavy storm may reveal leakage areas that could give rise to mold. If the inspector spots any leaks or if any leaks or water damage appears in the sellers’ disclosure statement, buyers should consider having the property inspected by a mold specialist, the author advises.

The book also helps homeowners recognize that not every mold infestation is the kiss of death to a sale. Small infestation can often be cleaned up easily by the homeowners themselves, using household bleach and water, according to “Chapter 5: What to Do When You Spot Mold.” To optimize safety, owners should make sure they don’t suffer from mold allergies, wear a mask and gloves while cleaning, and open a window for ventilation. Larger infestations will necessitate that they hire a professional mold remediator. These services are expensive, often costing thousands of dollars. Homeowners should also note that their insurance policies probably won’t cover the cleanup costs since insurers often exclude mold from standard policies you’re your client does need expert help, “Chapter 8: Where to Turn for Help,” provides contact information for state health departments, state insurance departments, and Web sites that provide advice on handling mold.

The best way to deal with mold is to stop it before it starts, the book says. “Chapter 4: What’s Moisture Got to Do With It?” provides tips to prevent mold from the Insurance Information Institute. Simple strategies such as venting bathrooms and dryers outside; using air conditions and dehumidifiers; and turning on exhaust fans during cooking, dish washing, and cleaning can significantly lower indoor mold growth. Additionally, owners can add insulation to windows, pipes, exterior walls, roofs, and floors to prevent condensation on cold surfaces. Inspecting washing machine hoses, shower tile grout, and water heaters to ensure that leaks are repaired promptly are other good ways to ensure that you never get a mold problem, the book suggests.

Because no national standards exist for acceptable mold levels, there is still a great deal of uncertainty as to how much risk mold actually represents. But as long as buyers are concerned, you can’t afford to take the issue lightly. What Every Home Owner Needs to Know About Mold (And What to Do About It) will help you ensure that a mold problem won’t creep up on you or your customers.

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This post was contributed exclusively for REALTOR® Magazine.

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