The last thing anyone wants to hear when they buy a house is that there’s a mold problem, but these sneaky little spores aren’t always easy to detect. Mold is a fungus and although some molds are visible and even odorous, mold can also grow between walls, under floors and ceilings, or in less accessible spots, such as basements and attics. Mold flourishes in water-soaked materials (paneling, wallboard, carpet, paint and ceiling tiles), and can survive in almost any damp location.
There have been thousands of disputes over mold between sellers and buyers through the years, so both parties should protect themselves up-front. A wise seller should put a specific mold disclaimer into the real estate sales contract and encourage in the sales contract that the buyer hire and rely upon the buyer’s own independent mold inspection and testing of the home by a certified mold inspector. Conversely, a buyer should ask the seller about mold and hire an inspector who can seek it out. While it’s not the inspector’s job to look for mold, most home inspectors will mention obvious signs of water damage and the possible presence of mold. And, because the inspector will poke around in spaces you might not, he or she may see things you wouldn’t. Don’t be shy to ask whether the inspector saw signs of mold or potential mold dangers.
In some states, real estate agents or brokers have a duty to disclose problems they know exist. Appraisers should also notify you of any obvious sign of a mold problem if the value of the property can be affected. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, molds produce allergens (substances that can cause allergic reactions), irritants, and in some cases, potentially toxic substances. Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals, including hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash. Molds can also cause asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold.
In addition, mold exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs of both mold-allergic and non-allergic people. Mold spores are very easily aerosolized and once they are disturbed, hundreds of thousands of spores can fill the air within a short period of time. Because of this, containment procedures are necessary to prevent contaminating the entire house or building.
Preventing water damage is one of the keys to stopping mold. Many indoor mold problems begin with an aging, weathered, leaky roof that may allow water to enter the home. If you know your home or property has a water, mold, or other environmental problem, or if you have a reasonable suspicion that there may exist such a problem, you would be wise to remedy the water problem, mold infestation, or environmental threat prior to even offering the property for sale and prior to even listing the property for sale with a REALTOR®.
Remember, if you are house hunting, you should learn how to detect mold in homes, get the seller to disclose mold issues, and negotiate around any mold problems that come to light in the course of the sale.