Home Buyers Beware: Test For Mold Before You Buy

As the owner/operator of All Jersey Environmental Services, a privately held company, I work for nobody but myself and hold high the standards that our customers can expect from my business. Over the last 5 years, I have received an increasing number of calls from banks and homeowners regarding properties that have been in foreclosure or are short sales that have been vacant for over a year. Some of these homes have recently been purchased by investors looking to “flip” the properties, and others are being sought out as homes to be occupied by the purchaser. I do much of my work with realtors and never look to step on anyone’s toes, but I believe that the person occupying the home in the long run is ultimately the client. I know how many of these homes have been bought and sold over the last 5 years, and it is mind boggling that this has happened with so little care having been taken on the part of both sides to be sure that these homes are safe for the occupants.

Each year we find out that there are more and more links between human illness and mold than were ever imagined. We find that people have lived in homes where their children have been exposed to extremely dangerous types of mold during the most critical growth periods of their life. Many of these children are being diagnosed with illnesses that are completely uncommon in the numbers in which we are seeing them. There are also a tremendous number of illnesses which cannot be explained, and where our doctors are carefully assessing the potential links to a child’s exposure to mold. Each year we have an ever growing number of people with respiratory ailments that are seemingly unexplainable, and we also have diseases and severe allergies that we have never seen before. Years ago there were different types of building practices that allowed for homes to “breath”. During the energy crisis of the 70’s and early 80’s, we did everything to make sure that we insulated our homes better than ever, and in some cases we have gone too far. These homes don’t breath and as a result they tend to be more susceptible to mold.

I document these occurrences for the people that visit my site that are potentially considering buying a home that has been vacant for an extended period of time, or where there is mold and where a nominal fee has been given for “mold remediation”. All of these things are EXTREMELY MISLEADING! The homeowner looks at the price of the home and sees instant value compared to market pricing. The remediation company with the lowest pricing is usually given the job to do the work with a guarantee of a year or so. This company typically is called by the bank to remediate all of the properties that they have on the books. Once the work is done, it will usually take more than a year for the areas not sanitized and remediated well enough to reveal themselves. This takes the remediation company off the hook and the homeowner scratching their head as to why they have mold. If the mold has not revealed itself in any major way, it may still be there and wreaking havoc without anyone knowing it. Mold may be behind the walls, cabinets, below floors and carpets. Many areas which looked perfectly normal during the original inspection can still prove to be very dangerous.

For a homeowner to properly remediate a home after a long vacancy, many things must be considered.

  1. Where are the major sources of mold?
  2. Why is mold in the home?
  3. How long has it been there?
  4. What are the conditions the home has endured since the it became vacant?
  5. If the mold started in the basement or a lower floor in a split level, has that area been subject to stacking? (Stacking is the term to describe hot air rising and taking mold spores with it to higher levels in the home due to thermodynamics).
  6. Did the home undergo any water pipe breaks during the winter?
  7. Was the power turned off completely during the time it was vacant?

 

These are just a few of the things that must be considered when remediating a home of this nature. I frequently get called to view these types of homes, but find that the potential seller (the bank) is not willing to negotiate from where the home has been priced. The buyer will look for the cheapest solution if their heart is set on buying the home, and if not, there will be no deal. For those that do move forward and purchase the home, they have likely convinced themselves that mold is a black, dirty, dusty, material, that can be cleaned easily with few ramifications of a poor job. They don’t realize that mold is a very territorial microorganism that will behave in a very dangerous manner to continue to grow and colonize an inhabited area, and even more dangerously to colonize an area with other types of mold.
I hope that you have found this to be somewhat informative because in the last 5 years of inspecting foreclosures, bank owned properties and bankruptcies, I have found that very few of these deals close, and even fewer are properly remediated after closing. Should you be one of the few that do move forward and acquire a property of this nature, I hope you will do the best that you can and what is in the best interest of the occupants. It is ok to spend money to remediate. Just make sure it is figured into the cost of the property so you don’t find yourself looking for shortcuts to take for the cost overrun later on.

Regards,
John Messina
All Jersey Environmental Services
(973) 602-9232