Most of the time, people have good intentions, but as a buyer, you need to protect yourself from mistakes the seller may make in giving you proper disclosures. This is especially important when it comes to environmental issues such as water damage that can lead to mold.
While Realtor organizations are attempting to make it more difficult for sellers to conceal defects from buyers, state-mandated disclosures are often still a matter of interpretation. Some sellers may intend to provide proper disclosure, but may leave off material facts because they don’t realize the significance.
For example, a seller may have had an older washing machine leak all over the laundry room. Grabbing a mop, the seller quickly cleaned up the mess and had the washer replaced. Years later when preparing to sell the home, the seller fills out a state-mandated disclosure form, completely forgetting that the event ever happened. Meanwhile, mold is growing through the floor, sheetrock and the walls.
When most people think of water damage, they think of catastrophic events such as raging storms that take out power lines and send tree branches crashing through the roof. They don’t tend to take small household disasters such as leaking washers, hot water heaters, or showers seriously. Along comes the seller’s disclosure form and by the checkbox called “mold,” or “water damage,” the seller confidently checks “No.”
As a buyer, you can’t assume that the seller is concealing something from you deliberately, but it’s best to protect yourself with an inspection, in case the seller is accidentally failing to disclose a material fact.
At the least, you can hire an inspector to look at the home before locking in your offer. While a housing inspector is not qualified to identify mold, he or she can identify conditions where mold is likely to grow. If you want to use a housing inspector instead of a mold specialist, be sure to ask the inspector to look carefully for signs of previous water damage.
Several states including Texas and California are already working on programs that will certify mold inspectors as a specialty, and a certified mold specialist that is licensed by the state may soon be available in your area.
You can also hire an industrial hygienist. These are the folks who are educated in the area of “assessment of human exposure to toxic materials,” says Kyle Dotson, CIH, CSP, DEE. “Industrial hygienists have advanced degrees in environmental science or industrial hygiene. They work as consultants or in industry, and their job is to help control occupational disease hazards.”
The top of this food chain is the certified industrial hygienist, which requires five years’ experience and a CPA-tough exam that most people fail the first time. The certification is provided by the American Board of Industrial Hygiene , a professional association of about 12,000 members.
“All buyers should use a professional service,” advises Dotson. “But they need to be aware that there are a lot of people jumping into the lucrative field now known as “mold consulting.”
In some states such as Texas and California, insurers are making it difficult to get mold coverage. “We are now getting requests from homeowners that are telling us their insurance company requires a mold inspection before they will write the homeowners insurance for the buyer,” says Dotson. “And some insurers are requiring a mold inspection for certain situations.”
Written by Blanche Evans