Testing for Mold (before buying) and WWYD?

maurenemmMay 19, 2011

First the straight forward question and then the odd situation we're in.

Should you test for mold before buying a house? What kind of testing (if any) is effective?

Here is the story. We put an offer in on a house yesterday. It had just come back on the market after being under contract for 2 weeks. Today I find posting on a local message board (internet) from a buyer who was questioning whether he was right or wrong to walk away from a particular house. Without a doubt, this is the same house we put the offer on.

Ultimately, this buyer walked away because the seller wouldn't fix or pay to fix a mold issue. (The buyer had other, smaller issues with the sellers which don't really affect us.) The buyer indicated he had some sort of mold test done. But I have no idea what kind of mold test or if there were visible signs of mold. I've done some reading, and am led to believe that air mold tests are highly unreliable or ineffective.

Just the thought of the possibility of mold scares my DH and I. Neither of us have lived in a home with a mold issue. We worry about the expense to fix what is causing the mold and the health issues (we have two young boys). The home also tested high for radon (according to this buyer) which the sellers agreed to fix and I have no big problems with. The buyer said there was nothing else wrong with the home.

We were just informed by our agent that there is another offer on the table for this house. So, assuming that offer is higher, this might be our chance to walk away without spending any money on inspections. I don't know what to do. There may or may not be a mold issue. Do I want to spend the money to find out? That is the ultimate question.

I like this house. I do not LOVE it. Our main goal in moving was to get into a better school district. This house does that. It is in very nice neighborhood. We have not seen anything else we really like (that hasn't been snapped up before we could write up an offer). My only complaint with it (before the mold worries) is that its a bit smaller than what I was hoping to get. We are in a time crunch as we have a contract on our current house and have to be out in 2 months.


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I think if you are having reservations about this house, you should keep looking. It would be bad for you to have regrets after you purchase. If you do not love it and have to have it-keep looking. A house is a big investment. Be sure before you buy.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 5:02PM
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Do you SEE mold? Can you smell it? Has the seller disclosed anything that would lead you to believe there IS mold? Is the house in a wet location? Has it been vacant? (Plumbing leaks?)

I'd be very leary of mold. When our construction was delayed, water got into the foundation, and we had mold on the joists under the first floor. The bill to remediate was $17K. (Thankfully, that was before insurance companies refused to cover mold remediation.)

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 6:25PM
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Every house has mold to some degree...somewhere.
That said, there are various types, some more dangerous than others.

That said, mold testing and air quality testing should be performed by a certified/licensed firm that specializes in environmental testing in order to get the most reliable results. Don't use a home inspector to test as they generally have taken a one day course that does not even begin to cover the sampling process properly.

In addition, of a bigger concern is why the mold exists. If it is a moisture intrusion issue or a plumbing leak..has it been fixed? If not, that is a whole other area to deal with as the mold will continue to grow unless the root cause is discovered and remedied.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 7:33PM
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Thank you for the replies. I think it helped for me to write my worries down. Home buying is so stressful.

DH and I discussed it and set a limit we are willing to pay for this house. We're still about 20,000 below the new, lower list price so I don't think we get the house in a multiple bid situation. The sellers are going to go over the offers tomorrow afternoon.

If we do get the house, we're going to go over the house carefully. Probably pay for mold testing if we or the inspector sees signs of mold (or potential for mold). I have no idea if the previous potential buyer actually saw mold or if it was just an air quality test. There is nothing to suggest there has ever been any water issues with the house. It has not been vacant.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 10:05PM
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Did the other buyer find mold during an inspection? That should be disclosed - I believe once something is found it must be revealed. I would ask your agent.


    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 11:57PM
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Jane, that may depend on the state.

To the OP: Something a friend of mine recommended after a bad first-time buying experience: talk to the neighbors. They may have had water themselves (if mold is due to a drainage/basement issue) or may know if the neighbors had mold or what happened with the last inspection. Since the weather's getting nice, you can probably find them outside more. Tell them you're thinking about buying the house, and you are curious about the neighborhood. Go from there, you might be surprised what you learn ;)

Do have your agent ask the seller's agent why the last deal fell through, as Jane mentioned, depending on the disclosure laws in your state and/or county, they may have to tell you.

Mold inspections, especially those done by a mold abatement company, can be misleading. Mildew in a bathroom left by poor housekeeping can set off a detector. Mold *can* be very dangerous, but it is in every house at some level, especially in the spring after the snow melts. You track it in, or it blows in when you open the windows the first nice day. Obviously, high levels of dangerous molds are nothing to mess with, but sometimes people freak out unnecessarily (thank you internet!)

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 10:02AM
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maurenemm: can you contact the first potential buyer through the message board where you found out about the issue? I would at least post a reponse on the board saying that you are also looking at homes and would like to know what kind of test he had done and why he decided to do the test (did he or an inspector see something suspicious, etc.) You don't have to say you're looking at the same house, although it shouldn't matter since he has already walked away from the house so it's not like you're trying to take anything from him. It's also information that might help if/when you look at other homes.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 10:54AM
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How did we ever survive for thousands (millions) of years?

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 2:47PM
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maurenemm: "Probably pay for mold testing if we or the inspector sees signs of mold (or potential for mold)."

The inspection for or the identification of mold is beyond the scope of a home inspection. Unless the HI can document solid verifiable training in mold inspection and/or testing as an added skill set(more than a quickie "mold is gold" course) I would advise not relying upon his /her assessment. If you are truly concerned, hire a proper environment firm to make the determination.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 6:27PM
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We'll we've decided to pass on the home. Although the sellers did come back to us with a reasonable counter offer. I think DH and I just had too many doubts. And then while we were waiting for the sellers to respond back to our initial offer, we found another home we like better. Unfortunatly, I'm not optimistic the seller of that house will accept our final offer. So, we're still hunting...

The disclosure issue is interesting (on the house in my OP). The sellers now know there is higher than recommended levels of radon in their. And they may or may not agree there is mold. The disclosure form doesn't specifically ask about mold - just leaks and signs of moisture. It does ask about radon - to which the sellers denied any. The disclosure form is the original form - dated before the previous potential buyer did his/her radon test. So maybe that earlier date lets them get away with not disclosing it (the radon issue)??

    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 1:35PM
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I would suggest you start looking at only brand new houses.

Existing houses WILL have a problem somewhere, and you seem the type that is unlikely to be satisfied.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 3:33PM
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All houses have a problem somewhere..old , new and in between.

That said, radon levels naturally fluctuate.

You can have a very low reading today...and another test later on can show the level has risen higher...maybe much higher. In addition, your house could test high, and your neighbor's house right next door could test low.

That is why if you live in an area that is designated as an area known for high radon, even if the test comes back under 4.0, if the house has no mitigation system, be aware at some point you may need to install one anyway, due to the natural fluctuation of radon levels.

It's also a good idea to test once a year even with a radon mitigation system, to make sure it is functioning properly.

Here in NJ, new construction is built "radon ready" In other words, a passive mitigation system is installed in the house during construction. If the house tests high, the developer then installs a fan to activate the system.

We were actually glad our house tested high when built in '99, as the developer had to install the fan on his dime. Neighbors who tested low (and quite a few did..in a development on lots from 1/4 to 1/2 acre) but subsequently tested high over the years, had to incur that cost on their own...which was still a lot less expensive than installing a whole system.

Best bet is to have your attorney include a condition in the purchase contract that if the house does not have a radon mitigation system, or if it has only a passive system, that the sellers will foot the bill for the installation of a radon mitigation system or fan (whichever applies) if the test is 4.0 or higher. Or, look at homes where a full mitigaiton system is already in place...but test anyway to make certain it is doing it's job.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 6:01PM
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No need to be snarky, brickeyee.

Our current house tested high for radon and we bought it anyway. And I admitted right off the bat that I knew mold air tests were unreliable. My reservations with the house had more to do with its size (too small). The potential mold issue just gave us another excuse to walk away.

Logic - We have an "active" radon mitigation system in our house. If I remember correctly, it wasn't overly expensive (sellers paid for it). But you make a good point about testing more than just once. Of course, there is a lot of controversy over whether radon is actually dangerous or not. If it an easy fix, I say protect your family, just in case.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 10:02PM
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Everything that is said to be dangerous is surrounded by controversy. Case in point; cigarettes. If you think of all the people who smoke who don't get cancer, would it be logical to assume that they don't cause cancer?
The cancer issue is still a huge puzzle with definitive root cause still pretty much a mystery.
I therefore concur better safe than sorry. Also, it makes resale much less complicated.
Expense wise it can get somewhat pricey to mitigate a very old home...or one with unique architecture. Estimates are best obtained from a licensed mitigation firm.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2011 at 11:15PM
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"The potential mold issue just gave us another excuse to walk away. "

Then why are you making rather inane commences about mold"

It is one of the most overblown things to occur in the past 20 years.

It has been around longer than humans.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 10:23AM
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brickeyee - stop picking on the OP. There's no need to act like a jerk.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2011 at 3:25PM
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Posted by roamwhereiwant2 (My Page) on
Thu, Jun 9, 11 at 15:25

brickeyee - stop picking on the OP. There's no need to act like a jerk.

You should try the same.

The mold 'issue' is overblown exaggerated hysteria.

Probably second only to asbestos and radon.

Any good radon mitigation system that uses a blower to depressurize the under-slab area should have a manometer on the blower inlet line in the basement.

All you have to do is look at the thing and make sure the blower is lowering the pressure.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 12:23PM
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"The mold 'issue' is overblown exaggerated hysteria. Probably second only to asbestos and radon."

Brickeye, do/have you lived in a house with mold issues? If so, did you mitigate or leave it as is?

I've followed your posts and noticed that most of the time you make a lot of sense. Please explain why you don't think a buyer ought to be concerned about these issues. Especially mold. Thanks.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2011 at 10:29AM
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Mold in a house is an issue... but like most other home issues, it can usually be fixed quickly and fairly inexpensively. Most of the time it is found in the crawl spaces and is only there because of a water problem. Unless very large hidden areas have mold (like behind the drywall), it is not hard to deal with.
I performed a mold test in my home last year because I had a wayer issue in one part of my crawlspace. I put one petri dish in my crawl and one outside, next to the house. Both petri dishes grew a huge amount of the nastiest looking mold. All colors and shapes. I sent them off to be analyzed, and both samples came back as harmless varieties and all came back to be within safe levels. Actually, the sample located outside, had higher levels than the sample located in my wet crawlspace.
Being exposed to most of this mold is actually healthy for you.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 7:01AM
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We bought a house with a mold problem in the basement, caused by water damage that had not been attended to. We had the sellers remediate the problem before we closed, and they had to make a few passes at fixing it before the house tested clean. The house is fine now. There are all kinds of mold and all kinds of mold issues, but I wouldn't run from buying house just because I heard the word "mold."

    Bookmark   September 8, 2011 at 11:00AM
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