Real estate transactions get complicated when mold is present, but smart agents can find solutions for sellers and buyers.
There are many words you could use to describe mold. How about sneaky, opportunistic, hazardous, persistent, smelly and scary, just for starters? Among the general population, you’ll encounter a variety of reactions to the "M" word. But among real estate agents, the mere mention of mold can easily trigger anxiety attacks, not to mention a string of other 4-letter words not suitable for publication.
There are good reasons for this extreme response. Real estate professionals know that the presence of mold can stop a home sale dead in its tracks. Mold can make a house difficult or impossible to sell. Mold can make lawsuits happen. Legal requirements for disclosing mold problems in real estate transactions can differ from one state to the next. But most real estate agents choose to disclose mold issues because it’s simply too risky not to do so. The critical question is this: Once you’ve started the mold dialog, how can you direct the discussion in a positive direction? Try the strategy outlined below; it just might work.
A common-sense strategy for dealing with mold in the house
It’s wise to assume that prospective home buyers are knowledgeable about household mold. At the very least, they know enough to be concerned about unpleasant odors, health issues, potential property damage and mold’s impact on resale value. So instead of beginning the discussion with an attempt to minimize mold concerns, it’s better to ‘fess up: "Mold is a serious issue."
Once you’ve acknowledged the elephant in the room, why not get some help from Mother Nature? After all, mold is an essential link in the cycle of growth and decay; it’s the natural way to recycle dead organic material. Like any organism, mold seeks out favorable living conditions and avoids conditions that are less than ideal. What we need to do in response to finding mold in a house is focus on three questions:
What happened to create favorable conditions for mold to take hold?
What must be done to turn a mold-friendly environment into a mold-hostile environment?
What are the best ways to remove the existing mold?
Addressing these three questions can help people get past their fears about mold in a house and bring proven solutions into play. Wet cellulose that’s not exposed to direct sunlight is an ideal mold habitat. In a house, wet cellulose mainly takes the form of paper-faced drywall, wood, fabric and paper (Fiberglass insulation can also contain traces of cellulose used as a binder or for paper facing). Keeping cellulose dry is an important goal; it’s also very attainable. It can mean fixing plumbing leaks, sealing or encapsulating a damp crawl space, waterproofing a basement, installing a dehumidifier, improving bathroom ventilation or any combination of these fixes. Check out this mold learning center for more information about mold and how to fix the problem.
Contractors who specialize in crawl space encapsulation and basement waterproofing are the go-to guys for crawl space and basement moisture problems. General contractors or remodeling contractors typically are not your best option for this type of work because they tend to have less experience dealing with mold.
With regard to removing mold, you have two basic options: Treating and cleaning mold from surfaces or tearing out materials that have been damaged by mold. There’s good information about both of these options at the EPA website. Some homeowners will feel comfortable handling mold removal themselves, while others will want to hire a mold removal specialist. Either way, the mold problem is unlikely to recur if effective moisture-management techniques have been put into play. If you decide to tackle the project yourself I recommend taking a look at this in-depth do-it-yourself mold removal guide from the Family Handyman.
About the author: Tim Snyder is a journalist specializing in sustainability, energy efficiency and home building topics.