For some homeowners, mold is an irritation they put up with in small doses, as long as it does not get out of hand. Others have upper respiratory problems like chronic asthma and bronchitis that mold aggravates. They know that mold is a sign of underlying damp (and possibly water leaks) that can cause the value of their investment to deteriorate. Nobody wants to buy a home with mold, for the mold problem itself, as well as the problems that are causing it’s growth.
We were recently called out to an aging home in The Bay Area for a mold assessment. It was for sale and the prospective buyer noticed signs of mold and wanted to get a professional assessment done before making an offer on the home. What we found were large pockets of water pooling around the basement foundation, and leaking through the concrete foundation. It was caused by excessive water runoff, lack of proper drainage, and an absence of an exterior waterproofing barrier on the outside of the foundation. All told, it was going to cost thousands to repair. The prospective buyer was now able to make an informed decision, walk away or make an offer reflecting the needed repairs.
When you’re looking at a possible home to buy, keep the following in mind when it comes to mold:
What to Look For – Mold comes in different colors including black, green, grey and white which means it can be invisible depending on the background. Fortunately it has a characteristic musty smell that can be a giveaway. Although found in houses in the driest dusty deserts, it prefers damp materials such as ceilings, wallboards, carpets and emulsion-painted surfaces.
Where to Look – Mold and damp go together so keep a look-out for excessive moisture. This can include:
- Spaces closed up tightly. This is typical of new buildings.
- Persistent storm-water leaks in roofs, water pipes, and windows for example
- High humidity levels characteristic of poorly ventilated homes
- Bad housekeeping. Damp towels and flooded pot plants are good examples
- Signs of regular flooding. Learn to spot tidemarks close to floors.
Be especially thorough when inspecting bathrooms including showers and under-basin cabinets, because moisture and mold go together.
Sellers and their agents are supposed to declare defects. Ask them direct questions when inspecting the house a second time. They are more likely to be open and provide direct answers. However bear in mind that they only have a duty to disclose what they already know.
Try an oblique angle. Enquire whether there are any leaks in heavy rain, or whether there have been plumbing problems recently. Often what they don’t say is more important than what they reveal. Body language is another important indicator.
Ask Your Home Inspector
If anything particularly worries you ask your home inspector to comment. Have them pay particular attention to any signs of water or damp problems, especially in the basement. Suggest that they include their comments in their inspection report. Allow them to include a disclaimer that they may have missed some infestations.
If you still have doubts, consider hiring a professional renovation contractor to conduct an inspection, they typically have more experience than a home inspector.
Include a Mold Clause in Your Offer
You can include anything you like in your purchase offer (although a seller is not bound to agree to anything). This can include responsibility for removal of undeclared mould and repair of its consequences. This is often the clincher that provokes the honest and open declaration you were hoping for in the first place.
Once you know the extent of mold (and any other defects) you face the decision of whether to go ahead or not. No homes are perfect and every buyer immediately improves a few things. Now is the time for a little negotiation. The seller may well concede something off the price. This could provide the funds you need for a professional contractor or mold remediation solution.