Help, I Think My Client is Buying or Selling a Home with Mold!

Originally written for and published on their site.

As a real estate agent, selling homes can be full of nostalgia.  For example, have you ever toured a fabulous home you were preparing to list or your buyer client was interested in purchasing only to head down to the basement and get struck by a familiar smell.  You feel as if you have taken a time-machine back to yesteryear when you would visit your grandparents with the musty smelling and humid basement.  

You are snapped back to the present when you hear your client's shrill, What's that smell!?  What IS that smell?, you wonder and begin speculating to yourself that it could be... MOLD!

Mold is a term that can strike terror in even the most burly home buyer because it is commonly known to many as a toxic substance.  Interestingly, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) clarifies that mold is not actually toxic (poisonous) but can produce mycotoxins that can cause coughing, wheezing, increased asthmatic occurrences and other respiratory illnesses.  This makes mold something to sneeze at but since it can be professionally stopped and removed, it does not have to be something to fear or kill a home purchase.

What should you do, real estate agent, when you think mold might be growing in a home on your client's radar?

First, if you live in an area with high humidity (like I do here in Atlanta, Georgia) but air-tight homes (it is all about energy-efficiency, right?), then it may be worth investing in your own personal hygrometer (a device to read relative humidity) according to Scott Trowbridge with AquaGuard. Trowbridge states that since many times those musty, funky smells are not always a result of moisture (which allows mold to breed) because maybe there is a musty, funky pet, real estate agents should be armed with a hygrometer to make just a preliminary assessment before your client shells out much more money for a professional to test the area. 

Portable hygrometers can range in price from $20 - $100, making them a worthwhile investment for real estate agents. Trowbridge stated that agents should be leery of humidity readings that exceed 55%, which is typically the magic number that separates mold that is growing (when the humidity is greater than 55%) and mold that is inhibited from growing (when the humidity is less than 55%).

To this point, Davis Watkins, of AdvantaClean (a mold remediation company), suggests that many homeowners (and sellers) can inhibit mold growth by simply ensuring that humid levels never exceed 55%. Translation: Be willing to pay a higher utility bill to run the air conditioner more often in order to save the soaring expense of potentially ripping out walls, trashing furniture and discarding clothes that have been contaminated with growing mold.

Next, real estate agents should look for the tell-tell signs that allow mold to grow.  Watkins emphasized that mold can run rampant when there is present the perfect storm combination of moisture, food for them to grow and of course mold spores.  Watkins indicated that agents should question the presence of mold if you notice:

  • Visible mold (if you do not know the variations of how mold looks, there are 41!, please proceed to do an internet search asap)
  • Smell (again, this does not guarantee it but your "spidey senses" should be alerted with this one)
  • Evidence of water penetration (do you see brown spots on the ceilings?)
  • Poorly maintained HVAC
  • Improperly vented fans or appliances (is the only fan in the kitchen that merger one attached to the microwave?)
  • Unusual allergies (does the current homeowner or tenant have allergies?)
  • Condensation (are you seeing dew drops and its the middle of the afternoon?)
  • Stuffy conditions (are you breaking a sweat?)

Did you know that vinyl wallpaper and vinyl/linoleum floors can be incubators for mold growth? Watkins mentioned that the vinyl acts as a barrier and keeps water that is trapped between the vinyl and the plywood or paper drywall from drying.  Watkins said if plaster or other non-porous substances are used than mold is inhibited from growing but mold sees plywood and paper drywall as "food" to thrive on. Geesh!

What else can cause moisture to stick around longer than it was welcomed?  Watkins adds that owners may unknowingly be rolling out the welcome mat to mold by not properly and timely addressing:

  • Plumbing leaks
  • Front-loading clothes washing machines
  • Non-vented kitchens (vents must direct air outside)
  • Sewage backups (gross!)
  • Burst pipes
  • Un-insulated line sets
  • Over watered plants (this is a huge breeding ground that many do unawares)
  • Water sprinkling systems that barrage the side of the house
  • HVAC leaks
  • Effects from storms, floods and other weather systems
  • Building defects

Lastly, if professional mold remediation is determined to be needed, then real estate agents can help their clients get the best service possible.  First, make sure that the company does not just kill mold but removes it because according to Watkins, a dead mold spore can cause just as many allergies as living mold.  Second, prior to contracting with a mold remediation company, make sure they are willing to submit to third party Post-Job Clearance Testing to verify that they removed all mold and did not cross-contaminate, making things worse in areas of the home that were unaffected.  Third, encourage your home seller to discard carefully (to prevent cross-contamination) mold-ridden porous personal belongings.  This one will sting because your home seller may have family heirlooms that are covered with mold and cannot be salvaged such as wood furniture, items stored in cardboard boxes (as an Agent+, begin prior to mold infestations to recommend to clients that they swipe out cardboard with plastic boxes with plastic lids for storage as this will save them from loss and make you a superstar), appliances, glassware, dishes, clothing and upholstery.

The indication of mold does not have to kill your real estate deals but, as I have tried to demonstrate in this article, can instead heighten you ability to provide the best customer service to home buyers and sellers while gaining raving fans.

Follow me on Google+ and Facebook for more tips and techniques. Also, if you are a real estate agent or manage agents, learn how to GROW or RE|VAMP your business with us today.  Here's to your success! 
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