Protecting your Interests
Given mold’s potential to be hidden, sellers and their real estate agents, along with a general inspector are advised to inspect for hidden clues. The biggest of which is any water leaks, musty smells, or velvet-like staining.
Ask questions like:
- Have you ever had any problems with water leaking into or in the house?
- How did you identify the problem?
- What did you do to eliminate the problem?
- Do you know if the mold was present?
- How do you know that the mold problem was completely eliminated?
If you find that there was a water leak, you should list the details associated with it on the general property inspector’s report along with the seller’s and real estate agent’s disclosures. Identifying them in writing helps to prevent against future liabilities.
For example, the buyer’s agent may write: On August 15, 2008, while conducting a general property inspection Mr. Huffington (the Seller) said that there had been a water heater leak that lasted for more than six months in the utility room (approximately from October 2005 to April 2006). He said that he waited to fix the problem because the leak was very slow. He indicated that he finally fixed the leaking problem himself and I and the property inspector detected no signs that the water heater is leaking now. Mr. Huffington said that he did not test for mold during the months that the water heater leaked, nor did he check for it after he fixed the leak. Despite the possibility that mold may still be present and the buyer’s agent’s advice that the buyer has an inspection completed, Ms. Dixon (the buyer) indicated that she is not interested in conducting a mold inspection. As the buyer’s agent, be sure the buyer (especially if he or she declines to have an inspection done) signs and dates this statement and is given a copy.
Also, as you can see from reading this description, it is best to provide a detailed explanation of the water intrusion issue. Had the agent simply wrote, “The seller said that the water heater leaked and he fixed it,” he would have risked being found liable for not providing reasonable care and diligence in the process of representing Ms. Dixon, should Ms. Dixon later find mold, have health problems, and bring suit against the seller. As a seller’s agent or as a buyer’s agent, if you see signs of mold or water damage, you should provide written and signed documentation for the buyer, indicating your recommendation that he or she obtain a mold inspection.
Recommending a Mold Inspector
Not all states require mold inspectors to be licensed. This, of course, is the first thing to check for when working with your buyers to identify a qualified inspector. Some things to check for when assessing the inspector’s credibility include:
- As with the qualification process of general inspectors, it is very important to verify that the inspector has errors and omissions insurance that is mold specific.
- The American Indoor Air Quality Council (AIAQC) certifies inspectors as Council-certified microbial consultants.
- Check to see what professional organization/lab they work with when submitting mold samples.
- Check to see that he or she is a professional environmental engineer.
- Certified as an Industrial Hygienist by the American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH)
- There are also professional organizations that inspectors can belong to that bolster their knowledge, skills, and inspection abilities. Four of these organizations include:
1. American Board of Industrial Hygiene (ABIH)
2. American Indoor Air Quality Council (AIAQC)
3. Association of Energy Engineers (AEE)
4. Indoor Environmental Standards Organization (IESO)
Who Pays for Mold Remediation
In most instances, it is the buyer who pays for the mold inspection. If an inspector finds that mold exists on the property, the buyer may become nervous and at least consider canceling the purchase process. If however, the buyer remains interested, it then becomes the seller’s responsibility to pay for remediation including, reconstruction materials and labor necessary to restore the property along with follow-up inspections that may be needed. As an agent involved in this process, it is important that you not attempt to help a discouraged or frustrated seller find less expensive alternatives to remediate an existing mold problem. In the event, the problem is not solved adequately, and a buyer later files a claim against the seller you could be found guilty of not appropriately representing the buyer’s best interests.