I just got back from another mold inspection that turned out like so many before. It’s a predictable scenario. And I hate it every time.
A family just purchased a new home. The boxes are unpacked and pictures are on the walls. They’ve got a few pieces of new furniture picked out and she has excitedly filled Pinterest with a dozen projects. He’s trying to figure out how to tell her he can’t quite pull that last one off.
Then they realize that they are feeling sick more than normal. It started as a cold but then didn’t go away. The doctor suggested that they look into their indoor air quality to see if something more is going on.
That’s when we show up for a Mold & Indoor Air Quality inspection.
He doesn’t buy it but is willing to give it a shot. Really just to check it off the list. Sure, there may be a little dust on top of the fridge but they keep a clean house. Besides, they had the home inspected before the purchase.
I spent about 2 hours combing through their house from the basement to the attic. Walking back into the kitchen, I had some bad news to deliver.
“So I found quite a few areas of mold in your home. The good news is everything can be fixed and you will start feeling a lot better when we are done. Unfortunately, you’re looking at about $20,000 to get it all taken care of and put back together.”
Just like that, the Pinterest boards were wiped clean and the new furniture kicked down the road.
So what went wrong?
The Big Miss
Here’s the deal. Home inspections are an important part of any real estate transaction. They make sure the home is in good working order. They make sure the trim is not rotting and the appliances are working. They make sure the roof is sound and the foundation is sturdy.
But mold and water damage are tricky beasts. They follow unpredictable paths and hide in the dark recesses of places that are hard to get to.
It takes a different kind of eye to find a problem that’s really good at not being found. It takes someone willing to keep digging until all the possibilities have been uncovered. It takes someone who is an expert at mold to find mold.
That’s simply not what a home inspection is trying to be.
In fact, some home inspections exclude mold altogether. Here is a quick line taken from an inspection I read the other day:
XYZ Home Inspections is not responsible for discovering or reporting on the presence or absence of mold or mildew. Furthermore, we are not responsible for any damages that arise from or are related to mold, even if the mold is a direct consequence of a condition that XYZ Home Inspections reported.
While most home inspectors will report mold they see through the course of their inspection, they aren’t going to go out of their way to find it and they aren’t going to take any responsibility for it.
But wait… my home inspector took a mold sample. So I’m covered.
I wish I could say yes, but read on.
The Fallacy Of The Air Sample
If there was one single thing I could change in the industry it would be this. Using an air sample as an add-on to see if mold is present is borderline negligent. Strike that… it’s strait up negligent.
It gives incomplete data to an untrained interpreter who makes mis-guided decisions based on mis-understood results.
But we see it all the time. Home inspectors do it all the time. People use DIY test kits all the time.
Then they find themselves $20K on the wrong side of the deal with those Pinterest projects a distant memory.
Okay, I’m being dramatic. But I did just leave the home of a couple in this very situation. It’s real and it’s way to easy to prevent.
Here’s the rub with air samples or DIY mold tests. They are only one tool that shows one very specific thing. They don’t paint a complete picture and they don’t create their own context.
They are like shining a laser beam on a very specific slice of space at a singular moment in time. If mold spores happen to be in the laser beam at just the right time, you’ve got a positive result. If the mold spores are a few feet to the left or are in the next room over… you’ve got a negative result.
A good mold inspector will utilize air sampling or other mold tests as one method in a comprehensive evaluation. But those results are only supporting details. They don’t stand alone.
At the end of the day it’s the expertise and experience of the mold inspector, and the interpretation of the big picture that matters. If you are being offered mold test results as a stand-alone answer you’d be better off blowing your cash at that new pizza joint down the road.
So It’s A Loose-Loose Situation?
Not at all.
There’s another couple just down the road that had a huge win. You see, they had mold issues in the last house they lived in. They were a little paranoid but rightfully so. They’ve lived it once and weren’t planning on living it again.
They had 10 days left in due diligence and the home inspection checked out clear. It was their dream house. Nobody suspected anything but just to be on the safe side they scheduled a mold inspection with us. I met them at the new home with the seller’s agent and spent the afternoon in the crawlspace and attic and everywhere in between.
It was a very nice house. Well taken care of.
While I told you earlier that mold & water damage is good at hiding… it’s also one of those things that people try to hide. A quick coat of primer and paint and it’s like it was never there.
Yea… but I live for this kind of thing. When I start to sniff a trail all bets are off.
By then end of the inspection I had traced a trail of previous water damages, covered up mold, and a crawlspace with some serious water issues. The issues were so bad the home was not only unhealthy, the foundation was literally being eaten away by mold.
But all the cards were on the table now. With a week of due diligence left, the buyers were in a position of calling their next shot. They could walk. They could negotiate. Either way they weren’t flying blind.
At the end of they day they negotiated the purchase price down to accommodate the repairs. They not only got their dream house, they got it with an updated bathroom and fresh coat of paint. All without giving up on a single Pinterest project.
The Big Win
I know that the thought of mold strikes fear into most people. Real Estate agents are’t going to bring the issue up. Some home inspectors will let you know if they find something… others will simply keep their mouth shut. You’ve been to the house a half-dozen times now and it looks and smells clean.
The reality is that you are about to sink the majority of your wealth into this single investment. You’re going to end up with a great home in a great part of town without any equity to borrow against for unexpected repairs.
You simply don’t know what is hiding on the other side of the drywall or just beneath the floorboards or right there in the crawlspace. Your home inspector doesn’t either.
Adding a Mold & Indoor Air Quality inspection to your due diligence package is such a small price to pay at this juncture. I’d go as far as to say it is the single best thing you can do to protect your purchase.