Dirty Secret: Foreclosure Bargains Can Result In Serious Health Hazards

THE NUMBERS ARE STAGGERING: RealtyTrac reports foreclosures continue to grow unabated at 2.8 million nationwide. In Michigan, one in every 225 households is in foreclosure. The dirty little secret adding to foreclosure miseries is the enormity of serious health hazards that often exist for new and unsuspecting occupants. Even more alarming, if left unchecked, these mold-infested foreclosures will become significant burdens on our already stressed health care system and bog down our courts for years to come.

It’s a buyer’s market and many buyers are eager to capitalize on these so-called great deals. Unfortunately, they’re jumping in to grab up a tempting bargain home, condo or income property with their eyes shut, oblivious to the potential heath risks or simply interested in flipping the property to make a quick buck with total disregard for the legal liabilities.

Knowing as much as you can about a home before purchasing is important, but for a foreclosed home it is vital. Water-damaged and moldy homes are increasingly the subjects of lawsuits that involve non-disclosure, negligence and personal injury. Often foreclosures are sold ‘as is’ which means the bank has no prior history of the home and has nothing to disclose. Hence, buyers have no idea what is waiting for them once they take possession. This makes it all the more imperative for buyers to do their due diligence in hiring unbiased, ‘independent’ professionals to alert them to any health risks or potential legal liabilities that may be lurking.

A pre-emptive inspection by a certified indoor air quality specialist can be made on the foreclosed property prior to the sale, and an accurate assessment of the indoor air quality can be made yielding peace of mind for the owners and any occupants as well as preventing serious problems and significant expenses later on. Inspections average $600 and consist of a detailed physical inspection, assessment, prescription and scope for remediation if mold, lead or other hazards are indicated. Further testing, sampling and thermal imaging can be performed on site if hidden water damage or microbiological contamination is suspected.

Hiring an experienced trained and certified professional to conduct a mold and moisture inspection can help to determine if the property is habitable or worthy of restoration. The reason: many homes in foreclosure have been sitting vacant for many months and sometimes years without any climate control, proper

weatherization or upkeep. In some cases, disgruntled homeowners who had to walk away have vandalized the homes. Without the proper climate controls and maintenance, water damage from high relative humidity and water leaks that are neglected can create the ideal conditions for mold growth and proliferation in new homes as well as old. Not only does this pose a potential structural problem with the home, compromising the integrity of the home’s walls and foundation, but it could also pose significant health risks, potentially toxic, for occupants. Many times the mold contamination can go unnoticed until someone moves in and that’s when the real trouble begins, trouble that can take the form of serious health and/or legal issues. It’s important to understand that while a qualified independent home inspector will likely recommend further investigation if they suspect mold, most home inspectors are not trained to analyze mold hazards, correct serious problems and prevent future mold build-up. Unscrupulous or uninformed service providers performing mold tests may not carry insurance for any such testing or assessments, leaving a homebuyer exposed and vulnerable to legal action. To be sure that you’re working with a qualified and experienced indoor air quality professional it is wise to find out how the person was trained, what degrees or certifications he or she has and how many years the person has been working in the field, because the quality and usefulness of the information you receive can impact your health and investment.

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