As a homebuyer, what are you supposed to do if you love a house but notice a black spot on the wall? Or if the inspector uncovers a mold-related issue during the inspection? And can you even sell a house with mold?
Finding mold in a home is often an instant turnoff — and for good reason. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mold can cause different health effects. This includes skin rash, coughing, wheezing, burning eyes, and sore throat.
But is it always a deal breaker?
We’ve done the research and gathered expert opinions to help you understand what role mold may play in your homebuying journey. Hint: Mold may be bad, but it’s not always the end of the world.
What is mold?
Mold generally refers to a type of fungi that can be found all over the place. “Mold is everywhere all the time,” says Adam Rutledge, a top real estate agent in Medford, Oregon, who sells homes 68% quicker than the average agent in the area. “It’s in the air, but it doesn’t grow until it lands on something that’s moist.”
Mold growth can occur both indoors and outdoors, wherever you have both moisture and oxygen. It can grow on wood, paper, carpet, food, and more.
If a home experiences constant levels of moisture in specific areas, you can expect mold growth to occur. For example, it’s not uncommon to find mold in leaky areas, such as roofs or around windows and pipes. Common hot spots for mold include attics, bathrooms, and basements because these are areas where moisture can accumulate.
If mold is allowed to grow indoors, it can affect both the structure of the house and your health. Mold is aesthetically displeasing, but it will also eventually rot the material it’s growing on, whether it’s your walls, insulation, ceiling tiles, or floorboards. If key components of your home begin to rot, you risk losing structural integrity.
For your health, consider how three main classifications of mold can affect you.
Pathogenic molds can cause infections if their spores are inhaled. This could be serious for both healthy and immunocompromised people, and in some cases could be life-threatening.
Airborne mold spores are generally all around us since mold growth is common and frequently occurring. Spores from allergenic molds don’t typically have adverse effects on most people, but some could experience an allergic reaction or have asthma symptoms.
Certain molds produce toxins, called mycotoxins, which can cause a toxic effect on both humans and animals. The mold called “black mold” is toxigenic.
Dangers of mold
Certain types of mold can be dangerous for your health, but that doesn’t mean all mold is immediately dangerous or life-threatening. A small amount of mold that has recently grown isn’t likely to be very harmful and can be removed relatively easily without any outside help. But if mold has been allowed to grow and spread and you’ve been living with it for a long period of time, it could be more of an issue.
Common symptoms and health risks associated with mold include, according to the Rhode Island Department of Health, itching, watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, runny nose, headaches, and difficulty breathing. You could also be more at risk for adverse effects from mold if you have an existing respiratory condition, such as asthma.
Mold spores are often airborne, which means we can inhale them into our respiratory system, including our lungs. This may not have an adverse effect on someone who’s healthy, but people with compromised immune systems, infants, and elderly individuals may be at risk of developing an infection. This could result in damaged lungs and may be accompanied by a variety of symptoms, such as wheezing, fever, chills, or coughing.
However, you might not have any reaction to the presence of mold or the reaction could be minor, similar to typical allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, itching, or congestion.
Common sources of mold problems
Mold can be and is found just about anywhere, as long as there’s water and oxygen. We already know oxygen is all over the place in a house, but where do you often find water? The answer could also be anywhere, especially if flooding is a concern, though you have some areas that are more prone to mold than others.
A wet roof can lead to moss, which could then lead to mold if left unattended. Your roof is there to protect the rest of your house, but any growth on the roof from moss or algae can allow mold to grow and get inside the home.
If your roof is leaking, you’re going to get water in your attic. If the moisture stays, mold is going to start growing. Look for wet spots around the attic to see where there might be mold growth.
Pipes can and most likely will eventually leak. These leaks can occur throughout the house, including within walls or ceilings. If pipes are hidden, the best way to find a leak and potential mold growth is by looking for water spots. Keep in mind, it can get expensive (up to $15,000 or more) to replumb a house.
Moisture can build up in confined spaces, especially if the space is in close proximity to a moisture-bearing source, such as dirt or soil. You might not think about it or visit this area of the house much, but your crawl space is often the perfect place for mold to grow.
A leaky basement could be problematic for both sellers and buyers because of both water damage and mold. Similar to a crawl space, your basement can also allow moisture to build up and be an area where mold can grow. In addition, basements could have flooding issues and leaky pipes, which also increase the risk of mold.
The bathroom is typically a small, enclosed space where you have plenty of moisture. Hot showers fill the entire room with water and sometimes the moisture never leaves. Bathroom fans can help with removing moisture, but they’re not always 100% effective.
Mold in a home doesn’t automatically mean you need to move onto another house. If you assess the situation and see what you’re dealing with, you might be able to take care of the mold problem yourself. The Environmental Protection Agency suggests a moldy area of less than 10 square feet could typically be handled on your own following its mold cleanup tips.
This could include scrubbing mold off hard surfaces using detergent and water and then completely drying the cleaned area. Though, certain surfaces, such as ceiling tiles and carpet, may not work with this method and would likely have to be thrown out if they’re too moldy.
If you’re dealing with a larger mold issue, it may be time to acquire professional help with inspecting and cleaning the home. A professional can help you with mold remediation services, which often include locating the source of the mold and where it has grown, and then safely removing it. Depending on the severity of the mold issues, these services could range from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.
Is it legal to sell a house with mold?
This may surprise you, but, yes, it’s legal to sell a house with mold. There are no federal laws against selling houses with mold, though some states do require the seller to disclose whether a home has had past or present mold issues. However, it makes sense for sellers to disclose any mold issues they’re aware of so they don’t have any issues with a buyer later on.
If someone is selling a house with mold or they know about a past mold issue in a home they’re selling, they should disclose it. If the disclosure is required in your state and the seller doesn’t do so, they could face legal consequences later on.
“The responsibility for the seller is disclosure. If there’s a defect in the property that would affect the value or a buyer’s opinion of the value, such as mold, then to make sure you don’t get sued, you need to disclose,” says Rutledge. “When in doubt, just let it all out. Just disclose everything about the property.”
Even if it’s not legally required, the seller could still face issues with the sale because the mold issue could come to light and could put the sale in jeopardy.
In addition, there could be potential for a lawsuit if the mold is considered a health or safety issue under local law and the seller, knowing about it, didn’t disclose it.
As a homebuyer, you want to make sure the seller is taking the right steps with real estate disclosures. This includes disclosing the presence of mold now or in the past. Carefully review the disclosures and look for anything related to mentions of mold.
If there is a mold issue, you may have room to come to an agreement that it be fixed before you purchase the home. The seller would then typically be responsible for fixing the cause of the mold and may have to make HVAC updates or purchase and install a dehumidifier in some cases. A mold inspection could be helpful if you want to see the extent of the growth and find the source of the mold. Though, you might be able to skip the inspection if you can already see the mold and know where it’s growing.
If the owner of a home is selling it FSBO, they might not be aware of everything they need to disclose, including mold issues. Additionally, while FSBO sellers are still legally obligated to disclose any issues with the home they’re aware of, unfortunately, some might not be forthcoming. This could be a disadvantage for you because there might be mold present and you wouldn’t know about it. Do your due diligence with FSBO homes and get a home inspection to identify telltale signs of mold, such as visible mold growth, leaky pipes, water damage, and more.
You may be able to get the owner to agree to fix any mold issues, including the cost for remediating the mold and any needed repairs. Alternatively, they might offer to reduce the home price and have you resolve the issues.
As a homebuyer, it makes sense to be cautious about homes with mold. Any mold issues should come up in a seller’s disclosures, but you also have to look out for your own interests. Be thorough when searching through homes for signs of mold. Check out hot spots like the attic and basement, as well as bathrooms.
If mold is present, it’s time to have a discussion with the seller about how to move forward. It’s common to have real estate contingencies in place, which could include an inspection contingency. With this type of contingency, you might be able to cancel your contract if the home inspection reveals an environmental hazard, including mold. But even if you’ve decided to buy a home with mold, if you’re planning to secure a mortgage, your lender may not be willing to finance the home until the mold is treated and removed.
Mold remediation can cost thousands of dollars and would typically be the responsibility of the seller. But if they don’t want to handle it, they may offer you a credit on the sale. If the home is being sold “as-is,” including an existing mold problem, make sure the price of the home reflects the issues you’ll end up having to take care of.
Knowing your rights as a homebuyer is important in any scenario, but especially if a house has preexisting issues, such as mold growth. Working with an experienced real estate agent who knows how to navigate disclosures, inspections, and negotiations is often the recommended option for homebuying success. Find a top agent in your area today.
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