Ingesting or inhaling lead can pose a potential health threat — especially to small children — but don’t stress just yet if you’re trying to sell a house with lead paint.
Unless you live in a significantly older or historic home built before 1978, there’s little chance you even have lead paint in your house. And if you do, the most common solution is painting over it, which most agents recommend before selling a house anyway — with or without lead paint.
We’ve got the answers to your top 10 most pressing questions about selling a house with lead paint, including the dangers, fixes, and your options for dealing with a worried homebuyer.
1. History of lead paint: Is it dangerous?
Lead-based paint may seem like yet another décor disaster from the 1960s and ‘70s (like orange shag in the bathroom, or macramé everywhere), but the practice actually dates back to the 4th Century when it was used by Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians both in pottery paint and cosmetics.
Fast forward to the late 1800s when durable lead paint became widely used around the world, on walls and furniture. Some manufacturers even channeled their inner Willie Wonka to create flavored, lick-able wall paint.
Lead paint was so popular, it became the go-to coating for cribs and other colorfully-painted children’s furnishings. By the early 20th Century, the dangers caused by lead paint were discovered, leading to several European countries banning the use of interior lead-based paint in 1909.
While the potential dangers of lead paint were discovered early on, scientists did not note the frequency and severity of lead poisoning in young children until the mid-1920s.
Lead poisoning can be especially dangerous for children under the age of six, as it can cause brain damage or damage to other vital organs, including the nervous system.
This is in part because those systems are still developing in young kids. It’s also because young children are more likely to ingest paint chips and dust as they explore and play, and may be tempted to teethe on painted door frames or window sills.
While lead poisoning is not common in dogs or cats, owners of pets who do like to chew on woodwork may also be concerned about buying a house with lead paint.
But most real estate experts aren’t too worried about the prospects of selling a house that may contain lead paint.
“Most agents in my area don’t see lead-based paint as an issue because people generally don’t go eating paint flakes off the walls,” explains explains Fairwood, Washington-based agent Rosie Rourke.
“If you’re concerned about kids or pets gnawing on the paint, then I would suggest repainting as soon as you buy the house, then you don’t have to worry about lead-based paint.”
2. What percentage of homes have lead-based paint?
The dangers of lead-based paint may have been discovered in the 1920s, however lead paint wasn’t banned for residential use in the US until September 1977, and this law didn’t take effect until February 1978.
However, by the 1960s, the use of lead paint in residential homes had already fallen off dramatically — to only 24% — compared to 69% of newly built homes that contained lead-based paint in the ‘40s and ‘50s.
3. Lead paint seller’s disclosures: What’s required?
“If the house was built in 1978 or earlier, it’s generally suspected to have lead-based paint, so real estate agents are mandated to include a lead-based paint and hazards disclosure form in the purchase and sale agreement,” advises Rourke.
This lead paint disclosure is a simple form that simply asks whether or not you are aware of any lead paint in your pre-1978 home. If your answer is yes, you’ll just need to explain how you know, such as you were told by the previous owners, or you had a lead paint test performed.
If you don’t know whether or not your house had lead paint in it, that’s OK. You are only required to disclose what you know to be true.
4. What is the process for testing for lead paint?
“We always ask sellers of older homes, ‘Do you know if you have any lead-based paint? Do you have any reports noting that you have lead-based paint?’” says Rourke.
“About 99% of the time, the sellers don’t know. If that’s the case, then the buyer has the option to either do their own testing for lead-based paint within 10 days, or they can waive their right to do so.”
For as little as $10, you can get DIY lead paint test kits which offer instantaneous results, however these tests are not as reliable and may not be satisfactory for buyers. If you want to know whether or not you have lead paint before you sell, it’s best to get a professional lead paint inspection, which typically runs between $200 to $400.
In order to test for lead-based paint, the inspector chips off some of the paint and sends it to a chemical lab that performs the test. Once the results come back, your or the buyer can decide to either repaint the house or have it removed — which is a lengthy and expensive process.
5. Are there viable lead paint removal solutions?
Removing lead paint is a lengthy and expensive process that’s pretty messy (not to mention dangerous) to DIY. While the risks are highest for small children, breathing in lead dust is also unhealthy for adults.
Homeowners who try this themselves must wear protective gear like goggles, rubber gloves, and a lead-rated, filtered mask, while using a vacuum with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter to collect any dust or stray paint chips.
It’s a slow process, working one room at a time, while you wet the paint, wait for it to saturate, scrape, then sand every inch, all before repainting the whole place.
Most homeowners who insist on removing lead paint before selling typically hire an EPA-rated contractor for the removal, which will cost anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000. This is why many opt to simply leave the lead paint alone.
6. Do you have to remove lead paint?
Quite simply, no you do not need to remove lead paint as a homeowner or seller.
“I cannot speak for everyone’s comfort level, but do not think it’s worth the time and effort to remove lead-based paint,” says Rourke.
“If the buyer has small children or pets that they think might ingest the paint, then I would not even take the time to test it, even though the test isn’t expensive. I would just go ahead and have the house repainted.”
7. Can you paint over lead paint?
Yes. In fact, this is the most recommended solution.
“Most buyers choose to waive their rights to test because we give them the EPA pamphlet on lead-based paint. After they educate themselves, buyers realize that if you just paint over lead-based paint, you’re good,” explains Rourke.
Simply repainting your home is the cheapest, easiest solution to resolve the lead-based paint issue.
8. Will buyers care about lead paint?
For the most part, no.
“I’ve been selling real estate for 25 years, and I’ve only had one buyer do the test for lead-based paint—even though we do have many houses that were built in 1978 or earlier,” says Rourke. “That gives you an idea of the level of concern—it’s extremely low.”
The majority of buyers simply waive their rights to pay for lead-based paint testing because they’ve been well-informed by both their own agent and the seller’s agent about the relatively low risks involved with lead paint and the solutions to deal with it.
The buyers that are most likely to be concerned are the ones who have young children or pets who might potentially gnaw on painted woodwork.
9. Does lead paint lower my home value?
“If the seller knows for sure that the house has lead-based paint, then it can impact the home’s value, because the buyers will know that they’ll have the cost of painting the home,” explains Rourke.
The added expense of repainting (if you haven’t already) isn’t the only cost buyers will consider. Lead-based paint incurs extra costs if the house is outdated or a fixer-upper that needs remodeling immediately.
Lead paint poses the most danger to both kids and adults during renovations because it gets in the dust when you cut through walls or pull out cabinets. This means that they’ll need to hire an EPA-approved contractor to do the work (rather than DIY-ing it).
They’ll probably have to temporarily relocate to a hotel, too, to avoid breathing in that construction dust — especially if the buyer is pregnant or has children under six years old.
10. What are my options if my lead paint is scaring away homebuyers?
If you’re concerned that buyers aren’t making offers on your house because it has lead paint, you do have options.
“The reality is, if you have flaky paint in a pre-1978 home, then you’re obviously going to need to paint over it before listing,” advises Rourke. “However, if that’s not an option, I would have my seller offer the buyer a credit for a paint allowance.”
The not-so-scary dangers of lead paint
Yes, it’s true that lead paint can cause health issues if it’s inhaled or ingested. Luckily, the chances of getting lead paint into your system are slim unless you’re remodeling — or eating paint off your walls.
That fact doesn’t keep some buyers from worrying about lead paint, though. Thankfully, you can ease their concerns by fighting lead paint with paint.
“If sellers are at all uncomfortable about the potential for lead-based paint in their older home, it’s best to simply err on the side of caution and simply paint over it. It’s that easy,” explains Rourke.
Header Image Source: (Yoann Siloine / Unsplash)