Selling a Home With Asbestos: Repair It or Disclose It, the Choice Is Yours

We hate to break it to you, but if your home was built before 1980, it’s possible that your old floor tiles, textured paint, insulation, or roofing materials were built with asbestos before there were any major regulatory actions against the naturally occurring mineral substance.

However, asbestos only poses a health threat when it’s disturbed and the fibers are released into the air, which could happen with a renovation or home improvement project. People still live in and buy older homes all the time. Just check the “Year Built” field on a sampling of homes for sale on any real estate website… you’ll see lots of listings were constructed before the ’80s.

If you confirm your home does have asbestos, it’s still perfectly legal to sell it. But you do have to disclose it fully if you know about it or you could get sued. Alternatively you could fix the problem professionally and the scope and cost of that project could vary widely depending on what you’re dealing with.

Not sure how to proceed? We’ve extensively researched the topic and consulted with real estate professionals on the best course of action so you can make an informed choice either way.

Asbestos, which can be found in houses for sale.
Source: (KPG_Payless/ Shutterstock)

What is asbestos?

When asbestos was first discovered and mined, it was hailed as a “miracle mineral.” It’s heat and flame resistant, among other properties, and was commonly used in homes as an insulator, and added to products like tiles to reinforce them. According to the Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center, “At the height of its use, asbestos could be found in over 3,000 consumer products.”

However, researchers came to realize that exposure to asbestos, when damaged or disturbed, can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, and abdominal pain, leading to longer term health problems such as mesothelioma and asbestosis.

Exposure to damaged asbestos is dangerous and can be health threatening, but you’ve likely been in buildings, churches, schools, or homes with disturbed asbestos in your lifetime.

Nowadays, there’s a ban on using asbestos in materials such as flooring felt, rollboard, and commercial paper, and other products. New uses of asbestos also have to go through testing and EPA approval before implementation. Use of asbestos today in new builds is restricted through the Toxic Substances Control Act, but you might be surprised to learn that it’s not completely banned.

Types of asbestos

If you want to drill down into the subject, asbestos is an umbrella term that encompasses several minerals. In all there are six varieties of asbestos:

  • Chrysotile
  • Amosite
  • Crocidolite
  • Anthophyllite
  • Tremolite
  • Actinolite

You are most likely to find chrysotile or amosite asbestos present in your home. These are typically used in walls, ceilings, roofs, floors, cement sheets, and insulation. Chrysotile and amosite fall into the serpentine asbestos mineral family, as opposed to amphibole asbestos.

Serpentine asbestos makes up about 95% of all asbestos used in the world, and while dangerous, is considered less so than amphibole asbestos. Research shows it takes less exposure to amphibole asbestos to cause cancer.

If you suspect your home has asbestos in it, don’t panic. When dealt with responsibly, you can safely take care of the issue and successfully sell your home.

Asbestos in your home

If you suspect there to be asbestos in your home, the worst thing you can do is try to deal with it yourself. There’s no DIY-ing when it comes to asbestos remediation or eradication. If your home was built before 1980, you might find asbestos in any of the following materials in your home:

  • Insulation around pipes, boilers, or ducts
  • Insulation around stoves or furnaces
  • Floor tiles
  • Roofing, shingles, or siding
  • Materials on walls and ceilings, which includes soundproofing elements or decorative material
  • Textured wall paints

Take a look at fixtures, finishes, or tiling in your home, noting if any of them seem worn or damaged. Asbestos is only harmful to you if it’s released into the air. When asbestos tiling, insulation, or siding is undamaged, it doesn’t pose a threat.

A house that is selling with asbestos.
Source: (ducminh nguyen/ Unsplash)

Selling a home with asbestos

If you suspect your home was built with asbestos, you’ve got a couple of choices when it comes to addressing the substance in your home.

Identifying asbestos in your home

If you hope to sell your home and suspect there is asbestos present, you might consider getting out in front of the issue. “In my experience, asbestos in a home hasn’t been a deal killer,” says Illinois-based agent Kati Spaniak.

You can wait until a potential buyer asks for official testing after an inspection, but being proactive has the potential to bring you more power at the bargaining table. Testing for asbestos before selling your home could give you and potential buyers peace of mind.

Asbestos can only be 100% positively identified using a specialized microscope. If a general home inspector thinks you may have asbestos in your home, they will typically only identify it as an “asbestos-like material” while on site, explains founder of InterNACHI, the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, Nick Gromicko.

Testing for asbestos

Depending on your state regulations, you, or your home inspector can self-gather samples to send to an EPA-certified lab. In other cases, in most states where it’s illegal to self-collect, the home inspector can refer you to a specialist. If you are legally permitted and chose to collect a sample yourself, you must be incredibly cautious. You’ll likely save money on the process, kits run between $30-$60, but there’s a possibility you’ll expose yourself to harmful asbestos fibers in the air. When in doubt, hire an EPA-certified contractor.

The cost of testing and identification of asbestos varies state by state depending on regulations. Mail-in or offsite testing can cost between $50-$180 depending on analysis, and onsite testing ranges from $250-$750. If you or your home inspector suspects that asbestos is present in the air, you might consider an air monitor test, which can cost anywhere between $300-$1,200.

If a potential buyer asks for a complete asbestos evaluation, you are not required to grant this request if you so choose. An evaluation can disrupt the asbestos in your home.

However, know that a buyer can walk away from an offer if asbestos is discovered in the home. Often, for buyers, the suggestion of asbestos from the home inspector is enough to confirm suspicions. Keep in mind, asbestos was so common as a building material pre-1980 that most home buyers can assume some small presence of the mineral in a home unless it has been recently built.

Depending on which state you live in, you may be required to disclose the presence of asbestos in your home to potential buyers. If you don’t, the buyers would have grounds to sue you for damages suffered down the line. However, you are legally allowed to sell a home with asbestos in it, as long as its known presence is part of the seller’s disclosure.

Live in a state where you’re not legally obligated to disclose non-issues? Think twice before hiding that information. At best, you’ll look like an untrustworthy seller. At worst, you’ve got a lawsuit on your hands.

Once you know about the presence of asbestos in your home, you have a few choices as to how to proceed with the sale.

Disclosing asbestos and negotiating

Once you know about asbestos, you can’t go back. However, you’re not legally obligated to do anything about asbestos in your home. Unless the asbestos in your home is damaged, it doesn’t pose any threat to inhabitants. If in good condition, flooring, siding, or roofing materials with asbestos can last several lifetimes. In Spaniak’s experience, the minor presence of asbestos hasn’t scared buyers off.

“I have never had anybody walk away from a home that had the asbestos,” she said.

If you disclose asbestos or presence of asbestos comes up in the inspection, a buyer might ask for a price drop or ask for a credit for repairs. In this case, it’s worth getting an estimate on the cost of containment or removal of the asbestos. Depending on the amount of asbestos in your home, as well as where it’s located, the cost will vary.

In some instances, if the fixtures are undamaged or unreachable, you might decide not to negotiate a lower price. The risk you run with negotiations is always the same—the buyers might just walk away if you can’t reach an agreement.

Fixing or abating asbestos

Depending on where the asbestos is, you might decide to remove or contain the asbestos. In many instances, containment, a more alternative option, is possible. “In my personal experience, nine times out of ten, you can contain the asbestos instead of removing it,” says Gromicko. Keep in mind, whether you decide to remove or contain, you’ll likely need to hire a contractor EPA-certified in asbestos.

Containing asbestos might mean encapsulating the asbestos tiles in the basement instead of removing them altogether. Containing the asbestos typically costs 15%- 25% less than removal because you won’t have to pay for disposal costs.

The cost of removing asbestos entirely has a wide range of costs depending on where the asbestos is located. For instance, removing asbestos from attic insulation can cost as must at $15,000, while tile removal maxes out at $15 per square foot. Again, consider the location and condition of the asbestos before undertaking the removal process—there’s a chance the expense is unnecessary, and you might not see the return reflected in the offers.

Disclosing asbestos and selling your home for cash

If your home has asbestos that needs to be removed, but you’re not interested in incurring the costs, you might consider selling your property for cash as is. This is only recommended if the home has extensive or costly asbestos removals that you’re unwilling to take on. If that’s the case, using HomeLight’s Simple Sale tool makes cash offers easier than ever. You can receive offers on your home from our network of over 100 pre-approved iBuyers within 48 hours.

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If not treated properly, asbestos in a home can be hazardous to your health. However, this is only the case when it is damaged or disturbed. In reality, many U.S. homes have undamaged asbestos in them. By understanding where and in what condition the asbestos in your home is, you can best address the concerns of potential buyers.

Header Image Source: (Alex Block/ Unsplash)

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