Power lines, mold, radon, and notorious asbestos are just a few examples of the many unhealthy environmental items or conditions that homebuyers and investors may not recognize. But what you don’t know can hurt you when it comes to hidden environmental hazards. So be sure to perform due diligence before unwittingly investing in problems that could have an adverse impact your potential profits – and your precious health.
Here is one rather interesting example, shared with us by someone who bought an antique house in a rather popular historical district. The home was circa 1920, and had wonderfully original plaster walls. But the home also had conspicuous asbestos insulation on the heating pipes that connected the furnace to the rest of the house. The ceiling of the basement was a maze of steel pipes wrapped in asbestos – which looks much like the white plaster casts that are used by doctors to set broken bones. The homebuyer was knowledgeable enough to spot the asbestos immediately, and intelligently required that it be removed as a stipulation of the sales contract. To make sure that the job was complete – and did not leave asbestos fibers lingering in the atmosphere – the buyer hired an environmental inspector to do a final report before closing on the property.
In a curious twist of fate, the inspector the homebuyer hired to check for asbestos gave the basement a clean bill of health. He found no lingering fibers and was totally satisfied with the method and extent of the removal of the asbestos that had lined the heating pipes. But as he was admiring the home – and commenting on its exquisite architectural details and vintage style – he flipped open a pocketknife to slice off a piece of wall plaster. Taking his small sample from an inconspicuous place inside a closet so that doing so would not detract from the beauty of the home, he requested a cigarette lighter. Then he set fire to the sample, which burned but left fibers behind that refused to ignite.
“You do, however, have asbestos throughout the entire rest of the house,” he announced. “In the old days they sometimes used it to add asbestos to wall plaster to reinforce the structural integrity of it, and if this was not asbestos it would have burned to ash. Of course I will test it for you to validate my opinion and put everything in my written report. But I have enough experience to tell you right now that the home you are thinking of buying – while a beautiful work of architecture – is made of asbestos plaster.”
As this interesting story confirms, the insight of environmental inspectors can be a real boon for investors. Radon gas can leak mysteriously into the home from deep within the earth. Mold can be ordinary household mildew, or it can be a deadly strain of black mold – an airborne disaster waiting to happen if you breathe it into your lungs. Pressure treated wood may contain toxic levels of arsenic, and mobile homes may represent unhealthy encapsulated formaldehyde built into the walls. The electrical force field surrounding a power line can radiate outward and such powerful sources of energy have been linked to brain damage and other ailments. Curling paint can indicate that it is peeling because the house needs a fresh coat where the sun has been beating down on it – or it can be a sign that the undercoating is composed of toxic lead-based paint.
The price of an environmental inspection report – which will vary but often averages around $300 – can be money well spent in this day and age of increasing awareness and liability related to environmental hazards. Unlike conventional or general inspectors, these pros are specially trained as environmental detectives who have the high-tech equipment and the old-fashioned know-how to ferret out anything environmentally dangerous that might be in and around a home.
Always trust your instincts when you view a potential investment property. But beyond that, also learn to rely upon trustworthy experts like environmental inspectors who can protect your financial investment while also protecting the health and well being of you and your family. To locate inspectors in your area, check the yellow pages or ask a Realtor for a recommendation. Environmental inspectors should be properly credentialed – so only hire those with proper licenses, current certifications, and a proven track record of integrity and expertise.
Then relax and pat yourself on the back. You’ve done the smart, responsible thing. Let the experts perform the potential environmental hazard fact-finding mission on your behalf, to enhance your real estate success and keep you informed. After all, information is power for those real estate investors “in the know”. And the more you know and learn, the easier you will make money in this great business.