Disclosures: Trust But Verify

May 26, 2008 · 3 comments

I learned a very good lesson while performing due diligence on the house I put under contract. After arranging the inspection of the house, I got a call from my agent asking if I wanted to include a radon test as well as the standard inspection. Figuring that after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a house, there was no reason to be cheap and not spend $250 on a radon test. So, I told my agent to add that to the inspection.

Several hours later I was reviewing the Seller Disclosure form (a standard form the seller fills out that includes basic information about any problems/issues regarding the property), and I noticed that the seller had checked “YES” next to the question: “Has Property ever been tested for radon, lead, mold or any other potentially toxic substances?

Considering there was no lead or mold disclosure (which I believe is mandatory if the seller knows about it), I had to assume that the “YES” indicated that a radon test had been performed at some point in the past. And because there was no additional information in the “Additional Disclosures” section, I assumed that the results of the radon test had been satisfactory.

It was relatively late at night, but I tried calling the inspector to let him know that the radon test wasn’t necessary, as it appeared one had already been performed satisfactorily. Well, I didn’t get ahold of him, and by the time I talked to him the next day, the radon test had already been started. Oh well, I guess it was a chance to verify that everything was alright in this area.

To my surprise, a few days later I got a call from my agent informing me that the radon test results had come back, and that the levels were above the acceptable range. After reviewing the test results (and doing some Internet research), I found that not only were the radon levels high, they were twice the government-defined acceptable levels! While the seller had seemingly tested for radon, he (very likely) knowingly didn’t pass on the information that the results were very concerning. And clearly I shouldn’t have made the assumption that no additional information indicated that there was nothing to be concerned about.

I guess that’s a good reminder — never assume that a seller is telling the truth (or fully disclosing) in the Seller Disclosure form or any other communication. If something is potentially concerning, verify it for yourself.

As for the radon results, I instructed the agent to ask the seller to correct the problem at his own cost (there are various ways to mitigate high radon levels in homes), and am hoping that this isn’t a deal-breaker…


3 responses to “Disclosures: Trust But Verify”

  1. Christian says:

    Radon mitigation can be tricky at best in my experience. And the results are often very difficult to verify accurately. Testing for radon and for some types of mold simply cannot be accurate by the very nature of the material you’re testing for, the environment you’re testing and the methods you have at your disposal to test for these contaminants in a residential setting. Of course, most inspectors won’t tell you this. I’ve seen many situations like this. One radon test will come back clean, while the next one comes back positive. The seller may not even necessarily have been deceptive.

  2. J Scott says:

    The seller never was able to produce the clean radon report that he supposedly had, so we’ll never know if he was being dishonest or not.

    You make a good point that it can be very difficult to accurately measure radon levels, but better to be safe than sorry. Our inspector ran two tests, and both were consistently high for most of the hourly readings over two days. As I mentioned in a later post, the seller agreed to mitigate the radon problem, and the follow-up tests were much better.

  3. Christian says:

    You’re absolutely right…if the test comes positive for radon, it’s there. It’s just that radon comes back negative all the time when it IS present. Mitigation methods include things like caulking, painting and in other manner sealing up the foundation. Some contractors install fans and/or other types of ventilation. If a home has had radon, it WILL get it again. It’s necessary to be vigilant down the road. Not trying to be obtuse, just thought it’s worth mentioning. Congrats on being attentive to details though. Many buyers are a little too flighty for their own good 🙂

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