A sick house is no bargain -- here's what to look for

moldA fairly large percentage of homes selling nowadays are so-called "distressed properties" -- homes that were lost to their previous owners through foreclosure. Their prices are lower and, without doubt, there are bargains to be had so long as you are employed (or have a thriving business) and a decent credit rating --- not to mention (though I am about to) the ability to make a handsome down payment on the mortgage.

But as tempting as these bargains might be, you will do yourself and your family a service by first doing some detective work to make sure the existing house doesn't come complete with tons of existing -- and potentially costly -- health problems.

A group called The Healthy Housing Coalition has some really good tips on what to look for in an existing house before buying it -- especially from a health point of view.

Some basics,then:
  • The Coalition says you should avoid existing houses in areas where air and noise pollution from traffic and industry are prevalent.
  • Heavy pesticide usage in the neighborhood is not a good sign, says the Coalition. Nor are high power lines, radio, TV and microwave towers too nearby.
  • As for the building itself, the Coalition recommends you check for good drainage away from the building and inspect carefully for signs of rot or insect infestation. Oh, and, of course, watch out for potentially dangerous mold. Not all molds are harmful, but it is worth calling in an expert to evaluate any mold found on the existing property.
  • Take a trip down to the basement (if there is one, of course). Any water marks visible? That could mean there was either a past flood or backed up drains.
  • Sniff. Go ahead. Sniff. Smell moldy? Bad sign.
  • The group recommends you test the house for everything from lead to radon to asbestos. Sounds like a good idea to me.

There are many more items on the Coalition's to-do list to check before buying an existing home. You really ought to take a look.

But many can be summed up under the general heading of common sense. Works just about every time, too.

Charles Feldman is a journalist, media consultant and co-author of the book, "No Time To Think-The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle."
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