Can It Be Clean?

Can It Be Clean?

Your accepted offer won’t be a winner unless you plan ahead for — and can afford — the cost of a clean and sustainable infrastructure  

The massive island with a marble-look quartz top immediately captured the potential buyer’s attention. It was dazzling, and perfectly offset with a wide-plank, wood-look luxury vinyl tile floor, barn doors in the bedrooms and ornate bathroom tiles that completed the flipper’s modern-farmhouse theme.

The 26-year old buyer had been looking — and unsuccessfully bidding — for about six months. The prevalent seller’s market was wearing him down as he found one house after another, and placed offers that got buried in multiples, and the houses sold to someone else at way more than asking price.

This time, he thought, his strategy stood a chance. Asking price for this 3-bedroom, 1.5-bath 1,100-square-foot ranch with no basement, was $230,000. The buyer offered $235,000, but also included an escalation clause up to $250,000, in an effort to top any bid that was more than $235,000, but less than $250,000. Several hours in, his Realtor® said that there were multiple offers on the table, and the buyer client needed to raise his offer if he wanted to stay in the game.

The buyer client, nonetheless, stood his ground. He knew what he could afford for a monthly mortgage payment. And unlike most first-time buyers, he had been able to notice — and budget for when setting his offer — some issues with the house that would be expensive to repair.

The flipper selling the home — who already had spent his renovation budget and was unlikely to spend more in the strong seller’s market — had failed to address health and human safety. Despite the shiny counters, flooring and tile, the home didn’t have the infrastructure that it needed to be “clean,” meaning without potentially hazardous indoor-air quality caused by mold or other toxins hidden beneath and above all visible surfaces.

No vapor barrier in the inaccessible crawlspace

Upon entering the third bedroom, the buyer client had noticed the unmistakable aroma of moisture. Directly underneath the floor was a crawlspace, which was accessible only through a 20- by 24-inch opening in the foundation outside. Upon removing the piece of flimsy wood that covered it, laying on the ground and shining a flashlight into the hole, all that was visible was wet dirt. There was no visible vapor barrier, and no apparent way to install one through such a small opening.

The solution? Tearing up part of the bedroom floor and subfloor for access to place a barrier below. Pulling up the floor also would be necessary to see if the subfloor, after constant exposure to moisture, was rotten, insect-ridden or otherwise in need of replacement.

And when the barrier was installed and any rotten subfloor replaced, new flooring would have to be installed — at least in that room, but throughout the home if the original look of one-flooring-throughout was to be maintained.

Furnace in attic with questionable access

Tearing up the floor also wasn’t the only potential infrastructure issue that needed investigation to ensure this home had healthful indoor-air quality. Like many other small ranch homes, this home’s furnace was in the attic. The only way into the attic was through an 18- by 24-inch opening at the top of a narrow bedroom closet with a shelf underneath the opening, and a bolted-in clothing bar under that.

There were two ceiling vents dispersing heat into the family room and a bedroom. The grated covers and ducts inside were covered in black soot.

Ductwork can be cleaned, but how would an HVAC service technician access the unit and ensure it was working safely and properly on a routine basis? Was there a proper filter and way to change the filter? Was there enough space to access and check the furnace’s proper operation on a regular basis? Could more ducts be added, or could the furnace be relocated to a more accessible location?

Had his bid been accepted, the buyer intended to get these answers from a qualified inspector, during the home inspection.

That inspection never came. The seller chose another offer. This buyer was out of the game. 

And that very well might have been a good thing.

— Author N. Carol Kibbee is a Cincinnati, Ohio, realtor  who also has more than a decade’s experience working in the home-improvement space, focusing on clean and sustainable flooring, finishes, furniture and design. Call or text her at (513) 496-5037, or email her at ncarolkibbee@gmail.com.

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