Mandatory Radon Testing for Montgomery County Home Sellers?November 2, 2015
The Montgomery County Council is considering a bill that would require radon testing by home sellers before they sign a contract to sell their home. Council member Craig Rice, sponsor of bill 31-15 says that many homeowners are living in homes with elevated levels of radon and are unaware of the health risks. Radon exposure is the second highest cause of lung cancer after smoking and 15,000-22,000 radon related deaths occur each year in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is all around us. Although no level of radon gas is completely safe, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends that homes that are tested at or above 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) be remediated.
This bill would require sellers to test their homes for radon and disclose the results when selling their home. If the test shows that the radon level in the home is equal to or higher than 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L), sellers will be required to remediate or provide an estimate of the cost or remediation to prospective home buyers.
There is no doubt that increasing radon awareness is a good thing. This bill would be the first of its kind and Montgomery County would be the first county in the United States with such a mandate. As a real estate agent, I had many concerns about the implementation about such a program.
How much will it add to the price?
My first concern was cost. I wondered if the radon tests would be cost prohibitive. Today, a homebuyer who chooses to test a home for radon as part of their offer on a home spends about $150 for a two day test. I spoke with Craig Rice’s office about this and was told that there are short term radon test kits available for $15 and long term radon test kits available for $25 that can be used by home sellers. These fees include the test kit which you send to a lab to receive your results. all fees are included.
Are these the real numbers?
My second concern was accuracy. Long term tests which are done over a 3-12 month period are more accurate than the 2-4 day short term tests. There are steps a homeowner must follow to get an accurate radon reading. Home sellers are not motivated to follow these instructions to get an accurate reading. They are in fact motivated to open their windows or tamper with the kit to try and get an artificially low reading.
How long will it take?
By the time many sellers contact listing agents to sell their home, they are ready to put their home on the market right away. The local $150 option usually takes only two days, but the increased demand may make the wait time for an appointment longer. The cheaper radon kits require 3-4 days plus time for mailing the kit to a lab for results. I am curious how the County Council intends to get the word out to home owners about this new requirement so they are testing as part of their home preparation process. I suspect that it will be a responsibility that falls to all listing agents in Montgomery County.
What about potential short sales or foreclosures?
Sometimes home sellers will lose money on the sale of their home. In these cases homeowners are not allowed to make any repairs to the home as part of the transaction. Will they be required to spend money to test for radon? What about Foreclosures? Are the banks that own foreclosed properties required to test their homes for radon? Or will banks be exempt as they are in many of the other property disclosures?
What about enforcement?
How will this requirement be enforced? What if sellers disclose a low level of radon and the buyer tests and gets a higher reading? Who will mediate? Is there a punishment for non-disclosure? Will real estate agents be liable? Or just sellers? How about the radon testers?
The Greater Capital Area Association of REALTORS, (GCAAR) is opposed to Bill 31-15 and is requesting member support in trying to defeat this bill. There seem to be many questions that are still unanswered. The bill is still up for consideration and there is not much time to weigh in with your Montgomery Council Council member. Call today!
If you are thinking about selling your home in Montgomery County, give me a call to Get Started.
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UPDATE: The Montgomery County Board passed the bill unanimously. Montgomery County becomes the first county in the US to require radon testing before selling a home.