10 Hidden Things That Can Kill Your Home Sale

5. Radon

Radon is a radioactive gas created from, typically, the natural breakdown of small amounts uranium in the soil and water, and it gets into the air inside a house. No state requires a test for radon, but most states require sellers to disclose the results of a previous radon test, and some states require a warning about radon in the contract documents. In this case, too, an ounce of prevention may be better than a pound of cure. Sellers should consider having the test done before putting the house on the market because dealing with a problem early, if one exists, may push the sale to a conclusion more quickly.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set a radon level at which it recommends that homeowners remediate the problem, but the agency emphasizes that there is no safe level of radon. Radon is the second-leading cause of death from lung cancer in the United States. Frank Lesh of ASHI said that radon concerns among buyers are even stronger than they were 10 or 15 years ago, largely due to greater awareness of the issue. He noted, “High radon readings are a big cause for concern. However, radon levels can be reduced to an acceptable level fairly easily. Unfortunately, some buyers don’t want to deal with it even if the seller takes care of it.”

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6. Well and Septic Systems

A septic system treats household sewage on properties not connected to a public sewer system, and a well is a private water source for the property. Septic systems and wells are common in rural areas and can be safe and effective for years if well-maintained. However, a failure in any part of the septic system or a well that runs dry can be expensive to repair.

Because replacing a septic system can run into the thousands of dollars, potential buyers are likely to want to know how well the system works and whether it has been tested recently. The tank should not leak and the drainfield should not have any water puddled on top. Of course, any sewage odor is a sign that the system is not working properly. Replacing the drainfield can cost as much as $20,000, while replacing a leaking tank might cost as much as $2,000.

Many places also have regulations related to the proximity of a house’s well to its septic tank or to the property line. These distances vary by state and probably even by county, but a general rule of thumb could be the 100-foot separation between a well and the septic system required by the Federal Housing Administration in order to get an FHA-approved loan to buy the house. The FHA also requires a minimum distance of 10 feet for the septic system from the property line.

7. Polybutylene Piping

Millions of U.S. houses built between 1978 and 1995 in all parts of the country used polybutylene piping for the plumbing system. The piping reacts with oxidants in the water, causing the pipes to degrade and, ultimately, leak. Because the water pipe deteriorates from the inside, discovering the defect is often problematic. The problem is apparently worst in treated public water systems. The damage to a house can be severe. If the house has polybutylene pipes, it is not a matter of whether they will fail but of when, according to home listing service Propex.com. If the sellers know of the polybutylene piping, they should disclose the information and be prepared to either fix the plumbing before selling the house, discount the house at least enough to cover the cost, or change their plans to sell the house.

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