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Buying or Selling a Property With Asbestos? Here's What to Do


By Liz Brumer-Smith, The Motley Fool

If you're in the process of buying and selling a property and find asbestos, it may generate sentiments of fear. But finding asbestos isn't always a deal-breaker. Learn what asbestos is, why it can be a hazard in certain circumstances, what to do if asbestos is discovered in a property, and how to remediate or fix the issue.


What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that in the past was used as a flame-retardant strengthening agent that provided heat insulation. From 1930 to 1980, asbestos was used in a number of property building materials including but not limited to:

  • Roofing, shingles, and siding.
  • Insulation (common in homes built in the 1930s to 1950s).
  • Textured paint.
  • Patching and joint compounds.
  • Vinyl sheet flooring.
  • Hot water and steam pipes.


Is asbestos harmful?

Asbestos can be harmful when disrupted, causing abrasions on the lungs when inhaled. Exposure to large doses or for long periods has been linked to an elevated risk of lung cancer, specifically, mesothelioma and asbestosis. After the potential harm was discovered, manufacturers stopped using asbestos in building materials, but the asbestos is still commonly found in homes predating the 1980s.

Asbestos is only harmful when disturbed, damaged, or in deteriorating condition. If asbestos is in good condition or undisturbed, the asbestos fibers do not become airborne, thus eliminating the potential hazard asbestos can cause.


What to do if asbestos is discovered in a home or property

If you are the property owner and are aware of the presence of asbestos, you must disclose this information to prospective buyers.

However, if the current property owner is unaware and asbestos is discovered during the selling process, don't fret. The prospective buyer can order a special asbestos inspection that assesses the potential hazard and airborne presence of asbestos, identifying exactly where asbestos is present and whether it needs to be remediated. Several solutions can fix the problem without having to spend several thousand dollars removing the asbestos completely, including:

  • Sealing the asbestos.
  • Covering the asbestos.

If your home was built during the period asbestos was commonly used and you plan on doing a renovation, it's a good idea to have an asbestos survey done to determine whether asbestos is present, and if so, where. If you do begin the renovation without an inspection and disrupt or damage the asbestos, you could be creating hazardous air quality that could put you, your family, or tenants at risk.

Any renovation or work being conducted where the presence of asbestos is known should be completed by a licensed professional who knows how to properly contain and remediate the asbestos before, during, and after the repair.


How much does removing asbestos cost?

While asbestos abatement is not typically required, there are times like during a remodel or if the asbestos has been disturbed that removing asbestos is needed. In this case a licensed professional will need to remove the asbestos, and it can become quite costly, ranging from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the property or area of abetment. Removal is typically the last option, unless required by state law.


What to do if you find asbestos in a property


  1. Do not disturb the asbestos (including vacuuming, sweeping, or attempting to remove the asbestos yourself).
  2. Contact a professional inspector to assess the hazard and presence.
  3. Have a licensed professional complete any remediation or abatement work.

Finding asbestos in a property is fairly common, considering its broad use in home construction and building materials for such a long period of time. Rather than fearing it, be informed on how to deal with it. And if you're the buyer, you can use the costs of any potential remediation or abatement as a negotiating tool.

See more at The Motley Fool

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