Real Estate Round Table: Hidden Defects In Your Home

Real Estate Round Table: Hidden Defects In Your Home

This week’s real estate column will discuss some common hidden defects discovered in the course of inspecting homes for sale in Los Alamos County. 

Mold, termites, rodents, asbestos, and septic systems are some of the most common, although this list is not all encompassing. Mold has been discovered on a regular basis. Some varieties of mold can be harmful to one’s health, and buyers are wary of purchasing a home that has tested positive for mold.

The most common reasons for mold occurring in a residence are undetected leaks (think roof or plumbing), water encroaching into the crawl space from application along the foundation (think landscaping irrigation or poor drainage from the roof or grounds), and exhaust vents that are plumbed into a tightly sealed attic or crawl space (think bath and kitchen fans and clothes dryer vents.)

Mold mitigation is extraordinarily expense, as the process is invasive and must be done by a mitigation specialist. We have seen the cost exceed $20,000 in some cases, and rarely is it much below $10,000. 

Termites are found everywhere in the world. There are varieties that can quickly destroy a wood structure, but the common termite in our county is subterranean, and is a much less aggressive species. That doesn’t mean damage can’t occur over a period of time given the proper conditions, however. 

Termites need food and water to survive, and since they thrive on cellulose (think sheetrock and wood), they can do undetected damage. A lot of homes White Rock were built slab-on-grade, with a forced air heat system. According to the termite experts, the common ducting material for furnaces at this particular time was a product called Sonotube. It is a rigid cardboard material, with a very thin gauge aluminum foil liner. 

Termites come in from below the slab and with the introduction of moisture, feast on the cardboard. They can then migrate into the walls of the home, eating their way through the wood used to construct the home, and some instances, doing enough damage to warrant a major re-construction. Heat ducting runs in an octopus formation and is impossible to examine completely, except with a video scope. One may notice reduced air flow from a duct, and if one lifts the heat vent cover off and peers into the start of each duct, they might see a variety of items – pencils, toys, dust bunnies, and evidence of dirt and deteriorated foil liner. 

What can a home owner do to avoid termites? Be proactive! Remove the landscaping from around the perimeter of the foundation, and provide a water barrier to prevent water from encroaching into and under the slab. Monitor drainage against the slab and install gutters to capture the water and take it away from the foundation. Get a termite inspection from an expert.  Beyond cardboard heat ducts, any home is susceptible to termites, by providing them food and water. We’ve discovered termite damage throughout the county. Be diligent!

Rodent infestations are more common than we would like to imagine. Rodents find it quite attractive to move into attic or crawl  spaces that are unmonitored. They can do a tremendous amount of damage in a short time. They can eat through wiring, and their feces will destroy insulation and stain roof trusses and decking. Cleaning up an attic or crawl space is an expensive and messy job, best left to the experts. Again, be proactive – monitor your spaces and control access.

Asbestos has been found in the “popcorn” ceilings that were commonly applied in the 1960s and beyond. This substance can cause health (lung) problems, and is difficult to remove safely.  There are companies that specialize in safe removal, and buyers today are reluctant to buy homes that test positive to asbestos. Asbestos is also found wrapping plumbing pipes, and lining furnace closets, in addition to some older floor tile.  If not disturbed, this particular form of asbestos is considered to be non-friable, meaning it does not emanate particulates into the living spaces of your home.

Septic systems are not common in our community with the exception of La Senda Subdivision, a few homes along the east side of the golf course off San Ildefonso Road, and a few businesses on DP Road. For those owners who have septic systems, it is important to note that the rules governing these systems were changed by the New Mexico Environmental Department in 2005. They now require that prior to title transfer (a sale), that the system be inspected by a state certified inspector, and approved for use. 

A lot of the systems in La Senda are original, and although may be functioning today, may be found not to meet the current requirements of the state. For more information, visit: Please note that a certified septic inspection is only good for a period of 180 days prior to title transfer, so although you may have it inspected well in advance of sale, it will need to be re-inspected within the 180 days prior to your sale.

All of the above mentioned property defects can have serious negative impacts when it comes time to sell a home. It is a painful process for all parties involved when any of these defects are discovered, as they either slow the sales process down while the mitigation takes place, or cause a buyer to terminate the contract entirely, leaving the seller with no sale.

It would probably be very beneficial to the prospective seller to have their home inspected by an expert, and be proactive in solving any of these defects prior to placing their home on the market for sale. Although defects can be very expensive to mitigate, they don’t go away on their own. Sellers who are prepared will have the advantage of finding a solution before they lose a sale, and knowing the cost of any major repairs in advance, will have a more realistic expectation of their net sale price.

Editor’s note: Lauren Earles is a licensed real estate broker with RE/MAX of Los Alamos, and holds an Eco Broker certification, which requires successful completion of 18 hours of study in a variety of residential environmental hazards, as well as green building practices. She can be reached at (505) 662-6789 x14, and

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