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Radon in real estate

Information for the Real Estate Professional

Radon is clearly an issue that real estate professionals should become familiar with.

Radon can cause lung cancer after prolonged exposure and can build to dangerous levels in homes. Many people wait until they are about to sell their home or buy a new one before they decide to learn more about radon. By learning about radon, real estate professionals can properly answer questions during real estate transactions, and avoid potential liability. Radon problems can be resolved at relatively low cost and inconvenience and should not stand in the way of any real estate transaction being seen through to completion. By being knowledgeable and providing information, real estate agents can minimize the potential for delaying or derailing closings because of radon.

It is possible that Congress or state or local governments could enact legislation requiring all sellers and leasers to give out radon information. Radon advisory disclosures are currently required in sales of HUD-owned property and FHA loans. Many relocation companies require radon testing and/or radon disclosure, and many real estate brokers require radon disclosure statements. Real estate professionals who develop and maintain their knowledge of radon will be in demand, as citizens' expectations and questions increase in coming years.

Two basic rules to consider

  1. The best role for agents and brokers to take is that of a resource. Provide booklets and materials to customers and clients to help them make informed decisions. Avoid advising clients and customers about the specifics of radon testing, interpreting, or remediation.
  2. Early disclosure to both buyers and sellers will give everyone ample time to learn about radon and act accordingly. Early disclosure builds an atmosphere of trust and encourages an honest exchange among all parties. Problems are much more likely to arise if radon becomes an issue late in a real estate transaction.

Is There a Radon Concern in Nevada?

The prevailing source of radon affecting most of Nevada is naturally occurring uranium found in the geology of the state. The map of Nevada found on the History page shows test results of past Nevada radon surveys that indicated 10 percent of the homes in Nevada have the potential of being above the U.S. EPA recommended action level of 4 pCi/l. (The EPA and the U.S. Surgeon General recommend that people not be exposed to more than 4 pCi/l of radiation from radon on a long-term basis.)

From the 1989 and 1990-1991 radon surveys, the EPA developed a Radon Zone Map for each state. Each zone represented areas of radon risk potential: Zone 1, greatest potential for elevated radon levels; Zone 2, moderate potential; and Zone 3, lowest potential for elevated radon levels.

Maps, although used as tools for focusing public awareness and for determining where it would be advisable for new houses to be constructed with radon control features, cannot determine where radon problems will be found. Elevated radon levels can be found even in Zone 3 areas. The only way to determine whether a house has elevated radon levels is to test.

What Is Radon and Why Are We Concerned?

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that has no odor, color or taste and is produced by the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. Uranium is found in all soils and in higher concentrations in granite, shale and phosphates. As it decays into radon gas, it moves through the soil into the atmosphere, where it is harmlessly dispersed in outdoor air or can enter buildings through foundation openings and become trapped inside. When it enters a building, it can accumulate and present a health concern for occupants. Buildings other than homes can also have radon concerns (such as commercial buildings, schools, apartments, etc.).

Radon breaks down into several radioactive elements called radon decay products, which are solid particles that become suspended in air. They are extremely small and easily inhaled, where they can attach to lung tissue. Not everyone exposed to radon will get lung cancer, but the greater the amount of radon and the longer the exposure, the greater the risk of developing lung cancer. Radon is classified as a Group A carcinogen, a substance known to cause cancer in humans. Next to smoking, scientists believe that radon is associated with more lung cancer deaths than any other carcinogen.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Lung Association (ALA), the U.S. Surgeon General, and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) - in addition to many other health organizations - all agree that radon is a health concern that must be addressed. In May of 1993, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) joined the EPA in urging all Americans to test their homes for radon. NAR encouraged state associations to develop and support legislation or regulation requiring mandatory property condition disclosure, including radon, by the seller.

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EPA's Home Buyer's and Seller's Guide to Radon

The informed and educated real estate professional will use the disclosure statement to introduce buyers and sellers to radon.

When asked for more information, you can use the EPA's Home Buyer's and Seller's Guide to Radon to answer questions and fulfill disclosure requirements, without having to express an opinion. In Nevada, individuals may contact either the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health, Radiological Health Section at 775-687-7550, or University of Nevada Cooperative Extension's Nevada Radon Education Program at 1-888-RADON10 (1-888-723-6610) to obtain copies of this booklet.

The information contained in this booklet will give the home buyer or seller a broad overview of issues surrounding radon, and allow individuals to make informed decisions regarding radon during a real estate transaction.

Representing a Seller

Seller's Property Disclosure

Early disclosure to both buyers and sellers allows everyone ample time to learn about radon and act accordingly. Early disclosure builds an atmosphere of trust and encourages an honest exchange among all parties. Problems are much more likely to arise if a radon problem is suspected when the parties are already well into a real estate transaction.

When the Seller has already tested the home for radon

When a seller has tested the home for radon, test results should be provided to the buyer. A potential buyer may ask for a new test, depending on the following:

  • Whether U.S. EPA protocols were followed for the radon measurement test.
  • The seller has renovated or changed the home since the test was performed.
  • The buyer intends to occupy a lower level of the home than the seller tested (such as a basement area).
  • The test was done more than two years ago
When the home has not been tested for radon

If the seller has no knowledge of the home being tested for radon, suggest a test be done immediately by a certified radon professional with a continuous radon monitor. This could save precious time during a real estate transaction. The test device should be placed in the lowest level of the home suitable for occupancy. If the lower level of the home is unfinished, but could be completed in the future and occupied, the test should occur in this portion of the home. Potential buyers may want to know everything the seller knows about any radon tests.

The EPA recommends that a homeowner take action if the indoor radon levels are 4 pCi/l or higher. It is best to correct a radon problem before putting a home on the market, since this allows more time to address the situation. Sellers who have tested their homes and, if necessary, installed radon mitigation systems can demonstrate that they have already recognized and mitigated radon levels for any potential buyer. Having a mitigation system is a marketing plus, especially in areas where elevated radon levels are prevalent.

A typical home inspection can easily include a radon test upon request. A seller may wish to wait until an inspection is performed during the potential sale of the home, however, if test results are elevated the seller should be prepared to discuss corrective measures before the sale closes.

Keep in mind:

  • All radon tests will show some amount of radon. It is not a question of if radon is present, but rather, how much radon will be found in a properly tested home.
  • Mitigation is a well known science, with additional benefits toward indoor air quality above and beyond radon reduction.
  • Testing and mitigation should be performed by individuals listed as certified.

Representing a Buyer

When the seller has already tested the home

If a seller discloses the presence of radon in the home, the buyer should request the following information:

  • Results of the previous tests.
  • The name of the person who performed the test. Was it the homeowner? A radon professional?
  • Where was the test device placed in the home? If the seller occupies only the upper level of the home and had the test performed on that level, but the home has a basement in which the buyer intends to occupy, the buyer may want to test the home again in the lower level.
  • Has any major remodeling or structural changes been made to the home since the test was performed? If so, radon levels may have been affected and the house should be retested.
  • If the seller discloses acceptable radon levels in the home (i.e. less than 4 pCi/l), the U.S. EPA would recommend that there is no need for further action. (However, realize there is still some risk associated with levels less than 4 pCi/l.)
  • When the test was doneā€¦EPA recommends that all homes be tested every two years.
When the home has not been tested for radon

The real estate professional should suggest a radon test be done as soon as possible. It may be done during the normal course of the home inspection, preferably by a third party tester who is certified by one of the two recognized radon certification programs, American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists-National Radon Professional Providers or National Radon Safety Board. See Certified Radon Testers.

Tests must be properly conducted and interpreted to prevent unnecessary mitigation, but more importantly, to ensure that mitigation is seriously considered when testing indicates unacceptable levels of radon. Certified testers insure that testing was properly performed without inadvertent or deliberate tampering of the test.

For More Information:

For additional assistance contact Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health, Radiological Health Section at 775-687-7550.

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