Saturday, June 29, 2013

Demolition Not An Option For Mold-Infested Townhome; Couple Coughs Up $478K Over Five Years To Remediate Virginia Residence

In McLean, Virginia, The Wall Street Journal reports:

  • Jenny Guinness of McLean, Va., waited as men in moon suits cut away chunks of drywall in 2-foot increments. They would bag and seal the material, and start again. Soon they had removed the walls of an entire room. A mold remediator sat her down and said: "I have really bad news for you. This looks like it goes in every direction…I think you need to have a demolition company come in and start removing whole walls because I can't see an end to it anywhere."

    In January 2012, Jenny Guinness decided to oversee the rest of the work on her home. Drawing from her experience as a real-estate agent for 10 years, she served as her own general contractor and interior designer.

    In 2008, Ms. Guinness and her husband, Os, discovered that their townhouse in a suburb of Washington was contaminated with stachybotrys—also known as black mold. That launched a painstaking five-year renovation that cost as much as the couple originally paid for the house and involved ripping out walls, replacing many of the finishes and sterilizing nearly every surface and item they owned.

    What they couldn't clean, they threw away, including stuffed animals, sweaters and other items from their son's childhood that they were saving for his kids. "I remember standing in the snow in the street in a moon suit, throwing these precious things into a bin," Ms. Guinness says.
  • In 2007, Ms. Guinness was diagnosed with lung cancer. Even after undergoing successful surgery, she still had trouble breathing in the house and, in early 2008, decided to test the home for mold. She discovered that black mold had streaked the firewalls and settled in thick clumps near the floor. The breadth of the mold shocked Ms. Guinness, who says she normally keeps her home spotless. "You could scrape it off with a spoon," she says.

    John Spangenberg, production manager of Columbia Restoration, a fire and water restoration service in Jessup, Md., broke the initial news to Ms. Guinness. He says the McLean townhouse had one of the worst cases of hidden mold he has seen in his 13-year career. "Most of the time when we deal with mold, you can usually find a stopping point. In her situation, the stopping point was after every wall was out," he says.
  • Virginia is a "buyer beware" state, meaning that homeowners aren't legally required to disclose a mold problem. Mold can be such a detriment to a home's value, though, that homeowners are almost always better off paying to remediate or even tearing the house down and starting from scratch, says appraiser Donald Boucher, president of Washington, D.C.-based Boucher & Boucher. Often "it can cost more to renovate a house than it would cost to build it new. You're better off knocking it down," he says.

    With a townhouse, tearing it down wasn't an option, the couple says. "The simple fact was, unless we renovated it, we couldn't sell it," Mr. Guinness says.
  • The total renovation cost $478,500, as much as the house itself, which was $479,000, according to public records. Ms. Guinness estimates that they spent $107,000 just on getting rid of the mold alone: $17,000 on testing, $70,000 on remediation and $20,000 on cleaning. Since their insurance doesn't cover mold, the couple paid for the renovation themselves with their retirement savings.

    "We read about people who did mold lawsuits and how many lawyers you had to go through and how many experts to go through," Ms. Guinness says. "We just didn't think we could face this. We were already fighting something." Generally, mold isn't covered under most homeowners insurance policies because it's considered to be a maintenance issue, says a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute.
For the story, see The $500,000 Housecleaning (When a Virginia couple discovered that their townhouse was infested with mold, it was the start of an arduous, expensive multiyear cleanup).

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