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Radon and Residential Real Estate: Getting to Know the Players

Radon and Residential Real Estate: Getting to Know the Players
Dr. Paul Locke is a radon leader who has over 20 years of experience in radon science, policy and law. He is particularly interested in how radon testing and remediation can be made part of residential real estate transactions. Dr. Locke is an Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

This is Part 2 in a five-part blog on radon and residential real estate. Click here for the first post.

To take full advantage of the opportunities for radon testing and remediation that real estate transactions offer, and to learn more about the possible pitfalls of working in these transactions, it’s essential to understand the community of people that make up the world of real estate and learn about what motives them.

Real estate transactions vary quite a bit across the country, because, as the saying goes, all real estate is local. Still, we can make some useful generalizations about real estate professionals and their organizations that are very likely to be true wherever you are working.

Agent(s) and Broker(s).

First and most obviously, in residential real estate there is almost always at least one agent and at least one broker. Agents are the professionals that represent either the buyer or seller (and, in some cases, both). Agents work for companies that are run by real estate brokers. Both agents and brokers are licensed by the state. Most, but not all, are members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) as well as state and local associations or boards of Realtors.

Agents and brokers are the front line soldiers in the real estate wars. They are the individuals upon whom buyers and sellers rely for advice and information. As such, they are an absolutely crucial group for radon professionals to know and perhaps the best partners to help educate buyers and seller about radon.

Keep in mind that not all real estate professionals are “Realtors.” In order to be a realtor, you need to be a member of NAR or one of its state or local affiliates. If you are working with real estate professionals it is very important to remember this distinction. Calling all real estate licensees or agents “realtors” is a tip off that you probably are naïve about their world. That could hurt your credibility, and set back your efforts to educate these important groups.

Mortgage Lenders, Title Insurers and Lawyers.

Mortgage lenders and lawyers are important to the real estate transaction for obvious reasons. Since the vast majority of home purchase and sales agreements require a mortgage, without mortgage lenders there would be no sales. Lawyers put together the paperwork that captures the purchase and sale. And title insurers are the companies that write policies guaranteeing that the property is being sold free and clear, without liens or other problems.

While these professionals are important to the transaction, they are not particularly good targets for radon education for a couple of reasons. First, their interactions with the buyers and sellers are not extensive and usually very short term. Second, whether a home has radon is often of little consequence to them. Because radon testing and remediation costs are generally small when compared to the cost of the home, there is little risk from a financial perspective if radon is a problem.

What motivates these parties?

In a word – Money. This is especially true for agents and brokers, who do not get paid until the transaction closes. What that means to radon professionals is that in order to engage agents and brokers, you must make radon testing and remediation something that is not seen as a deal breaker. Success for public health means explaining how radon testing and mitigation is a win for the real estate professionals, as well as for health. We will look at how to do that in the next blog, which will describe what a typical residential real estate transaction looks like, when is the best place to bring up radon in this transaction and how it can be raised so that the deal is not put in jeopardy. Until then, please chime in and share your stories about working with the real estate community in the comments section below.

User photo for: Bob Wood

Thank you for the blog it is very informative. Here in Canada we are trying to build businesses with the aid of the realestate transaction regulation. I am now teaching a continuing education course for our local real estate board. Do you have any suggestions of how else to inspire them?

User photo for: PAL

Bob:
Thanks for your comment. Real estate regulation of some sort could do a lot to address radon in real estate transactions. Be careful, though – a weak or ineffective law and regulation is actually worse than no law and regulation at all. When I say weak/ineffective, I am referring to laws or regulations that require a general disclosure statement that simply states that radon is a health hazard, or radon causes lung cancer. (Think cigarette package disclosure labels …)
Now on to your question. How do you inspire real estate professionals? I think the most important thing you can do is to convince them that dealing with radon in the transaction is the right thing to do. It’s the right thing to do in terms of client service and it will eliminate any later problems. (Its right for public health, too, but this is not an argument that is likely to sway real estate professionals.) Without radon testing (which should always be recommended and hopefully done) and mitigation (if needed), a client or customer who finds a radon problem later could blame the real estate agent.
This potential litigation issue is one that I always mention to real estate professionals. I tell them that radon testing and remediation are very good ways of protecting their assets. I also remind them that they cannot market properties and interact with clients if they are spending lots of time with lawyers in court rooms and depositions.
I do not know whether Canadian law is similar to American law, but if it is, think about pointing out to agents and brokers that radon disclosure, testing and fixing could be a very good way to say out of court.
I would be happy to work with you in preparing for your CE course, and am very interested in what strategies you are using to educate your real estate board.

User photo for: Chris Reyerson

Paul,

My thank’s to you for your willingness to jump into this. As a professional mitigator, serving 3 states, I get the opportunity to talk with many, many realtors. Infact, they are 90% of my business. I have worked very hard over the years to establish relationships with the realtors in the areas that I service, and I gave up trying to educate them years ago. For the most part they want to know two things; can I make their radon “problem” go away and for what price, and do I know what I am talking about if they get challenged about radon mitigation being a racket. It has been my experience that realtors just want to sell houses. For the most part they do not want to become experts in radon, mold, home inspection, etc, etc. They just want to sell the house, and I help them do that.

However, they expect me to be an expert in my field. If their client is a college physics teacher, they expect me to understand the process of alpha radiation and how it damages DNA, and why the body has a problem with free radicals floating around. Or if the client is an engineer, I better be able to explain sub-slab transmission thru various substrate materials and the stack effect with 4” PVC pipe vs. 3” PVC pipe. What I am driving at is that realtors do not want to be educated; they want to sell houses…THE MITIGATOR NEEDS TO BE EDUCATED.

Our industry is years away from radon mitigation systems being legislated, even though causal effects between lung cancer and radon exposure has proven out. Local realtors need to know that their go-to guy (us mitigators), have expertise in the field of radon, and not just radon mitigation.

Keep up the good work!

Chris Reyerson
Valley Radon Mitigation

User photo for: PAL

Chris:
You have gotten to the core of the issue – real estate agents and brokers are in business to sell houses. That is how they make money. They close deals and walk away from the closing table with a check, paid out of the transaction. If you can eliminate problems that stand in the way of closing a deal you will be a hero.

By the way, there is a good legal reason why real estate agents do not want to become experts on environmental conditions such as radon, mold, and asbestos and offer opinions about how to detect and fix these problems. It has to do with liability. If they act like an expert, it is highly likely that courts could treat them like one. As you can imagine, that is not a good idea from a broker’s or agent’s perspective. Committing scientific and engineering malpractice are things that most real estate professionals seek to avoid.

Still, agents and brokers need to understand something about radon and what it takes to test for and fix a radon problem. That is the only way they are going to know that they need an expert to address radon in their transaction. And that is why I am a believer in real estate CE..

When I interact with real estate agents and brokers, I make sure they understand that their expertise extends only to marketing property. They should not be radon experts, they should know the experts. I assure them (as you do) that there is a highly qualified group of radon experts upon whom they can rely. That’s one of the reasons why what you have said in your post is so important. If you know your stuff, if you are the go-to guy or gal, then real estate professionals are confident recommending you as the expert, and (better yet for them) an expert who can turn a potential deal breaker into a non-problem.