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Radon Revisited

Sam Schneiderman, broker owner of Great Boston Home Team (our Monday guy) looks again at what to do about radon testing.

Last week, I mentioned a story about a radon inspection dispute that ended in court. The buyer wanted to cancel the purchase due to high radon results, but the seller refused to return the buyer’s deposit because the radon test was not performed to EPA standards.

Our vigilant readers reviewed EPA protocols and noted that a radon test done in an unfinished area does not meet EPA guidelines. A spirited discussion about the proper way to test for radon ensued, ending with sesw writing: “Surely you must be able to find an expert who can settle this matter. Otherwise, we are left to fend for ourselves on such a matter.” Good point.

EPA guidelines can be confusing. They appear to indicate that testing should be done in a finished living area of the house. My conclusion is that if you want to test for radon in accord with EPA protocols, that you’d have to test in a finished living area of the house.

What if a buyer wants to test an unfinished basement that he/she will be spending time in as a workshop? If the buyer plans to finish the basement, doesn’t it make sense to test it, regardless of EPA protocols? Most inspectors do test unfinished basements for that reason. If that’s not what EPA suggests, should buyers and inspectors continue to test like that? Shouldn’t inspectors do what clients want without getting involved in contracts between buyers and sellers?

Anybody unfortunate enough to end up in a legal dispute will quickly learn that the language in the Offer dictates what the parties can and can not do because the offer is a Contract that outlines the expected behavior of both parties.

The Greater Boston Real Estate Board’s standard addendum states “In the event a customary test for the presence of radon gas indicates the presence of radon gas in excess of levels deemed acceptable by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, then the BUYER shall have the option of revoking the agreement …”. When that clause is used, EPA protocols obviously come into question as determining factors.

On the other hand, if the buyers and/or buyers’ agent want a less limiting inspection clause so that the buyer can test where they want and cancel the deal if they don’t like the results, they need language in the offer that reflects their intent. That applies to radon or anything else.

Most buyers and agents assume that the standard offers cover everything. They just fill in the contract blanks and don’t tweak forms to reflect the buyers’ concerns and protect their interest.

Many “standard” forms were written before buyer agency became commonplace. Therefore, they are biased toward sellers and are often too limiting for buyers.

Finding the right balance requires knowing how to balance the buyers and sellers needs in the offer. That’s one of the ways that the better buyer’s agents and attorneys earn their fees.

To view this article, visit http://www.boston.com/realestate/news/blogs/renow/2010/11/radon_revisited.html.