Uh Oh: Did You Just Buy a Meth House?

Last Updated Jul 14, 2009 5:52 PM EDT

Asbestos. Radon. Lead.

To this list of environmental dangers let's add methamphetamine, a drug which is easy to make at home and leaves a toxic residue.

Today's New York Times contains a story about the dangers of methamphetamine-contaminated houses, which can cause respiratory problems and seizures. Reporters Shaila Dewan and Robbie Brown found a Texas family who thought they were protected from such dangers by the consumer safeguard of seller disclosure. But having the seller certify that their property doesn't contain a certain hazard isn't that useful if the seller lies like a dog. The Texas family was left with the option of suing the seller, who, get this, was in prison for meth possession.

The Realtor expression for this is "there's no cash register at the courthouse." In other words, you don't want to get yourself in a position where you win a legal judgment only to discover than you can't collect on it. I'm going to expand on this concept to share a fundamental lesson with you potential homebuyers out there: seller disclosure means nothing. If your seller has falsified information, then you've got the moral high ground. But you don't want the moral high ground; you want a safe and healthy house. In the case of meth contamination, that could cost anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000, the Times notes.

Missouri Home Inspector Wes Kelley has written up a nice post on signs that meth may have been cooked in a house, and the Missouri state department of natural resources has a downloadable pdf about steps you should take to clean up a contaminated house. In addition, any home inspector who is a member of NACHI, the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors, should be able to tell you more.

One more thing: before you go thinking that you don't have to worry because you don't live in Missouri, or any other My-Name-is-Earl-type state (I'm allowed to say this, I'm proud of having grown up in Arkansas), be aware that meth is a problem all around the country. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's map shows that last year, clandestine meth labs were a problem in 46 of the 50 states.

So don't trust to luck, and don't rely on seller disclosure. Test!

Danger sign image by takomabibelot via flickr, CC 2.0
  • Alison Rogers

    Since graduating from Harvard summa cum laude, Alison Rogers has been a reporter, an editor, a real-estate agent, a Wall Street desk jockey, a columnist, a failed flipper, and a landlady. A member of the National Association of Realtors, she currently sells and rents luxury co-ops in Manhattan for the Chelsea-based firm DG Neary. (If you've got $27,500 a month, the firm has an apartment for you!) Her book, Diary of a Real Estate Rookie, was called "a valuable guide for rookie buyers" by AOL/Walletpop, "beach-read fun" by the New York Observer, and "witty" by Newsweek.