Not Exactly a Non-Issue, But . . .

[Editor’s Note: The views expressed here are solely those of Ross Kaplan, and do not represent Edina Realty, Berkshire Hathaway, or any other entity referenced. If you need legal advice, please consult an attorney.]

“To your knowledge, have any of the following previously existed or do they currently exist on the property? Check “Yes’ or “No'” (Note:  list includes asbestos, lead, mold, and animal/insect/pest infestation).

—Minnesota Seller Disclosure; page 6, line 262.

One of the most common Buyer questions that can arise after a first showing  ” especially for older homes in Minneapolis and the first-ring suburbs ” is whether the tiles in the basement contain asbestos.

My sentiments on the subject: 1) for homes built between roughly between the 1920’s and 1960’s, the surprise would be if the basement tiles weren’t made of asbestos; and 2) that said, unless the owner has had the tiles tested, they’re legitimately allowed to check “no” on their Seller Disclosure.

That’s because under Minnesota law, Sellers don’t have an affirmative duty to educate themselves about their home’s features.**

In plain English, they are supposed to complete the form to the best of their (existing) knowledge.

Which leaves the issue of (very likely) asbestos tiles, and what to do about them.

Three Options

In the vast majority of cases, the short answer is “absolutely nothing.”

Unless the asbestos in the tiles is friable (crumbly) and potentially airborne, they pose little threat.

So, many homeowners simply leave the titles undisturbed, literally for decades.

Alternatively, some owners opt to cover the tiles ” typically with cheap(er) carpeting, vinyl, or linoleum ” for aesthetic rather than health and safety reasons.

Remodeling Considerations

Finally, owners and prospective Buyers who are contemplating removing the tiles in the course of remodeling need to take a few simple, extra steps.

Namely, the contractor(s) doing the work need to seal off the area; create negative pressure in the affected room(s) while the tiles are being removed; and use a mask or other air filter.

There’s also a required permit and fee.

Total additional cost:  call it < $1,500 for an average size basement ” a nominal amount in the context of a home purchase.

Red Pink Herring

Of course, veteran Buyers’ agents (if not their clients) already know all that.

Which is why, as a listing agent (representing Sellers), when I hear Buyers sound an alarm over asbestos basement tiles, my gut reaction is that it’s a negotiating ploy ” and a bad omen for consummating an eventual deal.

P.S.: Ditto for Buyers who raise undue concerns about lead-based paint.

Meanwhile, when a home has an asbestos-wrapped, gravity furnace (also known as an “octopus”), there are two additional considerations: 1) how much expected useful life does the unit have?; and 2) what is the replacement cost?

**That’s not a blanket defense: Sellers must disclose what they know or reasonably should know about their home ” for example, that the basement repeatedly floods.

Lawyers’ term for that is “constructive knowledge.”

About the author

Ross Kaplan has 19+ years experience selling real estate all over the Twin Cities. He is also a 12-time consecutive "Super Real Estate Agent," as determined by Mpls. - St. Paul Magazine and Twin Cities Business Magazine. Prior to becoming a Realtor, Ross was an attorney (corporate law), CPA, and entrepreneur. He holds an economics degree from Stanford.

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