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My House Is Literally 'Making Me Sick' -- What Can I Do?

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sick-couple ((c) Troels Graugaard)

At realtor.com, we love to hear from our readers, take their thorniest questions about home buying, selling, and owning, and then tap into our deep pool of industry experts for definitive answers. It's fun and informative!

One of you recently emailed us the following frequently asked question:

Q: I have been living in my townhouse less than one year and have recently found out that I have a high level of mold in the house. I had the property inspected by a professional building inspector before purchase and there was no indication of this problem on his report.

The house is literally "making me sick" and I have been advised (by doctors) to move out. My questions are:

How can I put this home up for sale?

How much can I expect to pay to have the mold removed?

Should I pursue litigation with an attorney to recover my losses?

A: This is unquestionably an alarming situation to be in. But before you make any decisions regarding litigation, make sure to get a second opinion on the mold. Bring in a third home inspector -- yes, a third -- and make sure you know exactly how much mold you have and where it's originating.

But keep this in mind: The fact that your initial home inspection didn't indicate mold isn't necessarily indicative of an unreliable home inspector. Inspectors are trained to look for conditions surrounding mold, but not mold itself, says Kevin Minto, president of Signet Home Inspections in Grass Valley, CA.

A routine inspection might indicate that a home has the proper conditions for mold growth such as waterlogged areas or spots with high cellulose content.

And, if mold was found, the inspector should have referred you to a qualified mold professional for assessment and remediation options. Bottom line: If the mold isn't presenting visually, your inspector might miss it. But that also means it's probably not a serious mold problem.

How to determine who -- or what -- is to blame

Unfortunately, there's no good way to determine if the mold was present before purchasing your home -- meaning litigation is unlikely to be a fruitful avenue. Plus, in the right conditions, mold takes just 48 hours to propagate.

"What is to say this mold infestation didn't occur after the home inspection was completed?" Minto asks.

And another caveat to keep in mind: Even if the problem is as old as the house, it simply might not have affected the previous homeowners.

" All homes have mold to some degree," Minto says. "Acceptable levels of mold are not the same for everyone as some people are far more sensitive than others."

Unless you can uncover direct evidence the previous homeowners knowledgeably hid the mold problem, there's not much you can do.

Since you live in a townhome, your neighbors may offer some clues. They may also be suffering -- or even causing the mold.

Neighbors who cook with a lot of steam and don't vent their kitchen properly can add significant moisture to the home, according to Larry Stamp, owner of Cameo Home Inspection Services in Olympia, WA.

Options are 'limited'

We also recommend getting a second opinion from another doctor.

"You have to kind of be a little skeptical of the diagnosis as well," says Stamp, who's also a former nurse. "Mold illness is a very difficult thing to diagnose."

But assuming you do have mold -- and it is making you sick -- your options are still, unfortunately, limited: Anything you do will require removing the mold, which can vary widely in cost depending on your location and the extremity of the infestation. You might be able to get away with simply cleaning the area, which can cost under $200.

But if it's traced to a fundamental problem in your roof or foundation, removal costs can quickly climb into the thousands of dollars.

Even if you want to sell the house, you'll be forced to remove the mold beforehand -- or risk selling at a loss.

But there is some (sort of) good news.

"Keep in mind that everyone is not equally sensitive to mold and the problem may not be as bad as perceived," Minto says.

Got a searing real estate question? Send it to us at advice@realtor.com.