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Radon testing is still necessary in buying and selling real estate

By: Hank Lerner, Esq. on in

Radon is the cause of about 20,000 lung-cancer deaths in the country each year, and the second-leading cause of lung cancer in Pennsylvania.

According to Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), a home in the Center Valley area of Lehigh County recently tested at a radon level of 3,715 picocuries per liter (pCi/L), the highest known test result in Pennsylvania. That’s over 900 times the level at which the Environmental Protection Agency recommends remediation (4 pCi/L). Other test results in the area have been well over 1000 pCi/L, though local inspectors and mitigation professionals say they don’t normally see these sorts of crazy-high readings in that area.

It’s just another reminder about why Realtors® shouldn’t take any shortcuts when working through the inspection contingencies of the Agreement of Sale. Let’s review a few things that could keep agents out of trouble on both sides of the transaction.

  • Don’t minimize the importance of radon. Have you ever known an agent to say something like, “A lot of houses in this neighborhood have radon systems, so unless you need help paying for it, or you’re willing to let it hold up the deal, just budget for a system and remediate after you move in.” This might sound rational at the time, but the buyer who later receives a high test result probably won’t remember anything more than “My agent told me to not bother testing.”
  • Initials are your friend. Prior versions of the Agreement had checkboxes for buyers to signify when they waived or elected inspections. More recent versions contain initial lines instead. Nothing can completely inoculate brokers and agents against possible lawsuits, but initials make it that much harder for a buyer to say, “I didn’t know I was waiving that inspection” or “Someone else must have made that mark.”
  • Make sure sellers understand their role. Homeowners will likely get some sort of guidance for facilitating a test, such as don’t leave doors and windows open, don’t use attic fans, etc. As a listing broker, be sure sellers understand the importance of following those instructions. If the seller does something to affect the quality of the test, it could cause serious problems later on.
  • Remember the Seller Disclosure. Sellers are asked to disclose their knowledge of prior tests and their results. This could include tests by other potential buyers. When Buyer #2 sues the Seller for not disclosing a high test result from Buyer #1, a court probably won’t react kindly when the Seller says, “I chose to not get the report so I wouldn’t have to disclose anything about it.”

Just Do It

Pennsylvania is currently under an “Order of the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health Requiring Universal Face Coverings.” This rule clearly applies to showings – that’s not really up for discussion. Wear your mask.

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Radon Problems? Make Sure Your Inspector Is Properly Licensed

The Pennsylvania Radon Certification Act requires that only specially certified radon testers and mitigators can be used for this purpose. However, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection reports there have been several instances where a non-certified individual performed these services under the guise of being certified and actually raised the radon levels in the home, in addition to causing other issues in the home.

 Read More
Comments (5)


  • Bette McTamney   December 15, 2014 at 7:42 am

    Well said Hank! My last 8 sales have ALL had radon!

    Reply to Bette McTamney
  • Douglas K. Oakley   December 15, 2014 at 8:06 am

    Necessary is defined,in short ,as”absolutely needed:REQUIRED”.Your term is erroneous and should state-“suggested”. Of course, this is my personal opinion and i do not have professional standing on this issue.We don’t need to instill fear but guide people down the paths for their own decision making without prejudice.Thank you.

    Reply to Douglas K. Oakley
  • Kim Skumanick   December 15, 2014 at 9:20 am

    If the home you’re selling has a radon mitigation system in place, don’t assume it is functioning. My last house sale had a system that needed repair after the test results came back with double digits.

    Reply to Kim Skumanick
  • Matthew Steger   December 15, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    Every home that contacts the ground will have some level of radon. As Kim states above, just because a home has a remediation system installed, even if it is running, don’t assume the home’s radon levels are low. I’ve personally tested many homes in 15 years that had running systems only to find high radon levels. I’ve also debunked the myth that city homes don’t have radon, or new homes don’t have radon, or concrete slab on grade homes don’t have radon. I’ve heard them all. I’ve tested just about every type, age, and style of home, and found high AND low levels in each one. The only way to know is to test. Since PA requires that all professionals who test or remediate for radon must be PA DEP licensed. Before hiring anyone to perform testing or remediation, confirm that the individual is PA DEP licensed. Those of us who are PA DEP licensed are each given a unique PA DEP license number, a PA DEP-issued ID badge (w/ photo, name, and ID #), and we are listed as being certified for testing or remediaton on the PA DEP website.

    Also, prior to the radon test starting, the radon testing professional should contact the seller/occupant to review the PA DEP radon test protocols. These protocols begin BEFORE the test begins so that is why the home must be ready for the radon test well before the professional arrives to perform the radon test. “Closed House Conditions” is one of the requirements, but there are others, such as fireplace flue dampers closed, no window/wall mounted A/C units operating, etc. The seller being prepared before the radon test begins allows the radon test to be performed properly to PA DEP protocols and allows the testing professional to provide the test results to his client in a timely manner.

    Reply to Matthew Steger
  • Allen Fields   April 7, 2018 at 8:35 pm

    Its encouraging to see a few agents who apparently are being “proactive” in addressing radon encountered in a real estate transaction. The agent who handled the sale of my home did NOT recommend we get the home tested prior to getting a contract. (Perhaps for fear it might come back “high” and we/she would have to disclose it?) Turns out a prospective buyer had a test done and it was “slightly elevated” (4.3). Anyone familiar with radon knows that it can always be safely and cost effectively “fixed” Well, you couldn’t tell that to our buyer! They “freaked” and walked away from the transaction! We quickly had a certified contractor “fix” it and another couple later bought it, but not before someone with “good money interested in our house” got “spooked”. The worst part was it was during a downturn in the economy and our house sat on the market for another SIX months! Talk about “making TWO house payments”! I was on the edge of my seat watching our bank account plummet and was about to lose my mind!

    MY advice…….Get your home “tested” as soon as you plan to put it on the market! If it comes back “high”, just FIX it and get it behind you! There is no reason to put your head in the sand and pretend it might “go away”. You give the buyer a LOT of “control” if you allow “them” to be the one who handles the testing! If it comes back “low”, your certified tester will provide you with a “certified report” that you can make available to the buyer. NOTE: If you are in a state that doesn’t require “licensing” for radon services, be SURE to use someone who is “NRPP certified” to conduct radon testing according to EPA protocols and can provide documentation of that fact. I had a friend whose buyer had a non-certified home inspector do the test and not knowing the proper testing guidelines deployed it right after the completion of his home inspection when it was “raining cats and dogs” outside! His levels also came back slightly elevated like mine and he was forced to put in a system in order to meet the previously agreed upon closing date. Most buyers will object to a “re-test” because they think you are trying to get OUT of doing anything. But I would argue that if you have time, you could ask if “their guy” was certified? And if not, counter that you’d like a test done by someone who WAS! Best of luck!

    Reply to Allen Fields

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