Indoor Air Quality: A Growing Concern for Home Buyers

You found the house you love. You’ve made an offer and it’s been accepted. Now, you’re under contract going through the final evaluations and inspection contingencies prior to closing . Does your purchase agreement reflect your concern about environmental air quality for comfort and good health in the family? The following are some key points to consider and things to watch out for when considering a new purchase. Remember, sellers do not like to spend money on issues for a home they are selling. It’s simple human nature.

First and foremost, the most important resources at this evaluation stage are your agent and home inspector. These professionals can be either incredibly invaluable or quite damaging depending on who you get. Are they thorough and detailed? Do they care about you, the client, or are they just completing a transaction? Do they have a quality team of specialists as a resource when questions arise? If so, these are great signs that they will protect you and be your first line of defense. Oftentimes, environmental concerns can be easily overlooked and become costly mistakes that a home buyer can make from a financial and health perspective when your “team” is not what it could be.

Homes are built to hold or energy and therefore will “hold” bad air quality as well. This means holding environmental issues like mold spores, asbestos fibers, and odors of all types, which may increase in severity over time. Oftentimes, we can’t tell bad air quality with a sense of smell. As an example, residual asbestos fibers or excess mold spores in relation to outdoors can be hard to detect, unless sampled because they are invisible. Conversely, if a seller has painted over pet odor or smoke odor without proper remediation, this can become a costly issue if that sealant breaks over time because we cannot contact the waste (source) that is producing the odor (symptom). Whether seller or buyer, it is critical that we resolve these issues at their source, thereby eliminating symptom and future cost concerns to remediate.

Air quality and environmental concerns in the residential real estate market can include pet odor, smoke odors, mold, asbestos, hazardous animal waste, and uncontrolled or unmitigated water issues. Water issues can include roof or soffit damage, negative drainage, water line leaks, and sewer backups.

Remodeling and asbestos. It is critical that you sample for asbestos in the areas you plan to remove IF you are concerned about environmental air quality. Asbestos can be found in drywall, drywall mud, drywall tape, textures, tiles, popcorn ceilings, mastics, insulations, and ducting systems to name a few. Do not assume that asbestos is not present simply because someone says it isn’t, or the home is a certain age such as, “1984.” For peace of mind for health and financial it could be the best $300 you spend with a sampling professional. The sampling professional is trained and has no conflict of interest. If the sampling comes up positive for asbestos it will give you the opportunity to assess costs, write an inspection objection, and/or negotiate with complete information to protect budgets. If the home was freshly remodeled it is important to get that information to make sure the work was done safely otherwise you could be moving into a beautiful home with high volumes of asbestos fibers present.

Mold and Water Damage. The first rule is water control. No water damage or humidity means no mold. Is there separation at baseboards? How does the caulking look in the bathroom shower and tubs? Water leaks or issues like the water line from the refrigerator? Negative drainage? Hail damage? Past insurance claims? These are all good things to look for or ask the seller regarding previous damages. Mold air sampling by a professional is also a quality and quantifiable method to identify issues. As an example, when remediating mold and asbestos it is critical that negative air containment is achieved with a HEPA air scrubber so all airborne particulate goes into the air scrubber instead of dispersing throughout the house. Without this protocol, you could be buying a beautiful house with terrible air quality and not even know it. No different than radon concerns.

Pet and Smoke Odor. The most common technique for these issues is to simply seal or paint over the contaminated area or introducing an alternative fragrance into the property. Are the windows always open? Air fresheners of any sort present? Is there new carpet or paint? Pets on the disclosure forms? These are all signs to ask more questions about why these things are present or to get a specialist in to evaluate further. The problem with painting or fragrances is these techniques are temporary, cost-effective fixes to enable the sale of the property without having to discount for these issues. If a sealant fails it is very challenging to resolve because we cannot contact the source and are oftentimes forced to remove the contaminated flooring or walls, which can be expensive in multiple areas, including being forced to discount for the issue when you eventually sell the property.

These issues and other environmental concerns are important because every human being has a different immune system. Young or elderly can be more susceptible just as pregnancy or certain illnesses and medications can compromise the immune system or heighten our sense of smell. Health issues from bad air quality are normally manifested over time and daily exposure because we spend approximately 60% our time inside the home which can slowly beat down the immune system. At that moment we then have two issues, compromised health and environmental air quality issues causing it.

If you want good environmental air quality or are concerned about it, please do your homework prior to the inspection objection deadline and closing because legitimate issues can be put on the inspection objection, which can become a disclosure issue for the seller, thereby giving you a better negotiating position in a legitimate way while protecting your family and finances.

Bob Hamilton manages various businesses that handle environmental remediation for air and water quality issues. Bob is available for free phone consults. He can be reached by email at, or by phone at (612) 354-4498. Learn more about his businesses at StinkInc.Avir Environmental, Inc.

Ten Questions, with Jill Ties

Integrity, dignity, and a big dose of positivity

Jill Ties has been in the banking industry for all of her professional life. While successfully maintaining a positive work-life balance, she has built a reputation as an authentic and influential leader. Starting as a teller in college she quickly moved up the ranks and now serves as senior vice president in the wholesale/retail mortgage division at U.S. Bank Home Mortgage. However, her career is not all that defines her. She is a proud mother and has a heart for her community. This month, I had the opportunity to chat with Jill about her career and personal life for our series Ten Questions.

You’ve been with US Bank for a long time. How do you explain your longevity?

I have been with U.S. Bank for 32 years. I attribute the longevity to having the ability to grow within various divisions, provide a great environment for work/family balance, and having core values that align with the core values of our company. Our company is dedicated towards community and volunteerism which is extremely important.

You have been successful in a male-dominated industry. How has that happened?

It is all dependent on clear communication. Priorities and goals can vary among employees whether it is male or female. I have chosen a path that looks to add value via providing a different perspective by making sure we effectively communicate to all our staff and clients.

Have you ever turned down a client and what were the circumstances?

Communicating turn-downs to clients is a daily part of our business. We have clear criteria for credit which leaves little room for deviation. The best way to handle it is to always treat people with respect when communicating an unfavorable outcome. Attempt to provide alternatives to improve their circumstances so they can reach their business objectives. Some of our best clients have come back after taking specific feedback, put in the work to change the circumstances, and have become long-term producing clients.

How has failure made a positive difference in your life?

Maybe because my outlook on life is always ‘glass half full’ that I don’t view anything as a failure. I look at situations as if they always had positive aspects and tend to focus on those as a launch to what lies ahead. I have experienced some difficult work situations with leaders. Those situations have taught me that the positive attribute is that when I am in that leadership position I will not handle in that manner. Work as hard as possible towards a positive outcome. It is important to understand that it is still a business. There have been times in my career that I have advanced, not as much due to how our business success or failure was realized, but rather the business decorum I demonstrated in a tough situation.

If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out in your industry, what would it be?

Put in the work. Your reputation is everything…and be humble. There is no magic formula. Always learn as many aspects of your business as possible because in many cases we are continually teaching. Our industry is highly regulated. It is not the job of the borrower to understand the implications of those challenges but resides with us to set the proper expectations. As you achieve success always show gratitude to those that helped you realize your goals. More than anything else your business reputation is everything. That is the only thing you are 100% in control of and the choices you make impact how others perceive your reputation.

To what do you attribute your success?

Positive attitude, hard work, gratitude and never having a sense of entitlement. No one owes us anything in our careers so don’t try to keep score. Show gratitude always and lead with grace, meaning that it is always more important to recognize team success as being paramount.

What are you most proud of?

My three kids…of course! As we all get older you see they actually did listen to some of the advice. This means not living a hypocritical lifestyle. If you tell your kids to be healthy, exercise, eat right, work hard, understand God’s grace, and be gracious you had better be setting the bar yourself. The positive outcome to that is you get to have more meaningful conversations as they become adults.

What have you read that I should read?

The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip and Dan Heath.

What is your spiritual practice?

Daily devotional, church, and of course those times during the day when you just ask for God’s strength. I also find running spiritual in a more abstract way. It is a time that I dedicate to clear my head and organize my thoughts/tasks for the day.

What keeps you awake at night?

I wish I could say it is more about hitting production numbers but honestly, it is more about the team that I lead. When you are at a company for as long as I have, teams instill a lot of trust in your ability to lead. The responsibility comes with the territory but there are also disappointments delivered to the team. If I did not take those disappointments to heart I would be less human. I also worry about my kids as any parent would, but I also am lucky to have a strong faith that allows me to let go of situations that I cannot control.

What would someone who doesn’t like you say about you?

She can be tough and at times sees things very black and white.

Where have you been that I should visit?

Venice, Italy. It’s beautiful and historic.

Jill Ties is a graduate of Augsburg College in Minneapolis and is Senior Vice President in the Wholesale/Retail Mortgage Division at US Bank Home Mortgage. She’s been with US Bank for over 32 years and also serves as director of Homeward Bound FoundationJill lives in Spring Park and has three adult children.

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Why Staging Sells

Staging Matters

At some point in your life, there is a very good probability you will be selling your home. Zillow’s question and answer section will tell you that the average person sells their home every 7-12 years. This means that more than likely, you will need this advice at some point in your life.

As the owners of JS Design Studios, we could be accused of being bias in our opinion that staging is a critical component of selling you home. We could tell you experience has done nothing but validate our position that staging will help you sell your house for top dollar and as fast as possible. We could tell you about the clients who have had their homes on the market for months without any success. Once they made some cost-effective improvements and had their homes staged, they sold within 24 hours with multiple bids. But don’t take our word for it…or even the glowing feedback from numerous satisfied clients. That is simply our experience, and again, we are a staging company so we are naturally bias.

Let us quickly look at a few facts from the National Association of Realtors (NAR). During a recent survey, the NAR found that 81% of all buyers find it easier to visualize a staged home, 45% said staging had positive impact on the value of a properly decorated home, and nearly a third (28%) of buyers are more willing to overlook property faults if the home is staged professionally. If you are not already convinced, 12% of real-estate agents believe proper staging increases the dollar value of the home at least 11%-20%! That means if your home is worth $300,000 today, properly staged you could get an additional $33,000-$60,000 – just by professionally staging your home. Depending on your state, you nearly missed those tax-free dollars!

While this is exciting news and helps you realize the importance of staging, it does not practically help. JS Design Studios is passionate about educating and providing solutions for our clients. We offer everything from working with existing furniture and accessory packages to add pops of color, all the way to complete home staging with furniture rental. We also enjoy working with our clients to provide “tips and tricks” to enhance your home.

One way we educate potential home sellers is through community classes we hold with area realtors. However, most of the time we will come out to your home to consult with you on an individual basis. Our goal is to take the stress out of staging and selling your home. During the consultation, we will do a walkthrough with you of your home and gather information. We will then go back and write up a detailed, yet prioritized and simplistic report that goes room by room for you to follow. Think of it as a roadmap to successful selling. Many times, there will be recommendations such as decluttering your home, assisting in paint color choices, and moving or removing select pieces of furniture. In some cases, there may be minor home improvement tasks we suggest such as replacing flooring or updating trim and bathroom updates. We provide cost effective solutions based on our experience as well as trusted contractor recommendations for each of these suggestions. If you are the DIY kind of person, we also have options for tried and proven enhancements you can utilize – and recommendations on which ones to steer clear from…just do not ask how we know they do not work.

Selling a home can be a lonely and stressful process if you do not partner with professionals. Leveraging the knowledge and experience of your realtor and stager can take the stress out of selling, clarify priorities, and help you avoid the pitfalls of putting money in areas that do not maximize your investment.

We are Johanna and Tim Steffensmeier, owners of JS Design Studios. We specialize in residential design and staging solutions. Our staging offerings range from full home furniture rental, to working with existing furniture. We also write recommendation reports for clients preparing their homes to sell with tips and tricks. On the design side, we perform a wide variety of projects. Something as simple as assisting in paint color selection, to structural changes and completely different layouts. We can also provide 3D renderings of the space.

Johanna has been involved with interior design and staging for over 10 years. Tim brings his expertise in business management, as well as construction experience. We have a passion for creating beautiful spaces and take a “seek first to understand” approach when dealing with all clients to determine which solution best suits their needs. Tim and Johanna can be reached at

Caulk the toilet base? Yes!

Toilets are a divisive topic, but today I’ll be setting the record straight once and for all on three important toilet topics. First, the toilet paper roll: overhand or underhand? There’s only one right answer, of course, and it’s overhand. There’s no point in even discussing this one.

Toilet seat: up or down? Wrong question! It’s not about the seat. It’s about the lid. The lid is there for a reason. Put it down. Ladies, you’re guilty of this too. I’ve been in countless female-only homes where I found the lid up at every toilet. I document every one of them in my toilet lid journal.

And now, onto the most divisive topic. Unlike the first two, this one is real, and it actually gets a fair amount of discussion. Should toilets be caulked at the floor? The answer is yes.

Toilets should be caulked at the floor

As standard procedure for every home inspection that I perform, I check the toilets to make sure they’re properly anchored to the floor. Almost every time I find a toilet that’s loose, I also find missing caulk at the base of the toilet. The two go hand-in-hand.

When I find a loose toilet, I tell my client to properly secure the toilet to the floor and to caulk around the base of the toilet, but I frequently get clients that tell me they’ve heard otherwise.

The thought process behind not caulking a toilet to the floor is that if the toilet leaks at the floor, you’ll quickly find out about the leak as long as the toilet isn’t caulked. If it is caulked, the thinking is that if the toilet flange leaks, you’ll end up trapping water between the toilet base and the floor in an area that you can’t access.

In reality, toilets rarely leak onto the floor. More often, they leak through the floor around the flange. I’ve found plenty of toilets that leak down into the basement, but very few that leak onto the bathroom floor.

Why caulked?

There are two great reasons to caulk a toilet to the floor:

  • Caulk prevents a fouling area. If mop water, bathtub water, or a less pleasant “bathroom liquid” gets underneath the toilet, there is no way to clean it up. Caulking around the base of the toilet will prevent this from happening.
  • Caulk helps to keep the toilet secured to the floor. The bolts are really supposed to keep the toilet secure, but caulk helps. As I mentioned before, toilets that are caulked at the floor are rarely loose. Caulk does such a good job of keeping toilets secured to the floor that you could probably rely on caulk alone to keep a toilet secured… not that I would try this.

Besides these two great reasons, it’s also a code requirement. The Minnesota State Plumbing Code says, under section 402.2, “Where a fixture comes in contact with the wall or floor, the joint between the fixture and the wall or floor shall be made watertight.” For areas of the country where the IRC has been adopted, you’ll find nearly identical language under section P2705.1.3: “Where fixtures come in contact with walls and floors, the contact area shall be watertight.”

Some people prefer to caulk all around the toilet and leave about a one-inch gap in the caulk at the back of the toilet to allow water to escape out in the event of a leak.  It’s already tough enough to caulk behind a toilet, so if this is what you want to do, God bless. Just don’t go crazy with the caulk.

Reuben Saltzman is a second generation home inspector with a passion for his work. He grew up remodeling homes and learning about carpentry since he was old enough to hold a hammer. Reuben has worked for Structure Tech Home Inspections since 1997, and is now co-owner and President of the company. Reuben lives in Maple Grove, Minnesota with his wife and two children. Follow Reuben on Facebook. Click here to Subscribe to Reuben’s Home Inspection Blog.