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Buying a Home After Cancer – Radon and the Unknown

As many of you have heard, the Nashville real estate market is not for the faint of heart right now. This is the story of one family and our recent journey navigating the home buying process that began with all of the cards stacked against us. We were starting in the most competitive price range, under the $250K mark and we had to overcome the market itself – constant bidding wars, frenzied negotiations, so-so school systems, and property with a median home age of 1974. To top it off, both husband and wife were also self employed, 1st time home buyers, and needed to run their business out of their soon to be home. This was going to be tough. When we started, I was working to help a friend; as he, his wife and son looked forward to the opportunities of home ownership. If someone could make this impossible scenario happen, I could.

Radon – What You Don’t Know CAN Hurt You

When we started, I understood the family had concerns about environmental hazards – Mold, Lead, Asbestos, and Radon. I thought most of these concerns came from living under less than ideal conditions with landlord problems in an older rental home near the Nations of Nashville. This made perfect sense to me. I have terrible allergies too and indoor air quality is a big deal. I could understand why mold at their current home was causing them a lot of irritation and frustration. This appeared to be a simple, yet tough obstacle to overcome because we were looking at properties that all had the potential for these issues. After 3 months of searching, we had seen over 20 homes, all with some sort of non-negotiable for the family – sliding foundations, damp basements, built before 1978, HOA restrictions, older infrastructure, railroads and busy streets. We were also searching in the dead of winter, when inventory is at it’s lowest. Everyone wants to hibernate, and nothing really looks charming and ready to sell unless it is prepped just right for the holidays. Needless to say, I think everyone was exhausted from the search.

But one day, we finally found a home! When we walked in, I even knew the daughter of the Sellers (her picture was out). And they were a family friend of one of my best friends. Yes! We could at least start negotiations on the right foot with an offer leveraged by a personal connection. And we won out the bidding war after many phone calls with the listing agent, who was also their uncle. We were under contract.

But then… it all came crashing down. We were hit with a load of bricks after their inspection because the Radon level came back at a level 12. (Note: Level 4 is extremely dangerous, and I have never seen a level 12. Neither had the inspector.) For any of you wanting to know about the hazards of Radon, it is the 2nd largest cause of lung cancer after smoking. Of course my buyers wanted out of their contract. I suggested we ask the Seller’s to remediate it, thinking problem solved.

But then my buyers stopped returning my phone calls. I was at a loss. What was this all about? I just wanted the Radon gone, for everyone. To me:

No Radon = No Cancer = Problem Solved

I later found out, my buyers both had a history of cancer in their families. Something freshly painful in everyone’s mind as they almost lost his mom just a couple of years prior to a brain tumor. They probably were thinking, “Is she a jerk or what? How could she suggest remediation? We want nothing to do with it.”  I hadn’t been privy to these past difficult experiences and didn’t even fully understand their recent survival story until much much later after the closing of their current home. It was there plain as day, when I received a music CD from his mom, and was reading about the whole story in the credits. The journey with all of it’s turmoil just made me cry. Thank goodness she found it in time. Thank goodness we did the inspection.

Is Your Nashville Home Causing You Cancer?


Radon Level Map of US - Tennessee

The whole process got me thinking about priorities. Cancer is and always has been life changing for those who experience it’s tumultuous effects. What about my friends’ family? They had been living in the subject home for almost 20 years. What if they could have cancer? As you can imagine, nothing I said in those days after the report was well received by either party. The sellers were angry we wasted everyone’s time over an already stressful holiday, and then, coming in telling them their home put them at risk for cancer just added insult to injury.

There were also so many other ways the issue came up in the weeks to follow. I had a sorority sister ask on Facebook if she should consider Radon testing for an out of state purchase. Most people don’t know enough about it to make it a priority. But I suggested she at least test and know before buying, when the seller’s can actually do something about it, or she could decide best how to proceed.

That’s also the troubling thing about many of these issues. Most people don’t test for unknown problems with their homes until they decide to move. And nobody likes fear mongering, so bringing it up in advance is a difficult and delicate task to overcome. I was visiting my mom and telling her about the Radon issue and she even raised her brow in concern – they had never tested for Radon. Older homes in Middle Tennessee are prime Radon candidates. Should she get it tested? And I even thought about my cousin who took care of us as children and had died from cancer. Did her home have Radon? The Radon cloud of doom continued for at least another month.

I always to suggest testing, especially if it is a concern, whether you currently own or are planning to buy. I put a lot of faith in the ole’ saying –

“Better Safe Than Sorry”

Especially as it pertains to due diligence. With cancer, a couple of hundred dollars could save your life. I wish I had known when working with my buyer’s that this was so important to them and their family so that I could better communicate testing and remediation options and help them navigate their fears versus the facts. I wish more people would take the necessary steps to protect themselves and their loved ones. I would bet many survivors would agree that it is better to know than face the unknown.

With this story, I ask, do you know of someone this might effect? If so, please share and tell them. If you are purchasing or selling in the Nashville area, and want a realtor who cares about these issues, please get in touch. I would love the opportunity to hear more of your stories overcoming the many life challenges as they can relate to your home. Helping people live life to the fullest, while “Building a Beautiful South” is something I care deeply about. And I hope this story can serve as a way to get more people informed about issues that relate to their real estate, health and lives.