From the NY Times:
ON top of the obvious hurdles to getting a home sale finalized these days, some brokers say hidden environmental issues are more often showing up at the last minute: a new inspection turns up an underground oil tank no one knew was there; air quality monitoring suggests mold is growing behind basement wallboards; or perhaps the radon levels are high.
“Lately many of our transactions have been harder to make due to things you can’t see with the naked eye,” said Karen Eastman Bigos, a broker with the Towne Realty Group in Short Hills.
The reason stems in part from the rigors of a market in which every dollar of value is crucial to buyers. To meet their expectations, their lawyers are more demanding about having every possible test done to uncover hidden liabilities, she and other brokers said. (Lawyer reviews of contracts are required before any house closing in New Jersey.)
At the same time, there is less public money available for environmental cleanup. The state’s program to assist homeowners with the cost of oil tank removal ran out of money in May. New applications are still being taken, the state Department of Environmental Protection announced, but there is a backlog, and no new money was allocated this year.
Ms. Bigos said her agency had had a spate of recent issues with abandoned oil and gasoline tanks.
In some cases, “we have all the paperwork, the tank was closed and filled with sand by a licensed company, all by permit, all with inspections,” she said, “but lawyers want the tanks out of the ground anyway.”
In others, a previously undiscovered oil tank — sometimes a second one — has turned up on a corner of a lot where inspectors using metal detectors didn’t look before, Ms. Bigos said.
According to several tank removal specialists, standard practice used to be a scan encompassing only the area within 20 feet of a house. But in older communities with mansions set on huge lots — Llewellyn Park in West Orange, for instance — old gasoline tanks are often found buried near garages, said Christopher M. Tiso, the president of ATS Environmental in Sparta.
Lawyers today usually urge buyers to insist that an oil tank be retested or removed — even if it has been properly certified as having been shut down cleanly. Ms. Bigos estimated that as many as 25 percent of “properly” abandoned tanks were discovered to have ground leaks when retested at the behest of buyers. Mr. Tiso said he believed it was more like 35 percent.
Mr. Tiso, whose company also works on septic-tank issues, says that even when a property is being sold as-is, or is a short sale or foreclosure listing, he recommends a full inspection. “If the property is owned by the bank, and there’s a problem that could wind up being really expensive to fix,” he said, “then it’s on the record that it is the bank’s responsibility.”