Thinking about buying a straw bale house with mold on the inside walls.

Dear Straw Bale Experts,

I have been trying to buy a straw bale house in my area (Reno, Nevada) for a couple of years now. I tried everything under the sun to procure a loan, but to no avail.
Meanwhile it's been sitting in the desert vacant, and neglected for a couple of year (at least) now. At some point this winter a pipe froze and the house got flooded. Well, I finally have found some money, and wanted to revisit the possibility of buying this property.
What I found almost made me cry. The inside of the house was moldy! The walls (not all of them) have black mold about 15" from the floor. The concrete floors have some type of whitish film on them also. The air quality was so bad that I couldn't stop coughing, and I'm a healthy person.
Do you folks think that this house would be an unreasonable risk to continue to purchase?
In addition, the deferred maintenance list continues to grow! The outside plaster is cracking and missing in places. It's in the high desert, and we're in the middle of a drought, so excessive moisture hasn't been too much of an issue.

I would appreciate any insight or opinions that your community can provide.

Thank you so much.

Views: 93

Comment by Ryan Fletcher on March 19, 2014 at 4:21am


Comment by Pamela Love on March 19, 2014 at 8:33am

Hey Ryan,

Thanks for the response.  I talked to the seller, and he said that the mold was "just cosmetic."  He also said that they were having it professionally removed, and certified. 

Would you still run?

Comment by Ryan Fletcher on March 19, 2014 at 8:51am

There is a caveat with mold removal companies (I am an environmental consultant and work with this sort of thing often).  They can only certify that they have removed all "visual" mold.  The key word they will use is visual to cover any liability on their end.  Mold spores are present in ALL strawbale buildings (and most other buildings for that matter), but it takes the right conditions for them to do anything (moisture and heat).  The moisture from the flood has obviously set off the spores in this situation.

The seller would obviously like you to believe that it is only cosmetic (the concrete is only cosmetic mold because mold spores cannot survive inside of the concrete itself), but if its on the outside of the walls towards the bottom of the wall, then it is also inside the walls towards the bottom portion of the walls as well.

The render falling off the outside of the building is also a cause for concern (you may be able to inspect the condition of the actual bales through these holes to gain a better understanding of the conditions inside the walls themselves).  Strawbale buildings require up-keep (i.e., fixing cracks etc) in order to stop that from happening.  The render may also have been improperly installed (i.e., not by a professional).

With the limited information you have given, there are too many flags for me to proceed on this one for sure.  Feel free to provide more information if you feel that something is missing.

Remember, try as best as possible to keep your emotions out of such a large purchase and consider it like an investment.  Last thing you want is to sink a bunch of money into this place and then find out you have to replace the two bottom courses of bales (not impossible, but a massive massive job).

Comment by Ryan Fletcher on March 19, 2014 at 8:52am

Photos would also be useful.

Comment by Pamela Love on March 19, 2014 at 9:01am

Wow.  Thanks so much for taking the time.

My decision will probably be forced beyond my control anyway as the procurement of a loan from Wells Fargo isn't looking too positive.  I haven't received a definitive "no" yet, however

It's funny, but bankers seem to run from creative architecture almost more than they do from bad credit!

Comment by Ryan Fletcher on March 19, 2014 at 11:21am

Ya, I hear you folks have a hard time with stuff like financing and insurance.  Here in Canada, it seems to be much easier and a slightly different system all together.  We just have a third party appraiser give the house a market value and the banks are happy with that - doesnt seem to matter construction style too much - more re-sale value.

Comment by MK Kniskern on March 21, 2014 at 5:15am

I second the "Run!" Home ownership is expensive enough that you don't want to buy a problem house unless you REALLY know what you're getting into. I cannot believe the straw bales stayed dry inside flooded walls. If you are going to invest that much time & money into a strawbale home, build new. Don't buy someone else's albatross!

Comment by Pamela Love on March 21, 2014 at 8:42am

You guys have been so great.  Thank you SO MUCH for contributing to my understanding of what I might be getting myself into.

One thing to consider: I happened to have taken a drive out to this property again (after trying, and failing one year ago) to look at the place again.  I was encouraged by a realtor friend that thought I needed to own this place.  So, I just "happened" to visually witness the mold on the walls and floors from the flood. 

Once the clean-up crew gets done with the clean up job, one would probably never know that the place had this problem.  If the sellers didn't disclose that the problem existed, probably no one would ever know. 

So, just sort of playing devil's advocate - how many times in life do we get to know the "real" history of anything: (houses, people, cars, etc.) 

Guess that's apropos of nothing, but in this case I DO know.  For that, and the loan procurement problem, I will probably never own 900 Serenity Place.

Comment by Ryan Fletcher on March 21, 2014 at 8:50am

Well, non-disclosure is a legal issue in real estate sales.  There have been many a people who have gotten away with allot and an equal amount of people that get caught trying to hid things.. 

Too bad, its a cute place.


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