Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Neighborhood Environmental Reports: The Next Frontier

With all the emphasis on ensuring that the homes they wish to purchase offer clean potable water, low levels of radon, and mold-free spaces , buyers have paid somewhat less attention to the areas immediately beyond the boundaries of their new address.

Yet the presence of nearby environmental hazards can pose health threats that are equal or greater than those to be found within a home's four walls.

In the past, it required hours and hours of painstaking research to track down potential issues that might adversely impact a home's air and water. The good news for buyers and sellers alike is that it's now possible to obtain a comprehensive "home health report" from home inspectors and real estate agents who have been certified by Environmental Data Resources (EDR) to provide Neighborhood Environmental Reports, each customized to a specific property.

Each Neighborhood Environmental Report segregates the known current or past environmental issues into two categories: those within a radius of 300 feet (approximately six acres) of a property, and those beyond that circle, up to a distance of about one mile away. It includes information about the location and status of leaking oil storage tanks, landfills, hazardous waste sites, EPA priority cleanup sites, and areas of accidential toxic contamination from fuel spills or industrial leakage.

In many cases, the reports reveal that previous problem sites have been satisfactorily resolved and do not pose a present danger. In other cases, it may be possible to implement precautions or other protective measures to mitigate any risks.

But the important thing is that the EDR "NERs" arm a consumer with the data she needs to make an informed choice about whether to purchase a particular property.

As a recently certified EDR provider, I can now offer Neighborhood Environmental Reports to real estate agents, buyers, sellers, and anyone else who would like to have this information about their property. Please contact me if you're interested.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Advice for Choosing a Home When You're SAD

I was out showing homes this morning, almost giddy to be able to spend time driving around in the unrelenting streams of sunlight. I'm one of those people who really suffer during the New England winters, and I've realized that my moods are affected less by the cold temperatures than by the dreary unending grayness that tends to set in around this time in February.

My client and I looked at a selection of smallish homes in Acton, Harvard and Stow. While all of the homes were modestly priced (for this area), and none of them could be described as "fancy," there were a few that made us feel like whistling and clicking our heels, and a few that made us want to scamper out the door as quickly as we possibly could.

What was the difference? In a word, "light." And for people like me who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, the abundance or scarcity of life-sustaining light in a house may outweigh other salient characteristics when it comes to deciding whether that's the place you'll want to call "home."

We noticed that it wasn't just the size of the windows that made the difference. Equally important was the way in which each house was sited, and in what direction it faced. Homes that are shrouded by trees may reap some cooling benefits during the summer, but in winter, these places can bring you down even on a bright day.

So my advice to buyers who are light-sensitive is to be sure that you visit a home during both morning and afternoon hours before you make an offer. For example, kitchens that are bathed in morning sun may become dungeon-like after 3pm. There are always things you can do to compensate, of course (such as adding mirrors or skylights or painting dark woodwork with lighter-hued colors), but take the time to investigate before you purchase, so you won't find yourself in a funk when February comes next year.