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Reuben Saltzman

I’m not saying they cheated, but this doesn’t look good.

I don’t know how it happened, and I’m not accusing anyone of intentionally doing something that’s completely despicable, but it looks like someone intentionally tampered with a radon test.

I recently inspected a home that was being flipped for some young first-time home buyers.  The home had a newly finished basement, and the young couple planned to use one of the basement bedrooms as their master bedroom, so they hired me to do a radon test at the same time.  For the record, radon causes lung cancer.

The radon test was high, so the buyers asked the home flipper to install a radon mitigation  system.  Here’s where it starts to get interesting.

Red Flag #1

The flipper refused, and said they wanted to have the radon re-tested.  Why?  I don’t know.  There was absolutely no legitimate reason to have the radon re-tested.  We followed EPA protocol for the radon test, using a continuous electronic monitor that we send in for calibration annually.

Red Flag #2

The flipper wanted to have ‘their own guy’ perform a radon test, using the charcoal canister method.  Why would someone prefer to use an older method of testing?  I don’t know.  The electronic monitor gives an hour-by-hour breakdown of the radon levels in the home; the charcoal canister method just gives the final number.   It’s far easier to tamper with a charcoal canister than an electronic test.

Red Flag #3

The buyer’s agent, who is a great guy that I know and trust, warned the young buyers that this was highly unusual. The buyers really wanted the house, so they agreed to have a second test performed.  They said the test had to be done by me, and the results would be averaged with the first test.  If the average was still high, the seller would need to install a mitigation system.  Here’s the unbelievable part: the seller crossed off that part of the purchase agreement addendum and wrote “we’ll see when the results come back.”

Um… gee… that doesn’t sound suspicious or anything.  The buyers went along with it.

So we set another test…

I received the call to do a second radon test on a Wednesday afternoon.  The buyer’s agent said we had permission to set the test any time.  I told him we’d try to get it set on Thursday morning, but  someone from my company was able to set the radon test later that same evening.  In other words, we set the test earlier than planned.

Here’s the unbelievable part

Open window, photo taken with a mobile phoneWhen I picked up the radon test at 6 pm on Friday, the bedroom window was open.  The window wasn’t open when we set the test.  It was below freezing outside, the house was vacant, and the temperature was supposed to drop down to the teens that night.

So why was the window open?

I took a photo of the open window and immediately notified the buyer and their agent that the test was invalid.  I ran the test anyway, just because I was curious about the results.  The radon levels were almost identical to the first test we did, up until the last four hours, when the levels plummeted.  I have no doubt in my mind that that’s when the window was opened; there is no other reasonable explanation for the sudden drop in radon levels.  The graph below shows the hour-by-hour breakdown.

Invalid Radon Test

Did someone open the window on purpose, with the idea of coming back early the next day to close the window?  I don’t know.  I’m a trusting person who gives people the benefit of the doubt, but I’m having a hard time even entertaining the idea that this was an accident.

What do you think?  What would you do if you were the buyer?

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections – Email – Maple Grove Home Inspector


No responses to “I’m not saying they cheated, but this doesn’t look good.”

  1. Mike Walker
    January 31, 2012, 5:11 am

    I’d run … And run fast. I know that mitigation systems are good … But I’d be concerned using that as my BR with or without the mitigation system.

    Also, what else are the flippers willing to shortcut on?

  2. Ben
    January 31, 2012, 6:40 am

    Let’s look at this logically. If said flippers are willing to go through this much trouble for a $1,000 mitigation system, just think about the junk work, and half-a$$ary that is waiting behind the drywall.

    I’d give the young couple their next inspection free to keep them from buying that POS.

  3. Bill
    January 31, 2012, 7:17 am

    I would assume that the flippers and their agent were engaged in committing fraud. I am not sure what legal/professional reporting can be done in a case like this.

    I agree with Ben that this is likely to be the tip of the iceberg of improperly done work in the house. It would be good for the city (and others that they have worked on houses in) to check out what permits were pulled (or not pulled) for the work and to have the work inspected, even if it requires destroying the finishing work that has been done.

  4. Christopher
    January 31, 2012, 8:07 am

    KUDOS for getting your equipment calibrated every year! I can’t believe the number of inspectors, contractors, auto mechanics, and homeowners who don’t calibrate any of their equipment. Unless it’s certifiably calibrated, the results are invalid.

  5. Scott Yim
    January 31, 2012, 8:26 am

    WOW! I can’t believe some people these days. I also give the benefit of the doubt to people too but sometimes you just can’t! The owner of the house should be grateful that someone is willing to buy his house. Get is fix if possible.
    The buyers, move on. There are a lot of houses out there.

  6. Reuben (not the inspector)
    January 31, 2012, 9:22 am

    Wow. Cool story. I hope you’ll post again and let us know what happens during Round III.

  7. Debbie Nelson Scheffler
    January 31, 2012, 9:29 am

    Unfortunately not everyone is honest as we all know. The motivation for money can be larger than someone’s integrity. The inventory is quite low right now, so I understand this buyer’s desire to buy this home as they may have not seen a better choice. I would recommend that they offer a reduced price and have the work done themselves, if they can afford to do so. I would worry that even if the contractor did install the radon system, it would be subpar. If they do not have the money to pay for the radon system, I would specify in the contract who should do the work and how it should be done. They were very fortunate to have a good home inspector. Did you see any other corners cut in this inspection?

  8. Tracy B.
    January 31, 2012, 7:13 pm

    Please tell them to run far and fun fast. There are so many good deals out there right now. I am sure they’ll find other problems if they are so unethical at this stage. I am sure they’ll find other hidden issues later (like we did buying our house). Run!

  9. Reuben Saltzman
    January 31, 2012, 8:57 pm

    Mike – you bring up a good point. What else was wrong?
    Ben – I’ll give ’em your number if the deal falls apart 😉
    Bill – The flipper did pull permits, and all of the work was approved. I even had a chat with the building official about it.
    Christopher – every once in a while, a seller or agent with a little bit of knowledge but very little trust will ask us to prove that our machines have been calibrated, in an attempt to discredit our test. It feels damn good to email over the certificate of calibration.

  10. Reuben Saltzman
    January 31, 2012, 9:02 pm

    Scott- it’s crazy, isn’t it?
    Reuben – I got the update. The buyers asked the seller to pay for a mitigation system, and the sellers agreed to split the cost. I guess it’s better than nothing, and the buyers still get the house they wanted.
    Debbie – agreed, have someone else install the mitigation system. Did I see any other cut corners? Heck yes – here’s one of ’em.
    Tracy – when you’re in love, you’re in love. They love the house.

  11. Scott Warga
    February 7, 2012, 8:41 pm

    When I perform a radon test I put a sign on every door and window. I photograph the area around the unit at the beginning of the test and at the end.

    That along with the readings can pretty much prove they knew they were screwing with the test.

    On the other hand, If that is the same window on your Face Book page, then maybe they opened it to keep the wooden window well from freezing

  12. Reuben Saltzman
    February 8, 2012, 4:47 am

    Good eye, Scott! Yes, that’s the exact same window that had the caving in window well.

  13. Lisa Backes
    February 23, 2012, 7:58 pm

    I know I’m ‘tardy to the party’ but how much do you charge for a electronic radon test? We’ve been in our house for 14 years….

  14. Reuben Saltzman
    February 23, 2012, 8:27 pm

    We charge $175 for a radon test. You would be better off just buying one of those do-it-yourself test kits at a home improvement store – they cost far less, and they’re still accurate. Our tests are geared toward real estate transactions, where you need an independent third party doing the test, and you need very fast results.

  15. Jo B.
    May 23, 2012, 6:53 pm

    Hi there,

    I came across your site– I’m trying to make sense of a recent radon reading of 8 pCI/L (charcoal double canister test) vs. a 3.2 (cont elec monitor) result from the same house performed in 2007. Can reading vary this much in 5 years?

  16. Reuben Saltzman
    May 23, 2012, 7:32 pm

    Jo B – yes, it’s certainly possible. It’s not typical for the readings to vary that much, but it does happen. Some of the more likely reasons for the change would be weather, what time of year the test was taken, where the test was placed, and any changes that have happened in the home to make it tighter.

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