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Ask Will: Is a Test for Lead-Based Paint Necessary?

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This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Will Wiard, an Arlington-based real estate broker with Real Living| At Home. Please submit your questions via email.

Q. Should I have a test for lead-based paint before I buy a home that was built prior to 1978?

A. It is recommended to have a lead-based paint test for homes built prior to 1978, but it may not be necessary. There is a lot to consider.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, about three-quarters of U.S. homes built prior to 1978 contain some lead-based paint, which means there is a 75-percent likelihood that the home contains (or at some point contained) lead-based paint. Because the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of lead-based paint in housing in 1978, homes built after that date should not be affected.

Even at low levels, the lead found in lead-based paint can be hazardous, and has been tied to multiple health problems, particularly for young children (under 6) and pregnant women.

If the home does contain lead paint and it is left undisturbed it may not be a concern. There is a chance it could be buried under many layers of paint applied over the years and has been properly maintained.

However, if you see signs of the paint chipping or peeling — particularly around windows, door frames, and other areas exposed to a lot of wear and tear — it’s probably a good idea to consult a licensed home inspector who has experience with the issue in the market you are looking to buy. Depending on the condition of the property, the home inspector may recommend that you conduct a visual assessment before making an offer on the home. You could also conduct the visual assessment during the home inspection.

If you do make an offer, most states, including Virginia, allow the buyer 10 days to conduct a lead-based paint test prior to closing. During the lead-paint inspection, a certified professional uses portable X-rays and lab tests to develop a risk assessment of the home and any potential lead-based hazards. The report they provide also advises on any steps you should take to address the hazards.

Keep in mind that by law the seller is required to disclose any known lead-based paint found in the home, provide buyer(s) with the “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home” brochure, and copies of any lead-based paint inspection reports they have for the home.

If there is lead-based paint in the home either previously known and disclosed, or discovered during the buying process, the seller is not required to remove the paint, which can be expensive.

In addition, lead-based paint in the home can impact the ability to secure a loan to purchase the property. Some lenders require the lead-based paint to be treated and removed before the loan can move toward approval.

Regardless, as a buyer, you are able to walk away from the contract without penalty during the home inspection contingency.

Before making any decisions, you may want to learn a bit more about how and why lead-based paint in the home can be dangerous. You can find out more in this brochure provided by the EPA, which also includes the information you may need to identify a qualified professional to conduct the inspection.

I’m hoping readers can share any additional advice in comment section below.

Thank you for this week’s question. Please keep them coming to [email protected]. This is also a great place to reach me for anyone looking to buy or sell a home in the Arlington area.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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