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Steve McLinden, the Bankrate.com Real Estate AdviserSuperfund disclosure required only if nearby

Dear Real Estate Adviser,
Does an appraiser have the responsibility to list the fact that a property he's evaluating is just four miles from a Superfund site? Does the seller have to disclose that? And wouldn't that affect the value of the property?
-- Josie

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Dear Josie,
Great questions. First, let's clarify what a Superfund site is. It's a property that has been deemed by the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, to contain hazardous waste that has been designated for cleanup. In the process, the EPA looks to the parties responsible for the contamination to reimburse government cleanup costs -- if they can find them -- though funding and enforcement have softened somewhat in recent years.

You are not alone, Josie. About 65 million people -- or approximately one in four Americans -- live within four miles of a Superfund site, according to the EPA. What's more, there are in excess of a half-million suspected or known hazardous waste sites across the country. The worst offenders -- about 1,300 locales -- are considered federal Superfund sites. About 11 million people, including more than 3 million children, live within a mile of these.

As for your appraiser-disclosure question, appraisers in most states are not obliged to venture much beyond property boundaries in their findings, much less four miles away. That's one of several reasons that prospective homeowners and landowners these days are hiring environmental-inspection firms which, for a few hundred bucks or so, will produce a report in one or two business days that will analyze your targeted property and list nearby toxic sites.

Some real estate attorneys suggest that property buyers put a clause in their sales contract that will allow them to walk away from a deal if an environmental problem is found.

As for seller disclosure, the laws vary from state to state. Most do require that sellers and (or) real estate agents disclose on-site or site-adjacent environmental issues. But a problem several miles away is not in their realm of responsibility.

Some states, such as California, have "right-to-know" laws requiring disclosure of any nearby environmental problem when a home is sold.

Certainly, a federal Superfund site in your neighborhood could very well affect property values. But one that is four miles away probably won't, unless it falls within a federally acknowledged "plume of contamination." Smaller polluted sites could also affect property values, but in a shorter radius.

To see where your area Superfund project stands, visit the comprehensive environmental response, compensation and liability information system, or CERCLIS, site. Other excellent resources include BeSafe.net and Scorecard.org.

Happy (and healthy) homing.

To ask a question of the Real Estate Adviser, go to the "Ask the Experts" page, and select "Buying, selling a home" as the topic.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Posted: April 15, 2006
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