With so many people now upside down on the value of their homes vs. the balance of the mortgage, they are simply walking away and leaving the homes in the care of the lender. A recent report estimates there is now a three-year surplus of homes. That greatly reduces the ''new home market,'' which cannot compete with the price of an existing home.
With a third-party owner such as a bank, mortgage company or government entity, the abandoned home is shut down to save on maintenance costs. The homes are generally winterized by turning off all utilities, leaving the home to the ravages of the weather.
During the cold winter months, the home becomes a nest for pests looking for a winter's lodging. Then in the hot, humid summer, the homes are at the mercy of moisture, which feeds mold.
With the doors and windows closed and the air-conditioner turned off, the indoor humidity levels increase, feeding any mold spores that were present -- and all homes have mold spores.
The molds need warmth, water and a food source to thrive. A closed house is warm, the summer months are humid and the house itself is the food source.
My advice to any lender, real-estate agent or caretaker is to turn the air-conditioner to at least 78 degrees or place a dehumidifier in the home. This, of course, requires the electricity to be turned on and that is an extra cost added to the declining value of the home.
If you deprive mold of any of its life's necessities, it will go dormant. Dehumidification by means of the use of an air conditioner is the easiest way to reduce mold growth.
Once the home is sold, be careful in choosing a mold-treatment company.
My experience has shown that in 95 percent of the cases, mold-infected items need to be removed from the home, not simply sprayed or treated.
The notion of cleaning mold with bleach is untrue and untested. The water content of the bleach only helps feed the mold spores.
Molds have roots that go beyond what you see on the surface.
Bleach and other spray-on applications simply do not solve the problem.
Drywall, wallpaper, ceiling tiles and paneling are easy to remove. Wood studs, floor decking and floor joists can be sanded once the wood has had time to dry.
The wood is then sealed with polyurethane or another permanent sealant.
When hiring a mold-remediation company, get three or more references and call those people to see if their work was satisfactory. Make sure the company is insured.
The Better Business Bureau is a very good source when checking a contractor's background. And as always, get three or more estimates to compare.
For more information on molds, go to www.epa.gov/mold/moldresources.html