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NZ Home buyers warned: Test for P

Property Here - Monday, May 06, 2013

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Before buying their new home, an Auckland couple specifically asked their real estate agent if it had been a P lab.

Five days after they settled in, the house tested positive for methamphetamine contamination.

They are now urging home buyers to have their own testing done before signing the deed.

"It is very disappointing that they [the agents] were not up to speed with such a common problem," said the husband. The couple did not want to be named because of ongoing legal processes.

"As experienced professionals they should have known better and they should have given us guidance."

Once they had moved in, two of four tests for methamphetamine contamination came back positive and were above the Ministry of Health guidelines.

They were so worried they moved out the next day. The couple, who bought their house through an agency, said they had asked all the right questions.

"The funniest thing is that my wife even specifically asked if it had been used as a 'P' lab ...

as the real estate agent had said the vendor had had problem tenants," the husband said.

The couple were told by the real estate agent that the tenants had been taken to the Tenancy Tribunal because they were behind in rent.

As long as an agent discloses any known information about a house or building being contaminated, there are no legal constraints on selling the property, the Real Estate Agents Act says.

Legal counsel for the Real Estate Agents Authority, Martin Sawyers, said it was about the fairness in passing on that information.

"What a good agent should have done in those circumstances, if they didn't know, was simply to say, 'Look I don't know' and 'I can ask the vendor for you'."

MethSolutions director Miles Stratford said half the homes his company have tested since September have come back positive for contamination.

"The reality is that we have 15 years of use and manufacture in this country and in that 15 years very few properties have actually had the problem identified," he says.

With the presence of contamination so high, Mr Stratford stressed there needed to be better awareness from the public.

Potential home buyers could ask the right questions, but Mr Stratford said agents should have "no excuse" when it came to telling buyers about possible methamphetamine contamination.

John Gray, president of the Home Owners & Buyers Association, said an agent should be familiar with the hazards linked to illegal use in manufacturing drugs. "Gone are the days that we believe an agent can say 'Well I didn't know' or 'I don't know'."

Mr Gray said home buyers should ask questions in writing and if they do ask the agent verbally, to follow up with an email.

The association is developing a system that provides condition reports which will help protect prospective purchasers. It will include a disposable methamphetamine swab kit.

Agents expect full disclosure

Real estate companies say they try to ensure sellers are up front when they put their homes on the block.

"We expect full disclosure from our owners and they have to sign statements on that basis," said Elizabeth Goulding, a business manager for Ray White Real Estate.

Melanie Rouse, owner and general manager of Harcourts Rentals Hamilton, said they provided courses to educate agents on what they should look for. "I can't speak for every company but I know Harcourts spends a lot of time and education on training their staff. There is enough information out there if companies choose to use it."