About Real Estate: Musty smells often scare off buyers

Musty or dank smells, often found in the basement, could be a sign of potentially health-threatening mold or mildew problems.

Question: We have been looking at several homes to buy, and have been shocked at some of the terrible smells inside some of the houses. We can live with the pet scents because we have dogs and cats ourselves, but we’re particularly wary of musty odors in the basement or other areas, because we fear they might be a sign of mildew or even mold. Are we just being paranoid?

Answer: Absolutely not. Musty odors consistently rank high on the list of buyer turnoffs, real estate agents say, in part because it could portend health-threatening mold or mildew issues. The source of the stench — often a damp carpet or wet ceiling tiles — must be removed.

Sellers usually can safely handle small jobs of 10 square feet or less by scrubbing the troubled area with water and heavy-duty detergent. It’s important to wear rubber gloves, goggles and an N95 respirator mask.

The respirators, which must be approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and the Food and Drug Administration, can be purchased at most hardware and home-improvement warehouses starting at about $20. Larger jobs typically require a professional.

It’s also important to air out any damp parts of the home with a dehumidifier. For basements and other large rooms, researchers at Consumer Reports magazine recommend Danby’s model DDR60A3GP. It was recently on sale at online appliance retailer and some other websites for about $230.

For smaller, less dank areas, CR suggests the $220 Frigidaire model FAD504DWD or the $200 Sunpentown SD-31E.

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: A woman in New York returned from running errands to find that her husband had completely bulldozed their aging home without a permit — or her prior knowledge and consent. Police charged the man with criminal mischief and released him on $300 bail.

Q: You recently mentioned furniture retailer IKEA in your column. How did the company get such an odd name?

A: It’s an acronym, of sorts. The first two letters of “IKEA” represent the initials of Ingvar Kamprad, who was only 17 when he founded the ready-to-assemble furniture company in Sweden in 1943. The “E” comes from Elmtayrd, the farm where he grew up, and the “A” is a nod to his hometown of Agunnaryd.

IKEA owns and operates about 340 stores in 40 different countries, including 40 outlets in the United States. It consumes about 1 percent of the world’s annual lumber production — a staggering figure for a single company — but has been lauded by several environmental groups for its efforts to restore forests and reduce pollution.

Q: Is it true that the city of Seattle is now fining homeowners who throw food into their garbage bins?

A: It will be, starting July 1. The ban will cover both fresh food and spoiled food, as well as old coffee grounds, pizza boxes, dirty napkins and other types of “food waste.”

Though the program seems intrusive to some property owners, proponents say it’s for a good cause: meeting the city’s goal of recycling and composting 60 percent of its waste by the end of this year. It’s expected to save about 38,000 tons of food garbage each year from being shipped to a landfill that’s 300 miles away, which would help to keep trash-collection fees low and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

The fines placed on homeowners who violate the law won’t be egregious. They’ll be just $1, and will be placed on their bimonthly garbage-collection bill. Apartment landlords will get two free warnings, but then will face a $50 fine for each infraction.

The new law is an offshoot from a 2009 ordinance that requires all residential property owners to either subscribe to food- and yard-waste collection companies or to participate in backyard composting. Similar laws already are in effect in cities that include New York, San Francisco and Portland, Ore.

Q: We just refinanced with a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage for $180,000. The interest rate is exactly 4 percent, and our monthly payments for principal and interest will be about $859. If we add an extra $100 in principal-only payment each month to the loan’s outstanding balance, how much would we save in interest and how much sooner would we pay the mortgage off?

A: If you stick to the $859-a-month repayment schedule that the bank gave you, you’ll pay $129,365 in finance charges over the next 30 years, as well as the $180,000 you originally borrowed. Adding an extra $100 payment each month would reduce your total finance charges to $103,084 and allow you to retire the debt in only 24 years, eight months.

In other words, that extra $100 monthly principal-only payment would save you $26,281 in long-term finance charges and allow you to own your home mortgage-free five years, four months earlier.

David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.