Buyers smell mold in house. How to proceed?

We recently had a telephone consultation with buyers who really liked a house but one spouse could definitely smell mold. However, the house was recently painted and so there was no visible signs of mold. The buyers wanted an opinion on what value a home inspection could add to their purchasing decision.

First and foremost, a home inspector does not do a mold inspection because it requires a qualified technician to gather both air and surface samples. Laboratory analysis is required for positive identification of type and comment on potential health impacts.

Our recommendation was to first perform a mold inspection. This will determine if it is actually mold as opposed to just being a musty smell, and whether it is a health concern. If the lab report comes back ‘positive’ for a serious type of mold, then the buyers will now have to decide if they should continue their deliberations on the house or just walk away. 

Unfortunately there is no way to determine the extent of mold contamination without removing building interior elements (flooring, ceiling, walls). Further, the root cause of the mold growth has to be identified along with developing a plan to correct it.  This is called destructive testing and it is unlikely that a seller would allow it. Without destructive testing, the extent of contamination remains unknown and the remediation cost cannot be estimated. 

So how to proceed for the buyers? For this particular situation, unless there are compelling reasons for the house purchase (price discount, major renovation planned), risk averse buyers should probably move on to other listings.   

On the other hand, if the lab results are ‘negative’ for mold, then the buyers can now proceed with the home inspection.