Real Estate Lead-Based Paint Disclosures and Facts

cans of lead-based paint
••• Adam Simpson / Getty Images

One source of exposure to lead is the lead-based paint that was often used in homes that were built prior to 1978 when the Federal Government banned lead paint in residential structures. Federal regulations require that home sellers provide lead disclosures to home buyers who are buying a home built before that year.

Bear in mind that some places in Nevada, for example, still sell lead-based paint.

Lead-Based Products Can Affect Health

Disclosures are required because lead is a potential health risk. Depending on the level of exposure, lead can cause damage to the brain and nervous system, behavior problems, slowed growth, headaches, difficulties during pregnancy, high blood pressure, kidney problems, and long term hearing loss. 

Lead can affect everyone in the family, but children are often at highest risk, especially small children who don't hesitate to put things in their mouths -- like paint chips that could contain lead.

Disclosure Requirements

  • Sellers must disclose in writing any information about known lead paint in the home.
  • Sales contracts must give buyers up to 10 days to check for lead hazards. Homebuyers aren't required to test for lead--but they must be given the opportunity to do so. You might see this information on a special addendum attached to the purchase contract.
  • Home sellers or real estate agents must give home buyers a copy of the EPA publication "Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home."
  • Similar lead disclosure regulations apply to the relationship between landlords and tenants of buildings built before 1978. 

Stay Alert for Potential Problems

Lead paint that is intact--with no cracking, chipping or wear--is considered unlikely to pose health risks, but if your home might contain lead paints, watch for:

  • Peeling, chipping, or cracking paints.
  • Areas susceptible to wear and tear that causes cracking or exposure to underlying layers of paints on stair railings, banisters, window sills, door frames, porches, and fences.
  • Lead dust that results when the paint is sanded or dry scraped.
  • Lead in the soil surrounding your home, caused by flaking lead paints on its exterior, since it's a risk to children playing outdoors and in a prime spot to be tracked inside on shoes. An FHA appraiser will note any paint chips in the soil and require their removal prior to closing.

Other Sources of Lead

Most people think about paint when they think about lead-based products. However, many older building products contained lead.

  • Lead is sometimes found in drinking water when plumbing contains lead or lead solder. You should test the water for lead since it cannot be detected by taste or smell.
  • Old painted toys or furniture.
  • Industries that release lead into the air.
  • Hobbies that use items containing lead, such as stained glass work, pottery, and furniture refinishing.

What Can You Do About It?

Temporary Controls

  • Temporarily reduce lead hazards by repairing damaged painted surfaces and planting new grass to cover soil that could contain high lead levels.
  • Clean up paint chips right away.
  • Clean painted surfaces weekly, then thoroughly rinse your cleaning tools.
  • Wash children's hands frequently; wash toys and other items they play with regularly.
  • Keep children from chewing on painted surfaces.
  • Eat nutritious meals that are high in iron and calcium. Children's growing bodies absorb more lead thad adults, which can mitigated through a proper diet. 

Be sure to follow the EPA's guidelines if you plan to remodel or renovate a home built prior to 1978. Permanent lead removal can require work by a certified lead abatement contractor, who will remove lead paint or seal and enclose it with special materials.

Lead testing may be common in some areas, but I have never met a home seller who has tested for the presence of lead paints, so don't be alarmed or suspicious if your seller has no lead paint information to share with you.

Although lead paint creates a risk, for most of us its presence isn't enough to keep us from buying a home we love -- we know what to watch for, and we deal with it.

Visit the EPA's website for in-depth information about identifying lead hazards in the environment and your home.

Edited by Elizabeth Weintraub, Home Buying Expert.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, CalBRE #00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.