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Selling property containing asbestos: Real estate agent requirements

As a veteran in the hazardous materials industry spanning 20+ years, few areas still shock the author regarding lack of asbestos due diligence – but real estate transactions for properties containing asbestos certainly do. Time and again sellers and agents drastically fall short of legal obligations in ensuring buyers get fully informed regarding asbestos risks prior to purchase. Here’s what agents absolutely must cover when disclosing and advising around property asbestos.

Asbestos register access 

First and foremost, agents must provide access to property asbestos registers if they exist. All commercial properties plus residential complexes undergo legally required asbestos inspections and recording processes in Australia. Concealing or ‘forgetting’ these asbestos records prior to sales breaches disclosure requirements. Penalties apply for non-disclosure so checking registers is crucial.

Legislated asbestos records

Commercial properties legally require asbestos registers after formal inspection including:

  • Asbestos location details – Sites within buildings containing asbestos
  • Condition assessments – Damage or exposure ratings from competent assessors
  • Risk prioritizations – Priority removal guidance based on type, condition and access
  • Register availability – Tenants/buyers must receive copies on request

Residential standalone sales

While legislated commercial registers don’t cover standalone houses, agents should still:

  • Question sellers on renovations, materials potentially containing asbestos
  • Ensure buyers aware of no formal inspection records, asbestos likelihood
  • Recommend pre-purchase inspections for buyers

Why asbestos registers matter

Access to current, accurate asbestos information allows buyers to:

  • Adjust offers based on removal costs/risks
  • Negotiate asbestos removal in contract terms
  • Plan refurbishment works knowing asbestos locations

Informing potential buyers 

Where asbestos materials show in registers or are known to be present, agents must explicitly warn buyers well prior to any sale contracts. Relying on buyers to ask asbestos questions is insufficient. Verbally discuss register content, provide copy access and highlight materials locations within the property. Recommend buyers conduct their own thorough asbestos inspection using qualified assessors.

Manage removal works 

If negotiated asbestos removal between the seller and buyer forms part of the sale terms, as the property manager the agent plays a coordinating role but not directly engaging asbestos removalists. Licenced removalists must be engaged by sellers under notification requirements. Buyer asbestos removal requests get directed via the agent back to the seller for execution by licenced professionals. No materials should be disturbed outside documented removal agreements.

Removalists, reinspections, clearances 

Upon completion of any removal works, agents should obtain clearance certificates from removalists verifying the property asbestos free. This signals works completion as agreed in contractual removal scopes. Licensed assessors can later reinspect and provide third-party asbestos clearance verification to buyers if required.

Asbestos safety challenges

Managing asbestos in situ poses significant challenges, as it involves not just identifying and securing asbestos-containing materials but also actively preventing unauthorised disturbances. Despite the presence of asbestos registers, refurbishments and maintenance often proceed without consulting these records, leading to accidental exposure. Ensuring safety requires more than passive record-keeping; it demands active engagement, such as prominently highlighting asbestos risks in health and safety procedures, auditing job risk assessments to check for asbestos, and using warning stickers and barriers around known asbestos materials. Additionally, regularly updating the asbestos register to reflect any changes or removals is crucial for maintaining its accuracy and effectiveness in protecting site occupants from asbestos exposure.

Conclusion 

When asbestos-containing properties change hands, stringent responsibilities apply for agents managing transactions. Disclosures, inspections, registrations and certifications become mandatory given penalties covering negligent asbestos sales. After 20+ years in hazardous materials, the author emphasises how tightly agents must manage asbestos interplay between sellers, buyers to ensure all parties avoid health risks and potential litigation.

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