ST, PETERSBURG — It's baaaaack.
A year after pulling a sewage-contaminated house off the market, Fannie Mae has relisted it at the same $419,900 price. Now, though, it comes with a partly gutted interior and an acknowledgement that at one point it really did have a serious mold problem.
Fannie Mae, the government-backed mortgage insurer, says tests show that the foreclosed house in the upscale Snell Isle-Eden Isle area is now free of harmful mold. But Fannie Mae's decision to list the house in 2016 despite strong evidence of mold has raised questions about the safety of other foreclosed homes it has sold.
"This abandoned and mismanaged home is an unavoidable reminder of the recklessness and mismanagement that caused the (housing) crash,'' attorney Matt Weidner, president of the Eden Isle Property Owners Association. "Taxpayers across this country are paying the price now . . . and we'll continue to pay for decades.''
In 2014, the house first went on the market as a $250,000 short sale with this note on the listing: Property being sold for land value. Seller disclosed that property has been contaminated by sewage and mold. Property may not be habitable in current condition.
After the lender rejected two offers, the house was sold at foreclosure auction in 2015 and Fannie Mae took it over. It hired contractors to paint the interior and replace the roof and some drywall.
In February 2016, Fannie Mae put the house up for sale through its HomePath program, the online site through which is sells foreclosures. This time the listing described it as a lovely and spacious Eden Isle pool home.
Asked at the time how the same house could have such radically different descriptions, Gus Mistak, the Realtor representing Fannie Mae, acknowledged he was aware of the previous owner's claims of mold and sewage contamination. He said he thought, however, that she had exaggerated the problem in hopes the lender would approve a short sale. Mistak referred further questions to Fannie Mae.
Spokesman Andrew Wilson said neither the appraisal on the house nor a broker's price opinion mentioned environmental issues. .
"We're skeptical of it,'' Wilson said of any mold problem.
Nevertheless, after the Tampa Bay Times reported about the mold issue, Fannie Mae withdrew the house from the market. When it recently went back up for sale, a disclosure attached to the listing revealed what has happened in the interim.
Last March, after the Times story, Fannie requested bids for air-quality and sewage contamination tests. Results showed "elevated bacteria and spores contamination'' — i.e. mold.
Mold can irritate the eyes, skin and throat, and cause nasal stuffiness, coughing and wheezing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People with chronic lung illnesses can get serious infections in their lungs when exposed to mold.
Fannie Mae approved remediation and extensive work, which included replacing all windows, exterior doors, garage doors and the heating and air conditioning system. After Tropical Storm Colin in June apparently caused water to leak into the house, Fannie Mae authorized additional work that included sealing the concrete floors and exterior wall.
Subsequent tests finally pronounced the house clear of environmental issues.
Last month, Fannie Mae put the house back on the market through HomePath.
Whereas photos with the 2016 listing showed a house that looked in good shape, cosmetically at least, photos with the current listing show how extensive the repairs and remediation were and how much work remains to make the house habitable. Studs are visible where a section of drywall is missing in one room and where cabinets were removed in the kitchen. Floors appear to be painted bright red.
In the middle of last week, the Times sent Fannie Mae several questions about how it has handled the sale:
• If the original 2014 listing said the house was contaminated with sewage and mold, why didn't Fannie Mae have it tested to make sure it was okay before putting it on the market in 2016?
• What does it say about the competence and/or ethics of the agent, broker and appraiser working for Fannie Mae that they didn't notice or else ignored claims that the house had been contaminated by sewage and mold?
• After getting the house tested, remediated and repaired last summer, why did Fannie Mae wait several months before putting it back on the market in January? All that time, the house with its unkempt yard continued to sit vacant in an otherwise nice neighborhood.
• And perhaps most importantly, what would have happened if someone had bought the house in 2016 only to later discover that it had serious and harmful mold problems?
Fannie Mae didn't respond with direct answers.
On its HomePath website, though, it offers these caveats:
Fannie Mae sells each property in "as is" condition, which means that the buyer accepts the property "as is." Fannie Mae is not responsible for fixing any problems after settlement.
Keep in mind, even if the house has fresh paint, brand new carpet, new appliances, perhaps even a new roof or siding, it doesn't mean everything in the house is new, or even works. Fannie Mae does not warrant or guarantee any work that may have been done on the property, whether as part of its efforts to sell the home or pursuant to conditions in the purchase contract. Where a home warranty is available, you may wish to buy it at your own expense.
As of Friday, the house was still available.
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642 .Follow @susanskate