I’m considering making an offer to buy a home but am hesitating because of concern about a strong musty odor in the basement. Should I be worried about this smell?
The strong smell is almost certainly generated by mold, which as it grows, can emit a mixture of gases that smells musty and earthy.
The strong musty smell suggests that there is a significant amount of mold in the basement of the home. Since mold requires moisture to grow, water must be entering the basement routinely – possibly through leaky windows, the foundation, or a leaking pipe. Chronic water problems can not only lead to mold but can also damage the home and lead to structural problems in the long run.
In addition to producing an unpleasant smell and signalling potential water problems, mold may be dangerous to your health. Some scientific studies, for example, have linked the mold-related smells to respiratory irritation. Of more serious concern, however, may be the mold spores themselves. Reports from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies concluded that mold (and other factors related to damp indoor conditions) were related to asthma symptoms in people who have asthma and also to coughing, wheezing, and upper airway symptoms in people who are otherwise healthy.
If you love the house and would like to live there except for the musty basement, I suggest that you figure out why the basement is wet. Your real estate agent should be able to help you find a qualified mold professional to inspect the basement and identify where the mold is and how water is getting in the house. Based on their assessment, you could negotiate the cost of the assessment and of the solution with the seller. On the other hand, if you are only mildly interested in this property, you may want to pass on the house. Good luck!