Foreclosed houses at higher risk of meth contamination

Apr 2, 2013

Many of us have heard about houses and even hotel rooms that have been used to cook methamphetamine. But most of the time, the pictures of those crime scenes show a rundown house in a rural area or a seedy hotel that few of us would frequent.

Seattle-area real estate appraiser Richard Hagar told KPLU's John Maynard that even though it is more common to find meth labs in such places, they are also popping up in upscale residential areas, particularly where houses are in foreclosure.

"Of the known meth labs around this area, there are approximately 250 in Pierce County and between 50-60 in King County. There are more in the outlying areas, but not all," Hagar said.

Health risks are real

"If meth has been cooked inside a house," says Hagar, "the chemicals can penetrate through paint, sheet rock and go right into the wood structure of the house and contaminate them. A person living in this environment can get it on their skin, and there will likely be adverse reactions."

In addition to working as an appraiser, Hagar also conducts training with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

"We talk a lot about how real estate and mortgage fraud go together with drug use and organized crime," he said.

Hagar says if you're buying a foreclosed property at an auction, for example, it pays to have the house tested  before going ahead with the sale.

"There are meth testing kits for about $50, and companies are doing it professionally for about $500," he said.

Bottom line, says Hagar: check with your real estate agent about the house's history and then drive over to the house on a weekend and get out of your car and talk to the neighbors. They may have seen things going on while the house was a rental or sat empty.