How To Look At A House
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Should I buy a house that is a former marijuana grow house?
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
Several times a year we inspect a home in the Gainesville area that was used to cultivate marijuana. The home is usually in a rural location, but not always; and is a foreclosure, because after the growers are arrested and stopped making the mortgage payments, the bank took the property back. Or it is confiscated by the government.
Sometimes the bank’s property management company will do some clean-up, but it is hard to disguise a “busted” grow-house without completely remodeling it. To understand what to look for, let’s review what’s involved in running a marijuana grow operation:
- Growing marijuana indoors uses a lot of electricity. The high-intensity grow-lights suck up the power and generate heat, which requires even more power for air conditioning to remove the heat generated by the lights. An extra a/c system is often installed behind a privacy fence against the back of the house. Since a normal residence would not use this much power, the huge bills would be a tip-off to drug enforcement agents that something is going on at the location.
So it’s necessary to steal the electricity by splicing into the main electric service cable before the meter. Usually this is done underground, and by the time we arrive the splice has been dug up and removed, with a hole in ground under the meter remaining. Also, there may be the remnants of a second electric panel and switches, all mounted on a big sheet of plywood on the wall; again, with the cables snipped and grow-lights removed by the time we arrive.
- The heat and light generated must be concealed. So, insulation is applied to the walls and ceilings, and windows light-sealed behind the residential window blinds. Sometimes the insulation has been ripped out as part of the clean-up, but bits of it always remain, along with residual wall damage. Some growers leave the living/dining and kitchen area intact, so that a visitor at the front door will see what looks like a typical family home. And the homes always look perfectly normal in a photo from the street.
- Marijuana plants require lots of water. Growers douse the plants regularly, with the water running across the floor. Where the floor is a wood structure and elevated off the ground, they drill holes through it and the water drains into the crawl space. With concrete floors, it puddles around the baseboards. There is always mold in the drywall of the rooms used for growing, especially on the inside surface, along with wood-rot at the baseboards.
- The plants are grown in a potting-soil mixture with lots of vermiculite. Eventually the growers get tired of carting all the used soil mixture away, and start spreading it in backyard, so you will see lots of white specks of vermiculite in the grass or in a pile of soil in a shed.
Most former grow-houses are buyable for someone that wants a challenging remodeling project in exchange for a cheap purchase price. Wood rot and wall damage are easy to quantify when evaluating the work that needs to be done, but mold remediation can be difficult to put a price on until walls are opened after the closing. Also, be on the lookout for strange stuff in the attic, and expect a few hurdles to jump through getting the electric service reconnected.
By the way, there are thousands of marijuana grow-houses across the U.S.; and it’s reported to be an even bigger problem in Canada, where law enforcement officials estimate that there are currently 50,000 grow operations—although our norther neighbor appears to be near legalization of cannabis. What amazes us most about former grow-houses is that the buyers are surprised when we tell them about the evidence of the home’s prior wild life.
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