Meth Solutions Interview – Part 3



What if someone does suspect P has been used or manufactured in a house? What is the first thing they should do?



Miles Stratford: The first thing to do is to make it a condition of offer. So that can obviously be challenging, as far as the scenario where you’ve got a property going up for auction. But let’s assume it’s not going up for auction, make it a condition of offer. T hen you try and get a due diligence period of around 10 days. The reason I say that is because the quicker you want your lab test result, the meth test results, the more expensive it is. So amongst everything else that you’ve got to do, it’s one of those factors that you can put into consideration.

So make it a condition of offer. If it is an auction scenario, let the agents know that you want to get that meth test done. If they turn around and say, “We’re not going to let you do that,” and that has happened on some occasions, then you’ve got a scenario where they’re required to declare that, that the vendor doesn’t want to get a meth test done, and you’ve probably got the answer that you were looking for anyway.



Are there any typical properties that are perfect for P-labs?meth lab



Miles Stratford: There reality is that in the 18 months that we’ve been going we’ve dealt with,many different properties. We’ve had high-valued, family-owned properties in central Auckland suburbs that have been in the same family for decades, and that have had meth labs operating in them because of middle-aged children who’ve got a meth habit, and right down to the rentals in all sorts of parts of the country that have had issues.

So we’ve got parallels with the leaky building situation, because it’s a hidden issue.
Where it’s significantly different is just that by looking at a property, you can’t necessarily pick it.
Your risk factors are investment properties, probably with the investment history, it’s going to be high.

Things that you can be looking for that might have been damaged under the property, typically that’s going to get patched up and repaired, prior to going to the market. There may be some sort of funny, solvent type smells, if things haven’t been tidied up properly. There might be smells around similar to cat urine.

But they can often be masked. If people think they’ve got a problem, they’ll often get a paintbrush out to mask the issues. Having said that, people would often put paint on the walls to make the property to look in its best condition for when they’re going to sell it, so you can see the challenge. There are so many variables that come into play.

These manufacturers are obviously pretty smart, and they want it to blend in as much as possible.



Miles Stratford: Oh, for sure. In the time that we’ve been going, there was this one property where the police were involved. Now this was a professionally managed property. It had had an inspection a month before, and the place was spotless. The tenants paid the rent on time, no reason to suspect anything untoward was going on at all. But after the police involvement, the testing that took place, it was right through the house.

So yes, there are things that you can look for which would be indicative of a lab. There might be chemical containers around the place, there might be burn marks in the garden. Let’s say it’s at rental property, somebody might have installed a security system that wasn’t in there initially.
But typically, those things get cleaned up before anybody physically goes inside to have a look at the property and that’s the biggest issue, you know? It’s not one of those things that really jumps out at you.

Peter: That just reminded me of a story. We were doing some work on a property up and it was an investment property. We were doing the top flat, and down below, there was a tenant. One of the guys that was working for us was an ex-cop, and he just smelled these smells, and it smelled like eggs, a sulphur smell. So he went downstairs and banged on the door, and couldn’t get any answer, so he rang the cops, and they turned up, and it was just the tenant cooking eggs.

Miles Stratford: You know, you can get a little bit paranoid, but I think that what home buyers really just need to be aware of is that we’ve had this issue with meth in New Zealand for more than 15 years. In that time, the official lab busts are around about the 2000 mark. But the estimate of how many that relates to the number of properties or labs that have actually been active is 5 to 10%, so 10 to 20 times multiplied. So then you get up to 20,000 to 40,000 properties or labs that might have been operated. Then labs move around, so you then get a scenario of, well, how many properties have had a meth lab operating? I’ve got no idea. What I do know is that it’s significantly more than most people would ever give it credit for. I also have lots of conversations with people who are on the wrong end of that,it’s devastating financially and emotionally and if people have been living in a place, it has a really profound effect on their health.



Why Did you get into testing for Meth?p lab clean up



We set up MethSolutions because we were involved with the monitoring side of things. We were getting lots of calls from people who didn’t have anywhere to go, and we needed to give them some answers. One of those answers was access to a real high-quality low-cost test.

Before we got involved with the meth testing, I think, you essentially had two options. One was to spend about $3000 with a laboratory, and they would come along, and they’d say, “Okay, well, lab-based testing isn’t in this room, this room, room, or this room.” They might need four or five samples within a property.

There are other guys who are using presumptive, in-field testing kits, you will probably have seen these on the internet, which charge $400 to $500. But again, they do four or five areas of the property, which is great, if you get the rooms that have actually had the problem in them. If you’re using the lab, terrific. If you’re using one of those in-field testing kits, they’re not actually particularly sensitive, you know? They sort of test upwards from currently acceptable guideline levels. If somebody’s put paint on the walls, then they’re often not going to pick up a problem.

So we tackled it from a different direction. We looked at it as to say, well, what is it that most people want an answer to?
You’re going to buy a house, what’s the question that you want answered?
The question that we came down to is: is there meth in that property, yes or no?
We wanted to do that with a really high level of integrity. So that meant using lab-based testing, because that’s the most sensitive form of testing that’s available. Then the approach that we take to sampling a property is something that they’ve been using in the U.S. for many, many years to screen out properties that aren’t known to have a meth issue. That’s called composite sampling.

What we do is use one kit supplied by Hill Laboratory, and we sample up to eight areas with that one kit. So in a three-bedroom property, that typically allows us to sample every room. Bear in mind that all we’re answering is, “Is it there, yes or no?”
We’ll take samples from the high-risk zones within each of the rooms, send it off to the laboratory and we come back with that initial answer, which from the buyer’s perspective is principally, what we need to know. Because at that point, if there is an issue, obviously, at that stage, the vendor owns the issue.
For some people it’s enough for them to step away. For other people, it’s a case of, “Well, look, I’m still interested in the property, but you need to demonstrate to me that there aren’t significant risks that are associated with it.” And in many instances, “Oh, there’s a little bit of meth there. I’m happy with that.” And 60% of the time, at the moment, there is no meth there, so I’ve got extra assurance and peace of mind that the integrity of this property is sound. It doesn’t say which room, so there are limitations to it. You can move on to doing that, but there’s just more cost that’s associated with that. And again, is that the sort of money that a purchaser wants to be spending? And I don’t think it is. Is it money that needs to be spent? Probably, if you want to be able to really tie it down to area by area.

What does a test for meth cost?meth testing certified inspectors



Miles Stratford: We’ve got a range of turnaround times, from two weeks through to three working days. If people are on a really tight due diligence period You can turn a report down and put it 24, 48 hours, and the lab takes 72, to be able to get it to the laboratory, get it processed, and for us to get the reports out to people.

So on a three-bedroom property, if it’s three days, it would be $199 plus GST. If it’s the two weeks, we’re looking at $99 plus GST. So in the overall scheme of things, it’s not a huge amount of cash.

If we’re looking at a larger property, a four- to- six bedroom property, or a property where there is a house and then a couple of out-buildings, you’d use a couple of kits, so you can get some separation between them, and you can get enough areas to sample. For three days it would be$329 plus GST.

But when you’re talking about a transaction of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the risk that’s associated with it of tens of thousands of dollars, in terms of what you pay and then what it costs to sort things out, it’s as cheap as we can make it.
We believe it’s delivering a high-value service, and like I say, it’s flushing out the problems.

So with your process, when you’re going through, and you’re doing your testing, is it invasive testing?



Miles Stratford: No, most of the sampling that gets done is what they call “surface sampling,” which is as straightforward as it sounds. So we don’t penetrate into the wall. We don’t go in behind paint zones, which is why there are some limitations.
Let’s say, if somebody has done a complete renovation on a property or there has been repaint. So if you take, for example, down a shelf, where posters, or where a whole lot of painting went on, there was a whole lot of indiscretions that got hidden then behind that paint. So what we do with our certified samplers, we’ve put them through a training program, and when they hit properties like that, we do get them to try and have a really good fussing around, you know, find the areas in the property that are more representative of the property as it was, rather than how it’s being presented now.

But nevertheless, if a place has been painted, then it can be a bit harder to find an underlying issue. For a vendor that means that if you think you might have some issues before you start chucking a paintbrush around, you’re better off getting a meth test done, because if there is a bit of meth residue in the property, and you put paint over the top of it, one, it’s harder to get rid of it, and two, if it’s picked up by a meth test, it can make it that much more uncertain for the purchaser.



Peter: When you finish with a property, that’s one of the problems that we have as building inspectors, because most of the requests come from a buyer that wants to put an offer in on a property. We’re going through and we’ve got the vendors there, wondering what we’re doing poking around, and it’s one of the things that we do say.
It’s not an invasive report that we’re doing, and we are professionals, and we do clean up after ourselves. And I think a lot of it comes down to communicating with that vendor what we’re actually doing, just to give them a wee bit of peace of mind.

Miles Stratford: Yes, I couldn’t agree more. And I think that communication is a massive part of the whole thing. Again, from a vendor’s perspective, the answer that we give them is there meth residue present?
Yes or no?
We encourage prospective purchasers to engage with the real estate agent and let them know, in terms of the output of the results as well and that way, these issues will typically get addressed properly, and they don’t carry on knocking on down the line and providing problems for people.

If someone wants to find you how do they find you? What’s the easiest place to get a hold of you?

Miles Stratford: Well, first up, thanks very much again for getting in touch with us, Peter, and showing interest in the issue. I think the more people that understand that it’s out there, the less decent people are going to get caught out by this thing.
At the end of the day, that whole knock on effect of meth, if it can get nipped in the bud, then the impacts are reduced.
In terms of getting hold of us, the website is www.methsolutions.co.nz , M-E-T-H solutions.co.nz
If people want to phone up and give us a ring, it’s 0800-638-4522.