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posted: 10/17/2013 3:30 PM

Easy steps for homeowners to protect against carbon monoxide

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Carbon monoxide kills hundreds of homeowners every year and sickens thousands more. Installing a few inexpensive alarms can prevent tragedy.

Q. There was a story on the news about an elderly man who died in his house from carbon-monoxide poisoning. I have heard that they make carbon-monoxide detectors that work like smoke alarms. Where do they sell them?

A. More than 200 people die in their homes each year from carbon-monoxide poisoning, and thousands more are hospitalized. Victims often complain of flu-like symptoms, including headaches, fatigue, nausea, shortness of breath and dizziness.

Faulty heaters, fireplaces and other fuel-burning items that either leak or do not ventilate properly cause most carbon-monoxide problems. One way to protect yourself is to have them inspected now, before the cold weather settles in. Make sure any flues in your home are clean and working correctly.

Carbon monoxide is so dangerous because it has no odor, color or taste. Good detectors that work much like smoke alarms sell for $25 to $50 and can usually be purchased at hardware and home-improvement stores.

Avoid buying the cheapest detectors, which simply change color rather than emit a noise when the poison gas is present: Most victims die in their sleep, so you need an audible alarm that can wake you up. The best devices usually plug into a standard wall outlet and have a battery backup. Experts say you should place a detector outside each bedroom, as well as in the living room and other areas where people tend to spend a lot of time.

Q. My wife and I made an offer on a house that the seller accepted three weeks ago. Our bank's appraiser came out two weeks ago, but the bank has just sent us a letter that states our loan is declined because the appraisal report says the house is worth $12,000 less than we agreed to pay. Our lender gave us a copy of the report, which shows that the appraiser based the home's value on having three bedrooms (it has four) and one bathroom (it has two). What should we do?

A. It sounds like the appraiser did a crummy job. Contact him or her immediately to point out the errors and ask for a new report. If the appraiser won't correct the mistakes, call your lender to explain the problem. You have the right to request a reappraisal of the property, and to submit any evidence (floor plans, photos of all the rooms and the like) to substantiate your claim that the property is worth much more than the first appraiser's estimate.

Since the original appraiser apparently goofed, you should not have to pay for the second appraisal. Ask the bank to pay for it instead.

Q. I recently made a "low ball" offer for $147,000 on a house that is listed for $171,000. I was surprised when the sellers said they would accept my offer, as long as I would agree to waive my right to have the home inspected. The sellers say they want to skip the inspection to save time and avoid the $300 inspection fee. Those sound like good reasons to me, but I am afraid they might be trying to hide something. What should I do?

A. Never, ever agree to buy a home without first having it inspected by a professional. You and the sellers might earnestly believe that there is nothing structurally wrong with the home, but there's too much money involved here to trust those instincts instead of getting the advice of an inspection pro.

Frankly, I am also a little leery of the sellers' claim that they want to skip an inspection in order to save time and avoid the cost of paying an inspector. Buyers, not sellers, usually pay for the cost of an inspection, and the review can be performed without delaying the sale for more than a few days.

Stick to your guns. Insist that your purchase offer is contingent on having the house inspected, and assure the seller that you will take the time to select the inspector yourself and pay for his or her services. If the home passes the inspection, you can close the deal and get a house for nearly $25,000 less than what it is apparently worth. But if the inspection uncovers major problems, the $300 you pay for the inspector's review will pale in comparison to the thousands of dollars you would lose by purchasing a home with substantial defects that you don't know about.

• For the booklet "Straight Talk About Living Trusts," send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to David Myers/Trust, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405.

2013, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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