Agent advises against radon test
Q: When I bought my home, the home inspector recommended a radon test for an additional $200. My agent, who attended the inspection, said there had not been any high radon levels in the neighborhood and that the additional fee was a waste of money. So I didn't get a radon test. After closing escrow, I bought a radon test kit at the hardware store and discovered the radon in my home is three times the level recommended by the EPA. Is my agent liable for his misleading advice?
A: Prudent real estate agents know better than to advise clients on matters that exceed their professional expertise. Unfortunately, there are some who make this foolish mistake. Some might advise against engineering or soil reports, against researching building permits, or even against having a home inspection. Those who give such advice misrepresent the interests of their clients, while exposing themselves to legal and financial liability. Such was the case when your agent refuted the home inspector's advice to have a radon test.
Radon is a radioactive gas that is emitted from the soil. In some cases, it becomes concentrated inside of a home. This is often a localized occurrence, rather than being typical throughout a neighborhood. In some cases, radon can reach high levels in one house, while being negligible in the home next door. Such facts are unknown to many real estate agents, which is why agents should withhold advice to the contrary.
By errantly advising you, your agent undertook a measure of liability. If he doesn't agree, you can test the matter in small claims court. If you do this, the amount in question would be the cost of installing a radon mitigation system: usually between $1,500 and $3,000. Get a bid from licensed radon abatement contractor before proceeding.
Q: I'm planning to modify the interior of my condo and want to know if I need a permit. The project involves the construction of additional walls to make a bedroom and closet. I've hired a licensed engineer to draw up the plans to make sure everything is done to code, and I intend to do the work according to his specifications. What risks do I face if the work is done without a permit?
A: When you alter a building without a permit, you should consider the issue of disclosure when you eventually sell the property. By law, you must inform buyers of all significant defects, which includes work done without permits. In that case, a buyer might insist you obtain an as-built permit. The building department could then require full restoration of the living space to its original condition or removal of drywall to enable inspection of the added framing and electrical wiring.
Because you've already paid for engineered plans, why not go the extra step and have everything done "according to Hoyle." Keep in mind that the building code requires permits for the work you have in mind. Therefore, work that is not permitted cannot, by definition, be said to comply with code, regardless of how perfectly it is executed.
• Email Barry Stone, certified home inspector, at www.housedetective.com.
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