QDEAR BARRY: When I bought my house, the home inspector recommended that I have a radon test for an additional $100. My agent, who also attended the inspection, said there had not been any high radon levels in the area 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 that the radon in my home is three times the level recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency. Is my agent liable for his misleading advice? -- Mickey

ADEAR MICKEY: Prudent real estate agents know better than to advise clients on matters that exceed their professional expertise. Unfortunately, there are numerous examples of agents crossing this line. Some advise against engineering and soil reports, against research of building permits, or against having a home inspection. Those who give such advice misrepresent the interests of their clients, while exposing themselves to liability.

Radon is a radioactive gas that is emitted from the soil and that may become concentrated in a home. The presence of radon is often localized, rather than being typical of an entire neighborhood. In some cases, radon can reach high levels in one house, but not in the house next door.

From an ethics standpoint, your agent bears some liability. Legally, oral recommendations are difficult to prove, although you could 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 $1,000 to $2,500.

DEAR BARRY: I'm planning to modify the interior of my condominium 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 my structural plans, and I intend to do the work according to his specifications. What risks do I face if the work is done without a permit? -- Scott

DEAR SCOTT: 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, and that would include work done without permits.

In that case, a buyer might insist that 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.

You've already done the hardest part -- having plans engineered and drawn. Why not go the extra step and do everything legally?

Barry Stone is a professional home inspector. If you have questions or comments, contact him through his Web site, www.housedetective.com, or send mail to 1776 Jami Lee Ct., Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, Calif. 93401.

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