QUESTION: I just moved into a home and noticed that a key is required to exit the back door. What are the advantages and disadvantages to this kind of lock?
ANSWER: This is a double cylinder dead bolt. The advantage is that you can take the key out when you leave during the day or for a vacation, thus creating more security for your property. More important, the disadvantage is that if you take the key out and misplace it, you could be trapped inside in the event of a fire or emergency.
Threat of Radon Can Be Detected, Corrected
Q: I am thinking about buying a home and my friend told me about radon in homes and that it causes cancer. What is radon, does radon cause cancer, has any been found in the Los Angeles area, and can it be eliminated?
A: According to the Los Angeles Department of Heath Services, "Radon is a naturally occurring, colorless, odorless gas that can seep out of the ground and accumulate in homes." The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states, "The only known effect of radon is lung cancer. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer behind cigarette smoking."
A study involving 2,000 single family dwellings conducted by the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services in 1990 projected that as many as 35,000 to 70,000 homes (2%-4%) in the county may have elevated levels of radon.
The threat of radon can be eliminated. There are specially trained radon mitigation contractors who can seal gas leaks in foundations, install special fans, etc., in order to reduce radon levels in the indoor atmosphere. You can get a list of qualified contractors from the American Lung Assn. of Los Angeles County by calling (213) 935-LUNG.
Do not let anyone tell you there is no radon in your area unless they have screened the home in question. Screening for radon may delay or complicate the real estate transaction, but buyers have the right to know if they so desire and are willing to pay. Radon screenings are costing from $125 to $250.
Problems Lurk in Work Without Permit
Q: I have been looking for a home to buy and some of the homes I've seen have additions and modifications without permits. What exactly does this mean to me?
A: It means that you could be buying a house that has unsafe, unsanitary or structurally unsound conditions. You may have to bring it into compliance or change it back to its original condition.
You may also have a difficult time selling the home later, or worse yet, your insurance company may not cover losses due to improvements made without permits. At a minimum, you will be required to disclose the conditions to prospective purchasers.
A friend recently tried to refinance his duplex with a remodeled kitchen and bathroom. The bank appraiser detected the changes and the lender demanded a code inspection. Because permits were not obtained for the work, it did not pass the code inspection, hence, the refinance application was denied.
Say, for instance, an addition was made to a property and the addition wall was too close to the side-yard or rear-yard set-back and a neighbor complained. The city will issue an "Order to Abate," meaning, the wall has to come down.
When buying a home with bonus rooms, heating and air conditioning systems, new roofs (especially heavy tile), remodeled kitchens, etc., request the seller to provide the relevant permits and make sure a "Certificate of Occupancy" was issued or the work was properly signed off when completed. Not only can you be burdened with corrections, you will also have an increase in the cost for the property tax assessment.
Winter is the president of the Los Angeles chapter of the California Real Estate Inspection Assn. , a statewide trade association of home inspectors. Readers may send their comments or questions on home inspection topics to Winter care of CREIA, 2150 River Plaza Drive, Suite 315, Sacramento, Calif. 95833-3880.