DEAR BARRY: We have been using a Realtor on and off for the past nine months to find a home. She has been great and recently found a home that we are buying. Meanwhile, we were planning to have her sell our current home, but our neighbor decided to buy it, so there seems to be no need to give our Realtor a listing and pay a commission. Should we feel obligated to give her a listing after all the work she has done for us? –Kathryn

DEAR KATHRYN: You are under no legal or ethical obligation to list your home with your agent if you already have a buyer. However, real estate transactions are very complicated, with many legal twists and turns. The smallest mistake in the paperwork can create terrible complications and liabilities. Having an agent to handle these details is definitely worthwhile, and most agents will handle this part of the transaction for a reduced commission, as they do not have to spend time and money on marketing.

You should ask your Realtor if she would be willing to do this.

DEAR BARRY: I think my heating contractor is trying to rip me off. I hired him to clean my forced-air furnace, but he wants to sell me a new one. My furnace makes a few cracking noises after it turns off, but it’s done this for years. The heating guy says this indicates a cracked heat exchanger.

He measured the carbon monoxide level in my home at 7 parts per million and said that levels above 1 part per million are extremely unsafe. He advised me to evacuate my home or I could die. What do you think about his findings? Does my furnace really need to be replaced? –John

DEAR JOHN: There are two problems with the heating contractor’s evaluation: …CONTINUED

1) Cracking sounds often occur as a furnace heats up and cools down due to uneven expansion and contraction of the metal components. In other words, such sounds are common and do not necessarily indicate a cracked heat exchanger. To determine whether a heat exchanger is cracked, it is necessary to remove the furnace casing so that a full inspection is possible.

2) According to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, carbon monoxide exposure becomes hazardous at levels around 70 parts per million, not 1 part per million. Therefore, 7 parts per million is not hazardous.

Whether your heating contractor is unethical or simply unqualified is anyone’s guess. Either way, the furnace should be checked by the gas company or by a more reliable contractor.

For more information regarding carbon monoxide hazards, visit the Web site of the U.S. Consumer products Safety Commissions at

Carbon monoxide update:
In a recent column, I advised building officials, nationwide, to require carbon monoxide detectors in all homes. Two readers from Minnesota wrote to say that their state instituted a requirement for CO detectors in August 2008. Now that one state has taken the lead, it’s time for the other 49 to follow. CO detectors are not expensive and they save lives. Attention building officials: Let’s be proactive instead of meeting minimum requirements.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at


What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

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