Avoiding bombshells over permits when remodeling, buying, or selling a home

Reader Question: Back in 2001-2002, we remodeled our home without a permit. We didn’t know it was required. Now we want to sell, and the question is on the seller condition report. Is there any way to overcome that issue now?

Monty’s Answer: Permits can be a challenge for several reasons; ordinances change over time, homeowners and contractors are unaware or deliberately avoid them, the language they contain can be confusing, they can be expensive, and finally, there is no set standard. A permit may be required to apply new siding in one municipality, and not needed in a neighboring community. Some cities will issue “Retroactive Permits” that can be expensive, some will grandfather the work after an inspection that requires a fee, others will require modifications if the work does not meet existing code.

Safety and public health

Municipalities are primarily concerned with electrical, plumbing, and enlarging a home’s footprint, but permit requirements vary. The codes protect homes from fires, disease, and unsafe conditions. They are an essential part of every community, and permits are the key to controlling orderly and safe construction and remodeling.

Selling your home

In your situation, first, consider contacting the municipality and determine if a permit for the work is required. Once you understand the steps to take, then implement them. The city may want to review plans, inspect the property, and in some cases open up walls to ensure the work complies with code. Not disclosing there was no permit can be an unwanted bombshell post-closing.

A home buyer alert

Contact the municipality of the home you are considering to obtain a copy of the code. You may want to obtain copies of any permits issued on the property. Real estate agents, home inspectors, and appraisers do not, as a rule, take this step. If a lender checks because they notice a remodel on the data sheet, and no permit was issued, it may affect the closing.

Are you considering remodeling your home?

If you read this far, it will be apparent to you to check with the municipality to make sure you know what the code requires. Do not depend on the contractor. Additionally, you should have a written document from the city stating they need no permit for the work you propose, and if a permit is required, obtain it. The best way today is to communicate by email and print and tuck a copy of the “none required” email in a file.