Last week, I discussed renovating my first single family with my fiancé. Like many renovators, we did most work without permits except the kitchen installation, which we understated on the permit to save a few dollars on fees.
I was still a real estate dummy and thought that permits were a formality that allowed the city to track improvements and increase my taxes based on those improvements. Now, after 25 years of brokerage and appraisal experience, I have a very different perspective:
Over the years I’ve seen numerous sales either that cost sellers money or fell apart due to lack of permits. More than a few wood stoves were removed due to hazardous installations. Countless decks have separated from buildings because they were attached with nails instead of bolts. Water damage is common when flashing is not used properly. (In one case, the entire corner of a building, including porches and walls suffered extensive structural damage because flashing was poorly installed.)
Another seller had to cut two feet off a deck before the town inspector would sign off on the permit so they could sell. The worst situations occur when bedrooms are added without adequate emergency exits and there is a fire later or when improperly installed heating systems leak deadly exhaust fumes into living spaces.
This week, I learned about a two family with an electrical problem that prompted a tenant to call town building inspectors after the landlord was unresponsive. Along with makeshift work, inspectors discovered the illegal apartment and condemned it. Since it’s illegal to collect rent on an illegal unit, courts have ruled that tenants can receive all of their rent back for as long as they’ve lived there. Typically, illegal and “in-law” apartments also become problems when applying for a mortgage.
While municipal building, plumbing and electrical inspectors are sticklers for small details that might increase the cost of a job or slow it down, these examples illustrate how inspectors can be your best friends when they insist on compliance for health and safety reasons.
Always remember that applying and paying for the permits is just the first step. You’ll often get a lot more than your money’s worth when the town inspector inspects the work before “signing off” on the permit. In some cases, it could save your property or your life. At the very least, it could make it easier to sell your home later.
Have you tried to buy or sell a home that required getting the town inspectors involved? If so, what was the outcome?
If you’ve renovated with permits, what was the positive or negative side to working with the town inspectors?
The author is solely responsible for the content.