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It is common to come across homes with unpermitted work for one reason or another. Often, you discover these projects when you are preparing to sell your home or when you have a home inspection or appraisal done.
Be sure to address these concerns immediately to protect yourself from potential hassle with costly implications. Follow our guide to selling a house without permits, and you’ll be off on the right foot to selling your home correctly in no time.
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Home Permits Overview
It is vital to understand permits from a more in-depth perspective to address the issue of unpermitted work in your home. Not only will this aid you in the process of selling your home, but it will also help save you from some future headaches by preventing you from making any of the common mistakes to your home later on.
What Are Permits?
Local government agencies issue permits to act as an official approval allowing you to begin constructing your project on your home. There are many different aspects of your project that are taken into consideration when permitting. Some of these include:
- Integrity of the structural design of framing
- Potential zoning issues
- Sanitation concerns
- Water and sewage line interferences
- Fire safety and protection
- Electrical service and protection
Why Do I Need Permits?
Permits for your home projects serve to ensure that your plans comply with the local standards of land use, zoning, and construction. By going through your local government agency, you can ensure not only your safety but that of future owners of your home.
The good news is that not every one of your construction and renovation projects around your fixer upper home will require permitting. You can often repair or replace things quickly and easily without applying for a permit through the local government agency.
When Do I Need To Get Permits?
Any significant changes to your home’s original structure or mechanical systems will typically require a permit from your local building department. Because permit requirements vary significantly from the local region to region, the only way to be sure if you need to get permits for your work is by contacting your local building department.
Ultimately, the way a local agency determines whether or not a permit is needed is dependent on the relevant risk the work may have on current or future owners of the home.
Where Do I Get Permits?
If you have hired a contractor to complete your home renovations, they will typically take care of the permitting on your behalf. You will find the associated permitting costs in your bid for the project.
If you have opted to take on the work yourself, it will be entirely up to you to handle your permitting process.
Ensure that you are aware there are certain circumstances in which your local building department will require the work to be done by a licensed professional. Any work involving gas lines is likely to require a licensed professional because of the safety hazards at risk.
How Long Does It Take To Get Permits?
The amount of time it takes to acquire a permit for your home varies significantly from region to region and even seasonally. As a rule of thumb, you can anticipate the permitting process to take anywhere from four to six weeks.
What Can Happen If I Don’t Get A Permit?
Although you can complete home renovations and projects safely without proper permitting, it is still not a good idea to avoid this process. A couple of potential issues that may arise from lack of permitting include:
- When selling your home, after the buyer’s inspection, you will be prevented from selling and may be required to undo the previous work and redo it with proper permits
- If there is a fire, collapse, or major plumbing issue that links to the work done without a permit, your homeowner’s damage and liability police may refuse to cover the damage
If you neglect to disclose the unpermitted work in your home, the new home buyer will have the option to file serious legal action against you. Disclosing the unpermitted work to home buyers protects you from potentially being sued later down the line as they will essentially be assuming responsibility for the work.
Types Of Home Improvements That Require Permits
The permitting requirements are vastly different amongst local agencies, so make sure to work with them directly to know.
Here are a few examples of home improvements that typically require permits:
- Demolishing load-bearing walls
- Adjustments to the home’s roofline
- Any structural changes to the home, including expansions
- Addition of electrical wiring or circuits
- Installation of fences over a specific height
There are a few projects that vary based on your area but may require permits:
- Moving a sink
- Demolishing non-load-bearing walls
- Replacement of doors or windows
- Removal of a tree
- Addition of walls over four feet
Luckily, there are some projects that typically do not require permits:
- Installation of a new roof
- Adding new hard flooring
- Replacement of a sink
- Interior and/or exterior painting
- Kitchen countertop replacements
How to Sell a House With Unpermitted Work
A quick and easy solution to starting selling your home that has unpermitted work is to reach out to your real estate agent. It is likely that they have dealt with similar issues and can help lead you in the right direction regarding required permits in your local area.
From there, you will have two basic options to sell your house with unpermitted work:
Option 1: Work With Your Local Building Department To Get Retroactive Permits
You have the option to reach out to your local building department to see if you can obtain retroactive permits before selling your home. Consider the costs that will be associated and be sure to consult with them to determine the extent of the unpermitted work within your home.
Unfortunately, you will be responsible for paying all of the costs associated with the permitting regardless of whether you handle the work that has been done.
You might get lucky in some circumstances, and the inspectors may ask to simply open up a wall. Others, though, might require you to tear all previous unpermitted work completely down and rebuild it with the proper permitting.
To better understand the scope of work and potential costs for retroactive permitting, you should consider hiring a contractor to examine the work in question. They should provide you with a generalized idea of the costs it would take to bring the existing work up to code. Additionally, they should gauge how much of the unpermitted work is up to code already.
Consider the Timeline
If you decide to pursue retroactive permits for your home, you want to make sure to do so before listing it. Keep in mind that buyers typically aim to close escrow in somewhere between 30 and 45 days. Between the inspections, construction work, and permitting, you are likely not going to be able to get that all finished in that time.
It is worth waiting to list your house to have all of the work permitted correctly if choosing that route. As you will find out in speaking with your real estate agent, you will obtain the maximum real estate market value for your property this way. In addition to creating more value for your home, you will also be reducing some of the potential for liability.
Option 2: Sell Your House As-Is
Selling your unpermitted home as-is may be a better option as it can save you the time and hassle of obtaining the permits on your own. Especially if you your home needs a lot of work and is in poor condition. However, remember that most home buyers are not particularly interested in buying homes without permitted work. You will see this reflected in the offer amount you might receive for your home.
It is important to note that there are some individuals who are interested in taking advantage of homes with unpermitted work. With a low-enough price tag, they are willing to go through the process of obtaining the permits on their own.
Again, be sure to work directly with a professional real estate agent to find your home’s actual value when selling and only use online home value websites as a starting point. They can also advise you of solid potential offers you may have.
Above anything else, you want to be sure to disclose all of the unpermitted work on the house to potential buyers. You might even find that if the projects are small enough, it won’t even impact your property’s value.
With large-scale projects, though, you will want to work closely with your real estate agent to determine fair market value given all considerations, even if that means selling your house at a loss.
If the potential buyer chooses to continue the sale after disclosing all unpermitted has, they will be assuming responsibility moving forward. Disclosure is vital in removing your accountability on this property and helps to protect you from potential legal action later on.
Your legal obligation is to disclose any unpermitted work that you are aware of in the home you are trying to sell. Whether you or the previous owners did the work, if you withhold any information from potential buyers, you run the risk of potential legal action against you.