John Colby
Colby Realty | 978-249-5871 | [email protected]


Posted by John Colby on 12/20/2020

Image by Sue Smith from Shutterstock

House owners frequently remodel, upgrade, or otherwise make changes in their homes for which they do not secure a permit. While some changes do not require permitting, others do. The challenge comes when you attempt to sell the home. You may run into a problem when a buyer makes an offer on such a property, and their inspector discovers unpermitted changes. Their mortgage lender may be unwilling to give them a loan until you remedy the permit issue.

Additionally, since building codes often change from year to year and certainly from decade to decade, and the property may have changed hands more than once before it came to you. Even if the upgrade occurred before you purchased it, you might be the one responsible for fixing it with your municipality.

What can you do? When you believe your home has unpermitted construction, learn as much as you can about it:

  • When did installation take place? Before you took ownership of the house? After? 

  • What is the construction? A pergola? A sunroom? That necessary second bathroom?

  • In the year or era of construction, was a permit required? Is there a permit in place of which you're not aware?

  • Can it be grandfathered?

What is “Grandfathering”?

The term “grandfather clause” refers to an exception to a code, restriction, or legal requirement. It allows anything already done legally “at the time” to continue even if a new limitation would not allow it. Regarding unpermitted home upgrades, if the construction was before the change in the code, check to see if the code requires retroactive compliance. In that case, exceptions typically pose a danger to anyone living in the home or on the property and need remediation. When code changes do not require retroactive compliance, knowing the date of the construction puts you in the clear.

Retroactive Permitting

When you discover retrofits, additions, upgrades, or renovations in your home, search city or county records for a permit. Ask for help to see if that type of work in the year(s) of its completion required one. If it needed a permit, and you do not find one in place, either request a retroactive authorization or plan to sell your home "as is" to a willing buyer. Municipalities often have methods in place to offer retroactive permits. Check to determine the total cost of the permitting process. In addition to the permit fee, you may have to pay fines, inspections, and other fees. Any modifications required because of the permitting process become your responsibility. When the total cost of obtaining retroactive permits and related fees and construction costs is higher than the return on your investment, consider the “as is” process.

Selling Your Home "As Is"

When you choose to sell your property "as is," you no longer need to disclose to the municipal building department that you may have unpermitted construction. Until you are sure you want to request a retroactive permit, do not disclose information when you communicate with building code offices that might trigger an inspection. 

In the selling process, however, fully disclose to your real estate agent all items you know about for certain. That is, tell them about additions or upgrades you installed while in ownership. Make sure a sale is not delayed or falls through because a lender requires a permit. Have an appropriate "as is" clause written into the sales contract. 

Confer with your real estate agent to determine if seeking a permit is in your best interested when selling with unpermitted additions.





Posted by John Colby on 11/8/2015

Are you considering a large-scale home remodel?  Whether you are looking for a project intended to increase your home's value, or you're splurging on a pleasure project for your family, many of you will be turning to contractors to carry out the work that needs to be done.  However, not all contractors are equal.  It is important for you to outline your priorities for the project.  You'll want a reliable contractor that can perform satisfactory work for a reasonable price.  Here's a few tips to help get you started. 1. - Find yourself an insured and licensed contractor.  Don't just pull a number from the classifieds and run with it without doing some proper homework.  Licensing ensures that the contractor in question is qualified to do the work being discussed.  To find out if your prospective contractor is licensed, contact your state license board and check up on them. Insurance is another matter.  Insurance protects the workers the contractor will be employing, and your home from accidents resulting in damages.  Ask your contractor to provide you with proof of insurance.  If they can't provide this, then move on to a new contractor. 2. - Referrals and reviews - Before you strike out on your own, ask your friends and family if they have anyone that they'd recommend.  Many times, the best contractors are found word-of-mouth.  Every contractor on the planet wants his clients to think that he's the best for the job, but results speak for themselves.  Again, make sure any referrals are licensed and insured.  You don't want to take the chance of incurring additional damages to your property due to negligence and accidents.  If no referrals can be found, then check online for reviews of local contractors.  Most reputable contractors will have solid online reviews that are easily accessible.  Contractors that operate their own websites are a plus. 3. - There's no such thing as a stupid question.  If your contractor acts annoyed with you for asking too many questions, then you should probably consider someone else for the job.  Questions to consider asking are - How long have you been in business? - How much will this project cost in total? - Have you performed this type of work before? - What is the protocol if the project goes over-budget? If you don't like the answers given, then continue looking for a contractor you feel comfortable with. 4. - Don't pay too much up front.  Paying up to a third of the total estimate up front isn't unheard of.  This initial payment will more than likely be used to hire employees and buy supplies.  However, be wary of giving the contractor any more money until after your project is finished.  Also, don't be afraid to get a rundown of how that initial payment will be spent.  Be thorough if you want to be.  The contractor should be able to give you a pretty good picture of the project in terms of cost and time. 5. - Get a contract - No matter the size of the project being undertaken, a contract should always be written up.  This will ensure a legally-binding agreement between you and the contractor exists in the event of the unforeseen.  Without a contract, there is no way to hold the contractor accountable in the event he performs an unsatisfactory job.  And trust me...Any hassles you may incur in securing a contract is nothing compared to going to court without one in the event something goes awry.  A proper contract should include the following information.

  • When the project will start and end
  • How and when you or the contractor is in default of the contract
  • How any disputes will be rectified
  • What happens if there is a delay due to weather, available materials, and so on.




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