The truth about building permits


By Judy Boyle, Realtor®

Are you thinking of renovating your home? Is it time to put in that dream kitchen or breathe some new life in to your bathroom? Perhaps you need more space and are going to finish the basement and add an extra bathroom. Maybe you are budgeting for a new deck and roof next spring.

Whatever the project, there are a lot of things to consider. How much will it cost and how many quotes should you get? Who will perform the work and do they come with good references? Will you get a healthy return on your investment if and when you decide to sell? These are some of the most obvious questions you will be asking yourself but one critical component of any home improvement project that is often overlooked is whether or not the project requires a permit.

Permitting. That one word makes everyone squirm. The general perception of the permitting process is that it is a way for the town to generate revenue; others feel it will only result in an increase in real estate taxes and add time to the process. Then there is the matter of whether you even need to pull a permit and who is responsible for doing so. Indeed, the whole conversation around permitting is annoying. But if you educate yourself about the process and realize that taking out the proper permits will only benefit you in the long run, it makes total sense.

So how do you know whether your project requires a permit and what is the process of obtaining one? At his recent Lunch & Learn seminar, Real Estate Attorney Michael Robbins of Crowley & Cummings, LLC ( suggested you visit your local Building Department.

“The building commissioner is not the boogeymen,” quipped Robbins. “He really is there to help and work with you.”

In response, and also in attendance at the seminar, Westborough Building Commissioner Fred Lonardo said it best: “We’re here for life safety and for the benefit of the homeowners.”

Regarding which projects require permitting, Lonardo states “if you are adding something or opening something up, it most likely requires a permit.”

Pulling proper permits – and making sure they are closed out – will also save a lot of time and potentially prevent a real estate deal from blowing up when you do decide to sell down the road. Most reputable contractors will offer to pull all the necessary permits…and they do. Whether the contractor actually schedules the final inspections and makes sure the permit is closed out is another thing. Robbins suggests that the homeowner withhold final payment until the proper documentation is in hand.

Robbins and Lonardo discussed one last issue on the permitting subject…What’s on file at the Building Department? Each concur that town records are inconsistent.

“Paperwork gets lost,” cautioned Lonardo, who urged the homeowner to keep good records. In the summarizing words of Robbins, “Pull the permit. Close the permit. Keep the permit.”

     Boyle lives in Northborough where she is also the Chapter Leader of the Neighbor Brigade, a local nonprofit that assists families in times of need. She has been a real estate agent since 2003 and consistently wins awards and accolades for excellence in customer service and sales volume.

     Her mission is to empower her clients to make smarter decisions through data-driven insights and local market knowledge.

   She invites you to follow her on Facebook at, call or email her for the Winter ‘18 Home Buyer and/or Seller Guides or for a FREE market analysis.

Proudly serving the Borough’s and beyond with honesty and integrity since 2003