Don’t overlook permits – especially before selling your home

Gary Kelley, Realtor®
Gary Kelley, Realtor –

By Gary Kelley

 At 15-½ years old, I got my first permit. It was a driver learner’s permit and allowed me to chauffeur my parents around until I got a regular driver’s license at 16. I was so happy. And looked forward to any chance to drive the car.

When a contractor looks at you and asks, “Are we pulling a permit for this?” – your answer should be “yes” with the same giddy excitement you had when you started driving. Alas, some contractors may roll their eyes and tack on more money for a permit. Why?

When someone applies for a permit with their city/town they notify the world they are making changes to their property. The municipal authority will send out an inspector making sure the work is workmanlike and up to current code. When touching something in a house, the entire area is supposed to be brought up to code.

So you want me to pull a permit for this simple job knowing it is going to cost more and take longer?

Here is where the rubber meets the road. You should do permitted work. The city/town inspectors provide some oversight making sure things are done correctly and to current code (yes, the code is updated from time to time). Does it take longer? It can because the building official needs to come out. Good contractors develop relationships with the inspectors so the “waiting time” is minimal.

Of course, once the permit is closed, the assessor’s office will see you’ve increased the value of your home and, alas, increase the assessment.

Does this seem a bit overkill? How will anyone know?

Some of us have busybody neighbors who consider it their duty to notify towns of work. The town may put a cease and desist order on the work.

When you sell your home a diligent buyer’s agent will go to the town and ask to review the property file. This is public information. If there is a giant addition on the house built without permits…a red flag emerges. To address, the municipality can insist all the walls be opened so the inspections can be made. Most sellers aren’t thrilled to be opening walls, and the inspections will be against today’s code. How is this resolved in the real world?  Selling concessions ($$).

Some owners try to skirt the system by never closing the permit. The assessor can’t assess against incomplete work. And some “projects” just grow, with the scope accommodating every evolving homeowner needs through the decades. We suggest holding the last payment to the contractor until you confirm with the city/town the permit is closed.

If you own your house today, it’s prudent to go to your building department or inspectional services to make sure your contractors closed the permits on work. Sometimes they just want to get on to the next job. Alas, this can cost money when selling.

A couple of closing words: Some towns don’t have records going back more that a few years.  Some towns have automated systems for checking permits, and check with the town on the completeness of those records. We recently had a house with no open permits online, and a fastidious building department pointing out the gaps.

In the end, you didn’t (often!) drive without your learner’s permit. Get and use the permits!


Stay sanitized!

I’m not a huge fan of Zillow, etc., for buyers. Here is an app for your phone/tablet tied directly to the MLS

Gary is heard on WCRN AM 830 discussing “All Things Real Estate.”

If you need advice on selling your home or buying a new one, give us a call 508-733-6005.

Gary Kelley, Realtor®