What to Do When You Discover Unpermitted Work

When buying a house, one thing to look for is whether there have been unpermitted improvements or repairs made, as these could have been done incorrectly.

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What to Do When You Discover Unpermitted Work

Posted by Gary Ashton RE/MAX Advantage on Thursday, August 8th, 2019 at 10:31am.

How to Handle Unpermitted Work in the HomeThere are many ways to get work done on a house, and not every seller is focused on doing this work the correct way. They may cut corners, simply because they do not want to spend the money on a contractor. Or they may just want to do the work themselves so they can get it completed quickly. No matter what, though, there are some types of work that need a permit to complete whether the seller does the work themselves or hires someone else. If the seller of a house didn't get a permit to do the work, the buyer may find that there are problems that they have to take care of after they purchase the house. Rather than take that risk, buyers should check into unpermitted work before they make their purchase.

What Kinds of Work Require a Permit?

In general, electrical, plumbing, foundation work, roofing, and other major structural or major system issues require a permit to complete. In some cases, window replacement may also need a permit, as will any HVAC work. Needing a permit does not stop homeowners from doing the work themselves. They simply must get a permit in their own name, stating that they are doing the work. Then they will need to have the work inspected when they are done, so it can be approved and they can move on to the next project. Many homeowner either don't realize they need a permit for certain things, or they simply don't want to pay for a permit or have to do the work a certain way. So they avoid the permit. But when they try to sell their home, they may have trouble because the work hasn't been verified as safe.

Can a Permit Be Purchased After the Fact?

It's possible to go back and purchase a permit for some types of work, but homeowners should keep in mind that an inspector will have to see the work. If that means opening up walls or exposing systems, that can be very costly. And if the work isn't done right, the homeowner may have to tear open much more of the structure to correct the problems that are occurring or that were caused (or not corrected) by the unpermitted work. With that in mind, purchasing a permit after the fact can be done but is generally not that common for the seller of a home. It can be more common for a buyer to do this after the house has been purchased, to make sure everything is up to code and handled correctly.

How Unpermitted Work Affects Home Value

Unfortunately, the unpermitted work you've discovered may lower your home's total value. When a buyer wants to purchase a specific home, they're doing so with the assumption that everything is in good shape and was built properly. Homes that feature DIY repairs or additions that were never permitted are a hazard to buyers because that mystery work could be downright dangerous. Permitted construction projects will never cut into a load bearing support or run wiring where it creates a shock hazard, but without the permits and inspections, the previous repair could cause all these risks and more.

If you're trying to a buy a new home and suspect that some of the work done on it was not permitted or inspected, negotiate with the seller. Ask for a deeper inspection focused on the work in question and be prepared to haggle the cost of the home down to compensate for the repairs. You'll want to have any unauthorized or unknown work removed and replaced by a professional with the right permits before moving in, and the home will need to pass the permit inspection as well. You can be held responsible for the work even if it was done long before you became the owner, so make sure you get a good deal on a home where you are assuming this kind of risk.

Should Buyers Walk Away From a Home With Unpermitted Work?

Walking away from a home with unpermitted work isn't necessarily required. But buyers will want to make sure that the home is structurally sound and that the work that was done without permits is not dangerous or detrimental to the quality or the value of the house. A good home inspection is important to reduce risk, and buyers may also want to go to the county or city and see what kinds of permits have been pulled in the last few years. A home in East Nashville may have different standards than a home across the state. If work has clearly been done without a permit, finding out the depth of the work and how well it was completed may be the right choice before going ahead with the purchase of the home.

It's important to follow legal protocol when renovating a home, as unpermitted work can pose a danger to anyone in the home or saddle a homeowner with fines for having such renovations in their homes. If the work was correctly done, there is little risk, but since work was performed without a permit it may be wise to get permits after the fact and ensure that everything is handled within the confines of the law.


Gary Ashton

The Ashton Real Estate Group of RE/MAX Advantage

The #1 Real Estate Team in Tennessee and #2 RE/MAX team in the World!


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