How To Look At A House

McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of  

site-built, mobile/manufactured and modular homes

How can I find out if all the home improvements had a building permit?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Requests to provide building permits for improvements to a home that is for sale were not standard just a few years ago. But in some areas of South Florida they are required for a real estate closing, and it’s likely that trend will eventually move up to our area. The latest version of the FARBAR contract, which is the standard in the Gainesville area for real estate transactions, includes language regarding resolving non-permitted additions or renovations, along with closing open building permits. We now regularly respond to homebuyer’s requests to provide the permit history of a house.

   In Alachua County and City of Gainesville, we now research the building permit history of the property as part of the home inspection. Both the county and city have on-line databases that are readily accessible for review, and we include a summary of the permit history on a page of the report. But, for smaller municipalities and surrounding counties, permit research requires a phone call or a written request to the building department, which can sometimes take several days for a response.

  Many homeowners consider that a city or county building inspector snooping around their property is an invasion of their privacy by the government. “A man’s home is his castle,” as the old saying goes. And, after all, why should it be anybody else’s concern how you improve or add on to your house?

  Actually, there are a number of good reasons:

1) If you and your family were to live in your house for the rest of your lives, and never allow any guests inside, then have it destroyed at your death, it might be conceivable that it’s nobody’s business what you do to your house. But it never works out that way . Eventually your home will be occupied by someone else.  And that is where, in the government’s role of protecting public safety, it is important that the house not be a fire trap, about to collapse due to poor construction, have contaminated water due to unsafe plumbing, electrical shorts sparking in the walls, or any of a number of other hazards.

2) If you need to be rescued from your home in a fire, the bedroom windows now need to meet minimum opening size standards so that a fireman with an oxygen backpack can get into the house and save your life, and house numbers large and legible enough to be seen quickly by an emergency responder.

3) Having a home inspected by a professional home inspector can tell you a lot about the condition of the house. But a home inspection is primarily visual: the inspector cannot see behind the walls. Because permit inspections are done at multiple phases of construction, a city/county inspector has looked behind the wallboards and under the carpet at the early stages of construction to verify that everything is satisfactory.

4) Some price reductions on a homeowner’s insurance premium, due to windstorm resistant features of a home, now require proof of a building permit for the work in order to receive the discount.

  If you are about to sell your house and have not kept copies of the building permits for the improvements, don’t worry; because records have been computerized for about the last 30 years.

   A record of building permits and inspections is no guarantee that everything is satisfactory in a home. Municipal inspectors don’t check everything and occasionally, being human, miss a defect. Yet it still provides a level of comfort for homebuyers in today’s market. 

    Also, see our blog post Should I buy a house that has been remodeled/renovated without building permits or has open permits?

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  To learn more strategies for getting the best possible home inspection, here’s a few of our other blog posts:

How can I make sure I don't get screwed on my home inspection? 

How thorough is a home inspector required to be when inspecting a house?

Should I trust the Seller's Property Disclosure Statement?

Can I do my own home inspection?

How can homebuyers protect themselves against buying a house over a sinkhole? 

The seller gave me a report from a previous home inspection. Should I use it or get my own inspector? 

If we already looked at the house very carefully, do we still need a home inspection?

    To read about issues related to homes of particular type or one built in a specific decade, visit one of these blog posts:

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1940s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1950s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1960s house?

• What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1970s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1980s house?

What are the common problems to look for when buying a 1990s house?

What problems should I look for when buying a country house or rural property? 

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been moved?

What do I need to know about buying a foreclosure? 

What should I look for when buying a former rental house?  

What problems should I look for when buying a house that has been vacant or abandoned?

What are the most common problems with older mobile homes?

What should I look for when buying a house that is being "flipped" by an investor seller? 

What do I need to know about a condo inspection?

What are the "Aging In Place" features to look for when buying a retirement home?

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