Does a home inspector check for permits?

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Checking the public records for building permits for a home inspection is not required by the Standards of Practice for home inspectors of the administrative law of the State of Florida DBPR, or of the two national associations, American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) and International Asssociation of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI). Most inspectors do not check permits, and with good reason: it sometimes opens a can of worms that annoys both the buyer and seller. But we know it can also prove helpful, because we do check permits in certain jurisdictions and circumstances. 


    Here are five things to consider about home inspectors checking permits:

1) In some areas, it is an expected part of the closing of a real estate transaction to verify that any work requiring a permit has been both permitted and had a final inspection. The FARBAR contract, which the standard one in Florida says: "PERMITS DISCLOSURE: Except as may have been disclosed by Seller to Buyer in a written disclosure, Seller does not know of any improvements made to the Property which were made without required permits or made pursuant to permits which have not been properly closed.” But few buyers actually worry about it in our area. Also, many home inspectors believe that it should not be their responsibility to do this work.

2) Checking permits can give an inspector an exact age for a roof, home addition, or pool, instead of having to guess the age based on condition.

3) It is a strange but true fact that the lack of a building permit by the seller of a home for an improvement rarely causes a problem for the buyer, other than indicating that the parts of the work that are now concealed were not checked for code compliance. But a homeowner that applies for a permit for a home improvement, and then does not close it out with a final inspection—or fails the final inspection and never bothers to get it reinspected and passed—leaves a big problem for the next owner of the home.
    Building departments expect previous permits to be closed out before they will issue another one. If the new homeowner decides to add a pool in the backyard, the former owner’s permit for a roof replacement from years ago that failed the final inspection will have to be finalized first. This means additional fees and probably hiring a contractor to fix the unsatisfactory work. For more on this, see our blog post Why are expired building permits a problem for both the seller and buyer of a home?

4) Permit records vary according to which county or city the home is located in. For example, in our service area, one city only has records back to 2003 and there is a gap of lost permit information around 2008. Smaller cities and counties do not have on-line access to permit records and it is necessary to call or email an inquiry to the building department and wait up to a week for a response. Some will only give you basic permit information and not provide a hard copy for documentation and future reference if there is a dispute. 

5) It is not always possible to get a complete permit record. More than once, a local jurisdiction has stated to us that they had no permit record for a particular home improvement, and then the seller produced a copy of the finalized permit card for it from their files. If a home inspector does do a permit search, it is important to not present the results as a certified complete record of all permits, only as the results of a brief and possibly incomplete permit search.

    So, checking permit records can be helpful for a home inspector and their homebuyer customer, or can cause needless complications to a real estate deal. We feel it is useful information, but must be analyzed and presented carefully.

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

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

  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? 

 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? 

 What makes a house fail the home inspection?

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

    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 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?

    Visit our HOME INSPECTION page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles. 

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