Outlining a Seller's Options When Discovering Unpermitted Work

Anthony Gilbert

Few people know the full history of a particular piece of property, which is why unpermitted work can be confusing and frustrating to discover, especially for a home seller who has discovered unpermitted work with their own home as they are trying to sell. Because the rules for permits can change with the seasons, homeowners may not even be able to answer certain questions about the legality of renovations or repairs that were made to the property. For those who know (or suspect) that a home has unpermitted work, it's time to delve further into the issue.

Home selling can be a complicated process at times. Having a qualified agent and potentially a real estate lawyer to consult with can simplify many issues a home seller might run into.

Unclear Laws & Regulations

Unpermitted work can become confusing as the laws and regulations regarding building permits and additions is often confusing and difficult to interpret. Building regulations are often imposed by many different entities, ranging from the federal government down to the to the state and local level.

Often, even an HOA has some type of building rules and regulations. So for example, if it was legal in 1985 to add a sunroom to a home without a permit, the statute may have changed in 1987 to require a permit. As a result, the owner of the home at the time likely has no official permit or records of a sunroom addition in 1985. However, using today’s standards, they may be asked to produce a permit, even though one was not required at the time of construction.

Additionally, certain additions may be allowed under a city or county code, but not under an HOA. For example, a small bedroom or bathroom addition to an existing home may be allowable by the city, but not by the HOA. It's best to check with all entities that may have required permitted work for past home additions and construction projects.

Researching the Changes in a Home's Design

Homeowners may have to do some digging into the original plans of the home (if they are available) to see everything that was done and whether or not they have information about the work.

Blueprints for the home might be obtained either from the city, county or the original construction company of the home. A homeowner won't be able to tell when the work was done by studying the plans, but it will clarify how the home changed over the years. If the homeowner still has the information of the previous seller, they can request information about the dates and methods of each structural change.

Unpermitted Work Discussions

Experts recommend that sellers go to local authorities to find out exactly what they need to do to bring their home back up to code - or if it's even necessary. This is usually the most powerful action a seller can take because each case of unpermitted work is different. The previous homeowner may have done an excellent job at reconfiguring their pipes away from spreading tree roots — even if the work did happen to be unpermitted. In which case, the homeowner may be able to pay a small charge for a retroactive permit and be done with the matter. Most city authorities are rather understanding about these types of matters because they know that homeowners don't deserve to pay thousands of dollars for someone else's mistakes.

Settling the Matter

In the case of more complicated work, homeowners may need to take on more of the responsibility. If a homeowner can't prove the work was legally done, it's their responsibility to make it right for the next home buyer. They may need to hire certified workers to redo the work, which could become expensive.

Other Options

Sellers may be able to sell the home as-is if they so choose and disclose that work was unpermitted. This means the home seller takes no responsibility for unpermitted work and makes no claims to its safety or stability. This decision is one that should be discussed with a qualified real estate agent beforehand. The possible draw-backs to this decision might be:

  • Buyers may be unlikely to want to buy a home as-is

  • Buyers may not even look at the home

  • As-is homes attract historically low offers from buyers

The course for every home seller who discovers unpermitted work will differ based on where they live, the work that's been done, and how they want to sell the home. Every situation is different - which is why the services of a qualified real estate agent will be of benefit to any home seller.

About the Author

Anthony Gilbert is the owner of The RealFX Group. Anthony specializes in real estate lead generation and digital marketing.