It seems like a no-brainer. You’re a handy person, and you’re simply building a little screened porch onto your family room area. None of your neighbors can see it, and it’s not going to have anything more inside except for a few electrical outlets and a ceiling fan. Plus, maybe some vinyl planking, walls, and windows. Even the roof is just corrugated metal. You’re following the instructions on a YouTube DIY video, and it’s going great so far.
But what happens if you get caught without a building permit? Can you get in trouble for this very straight-forward and unobtrusive project? Why do building permits exist in the first place? Changes to your home go on the record because it’s important that homeowners do things correctly, following the current safety codes for electrical, plumbing, and structure. Doing it wrong could mean exposed wires, short-circuiting, and extensive repairs that could translate into thousands of dollars in damage. Worse yet, potential damage to your neighbors’ property as well.
Failing to follow the rules and get signed off on some projects may mean having to rip it all out and start again when selling your home after an inspection is done, costing hundreds to thousands of dollars. Even if you have an inspector enter your home to sign off on a permitted project, they may notice something else amiss with another part of your house. You may or may not have been the person who did the work, but that doesn’t matter to them. All that matters is the structure. If they research and discover non-permitted work was done, there may be consequences. Trying to sell a home with non-permitted rooms or work may also find you have to reduce the price of your home significantly. Realtors may not include non-permitted bedrooms and baths (or the correlating square footage) in their listings and must disclose the anomalies in the listing description in most states. In some areas, even removing the closet in a given room to make it into an office means you’ve automatically lost a bedroom in the count.
The general rule of thumb is that structural, electrical, plumbing or mechanical work will require a permit, but here is a breakdown:
Installing fencing or repairing it is something you would not think requires a permit. But there are height restrictions in many locales. Especially if you have neighborhood rules about aesthetics. Installing a fence that does not match those around it, you might be forced to take it down and start again. Check with a local fencing contractor, even if you are doing the work yourself.
If you are installing windows that are larger than the current opening, a permit is required. Even a retrofit for newer windows may require one. You won’t know unless you call your local building permit office. Same for skylights and new doors. There are several reasons for this, including energy calculations for how much glass exposure your house is permitted without having to upgrade your HVAC system.
As for plumbing and electrical work, you’ll need permits when installing or replacing wiring for an outlet, a ceiling fan or overhead lighting — especially recessed or can lights. Smaller projects like repairs and light fixture switch-outs probably won’t require it. As for plumbing, codes often change, which means you usually can’t just replace pipes and fittings with the same kinds that have been in your house for decades. A plumber can tell you what is being used now.
Structural changes are without a doubt the most noticeable renovations you can make to your home — things like changes to any load-bearing walls, adding or repairing balconies, decks, porches, roofs or foundation flooring. Additions, new construction, remodels, repairs, replacements, and upgrades totaling $5,000 or more will require a permit, including detached structures like garages, sheds, and platforms. Exceptions to this rule include construction less than 200 square feet.
As for heating and cooling, the person you hire to replace your water cooler will get a permit for you, as will the contractor making changes to your heating and air conditioning. Changes to the ventilation system, gas and wood fireplaces and ducts will also require a permit. This does not include filter changes, motor lubrication or equipment cleaning.
So, what can you do WITHOUT a permit? Plenty. Replacing flooring, doing minor electrical repairs, installing new countertops, replacing bathroom fixtures (faucets, showerheads, painting and wallpapering, as well as landscaping work, are all exempt from permit requirements.
The best rule of thumb is to with check with or hire a professional, who will have the experience to determine if your project requires an inspector to check for any red flags afterward. Professionals are always under strict scrutiny by the areas in which they do their work and will usually be the ones to procure the permits. They understand the bureaucracy, know the personnel at city hall, can do the paperwork in their sleep, and will no doubt take less time to get the job done.
Ah, yes! It’s an exciting time. You’ve finally closed on that new house and now you get to move in. However, packing and unpacking aren’t the only things you need to think about during this transition period.
Watch our short video here highlighting ten things you can do during the move in process that will save you some potential trouble later on.
We've all seen it. For weeks or months, we glance over as a real estate agent's "for sale" sign stands at attention outside a house in our neighborhood. Balloons fly over the mailbox on weekends, when open houses take place. Then we see a "sale pending" sign go up. A deal must have been struck. Weeks go by, and we expect that sign to go from pending status to that word that makes all Realtors want to hoist a few — "sold." Instead, we see the pending sign come down. What happened?
Not sure how the term got coined, but that house "fell out of escrow." It's as if bad news dropped onto everyone's heads because one party or the other in a transaction didn't perform or a discovery was made that made it impossible for the sale to close. If you are the buyer, how do you protect your purchase and make sure you get to the finish line?
First, prepare yourself for the inspection, especially if the home is nowhere near new. Unless the home had been fully renovated recently, there WILL be some surprises in the inspection report. No matter how gorgeous the kitchen, how well kept the home, or how the sellers reassured their agent that all was well with the house, people don't know what they don't know. Even the owners. So, go into the process with a realistic understanding that the condition of the home may reflect its age, especially behind the walls.
Just because the inspection uncovered a few troubling discoveries, don't think it's over 'til it's over. While the defects and recommended repairs end up on inspection reports can be a lot to digest, you have every right to expect a renegotiation for anything major. Your Realtor should be able to guide how much seller cooperation is reasonable, so it doesn't put your home purchase at risk.
Think of your purchase as a photo, where the photographer tells everyone to smile and pose, but not move. That's how you should think of your pre-approved loan status (all cash buyers need not worry about this, of course). Your pre-approval should be a snapshot that is frozen in time, with no movement taking place until you are handed the keys to the city. Hold off the "happy purchases," on credit like a new car, a bunch of new appliances you are dying to install, or a house full of new furniture. Even if you pay cash for those items, it has the potential to affect the very funds the lender used to show that you have additional savings beyond your down payment monies. Your pre-approval is based on your credit score and your debt-to-loan ratio and any noticeable change to those figures during escrow, and you could find yourself with no financing. This is all scrutinized one last time at the close of escrow, along with verifying the appraisal matches the sales price. Financing issues are a huge reason the "sale pending" sign can come down.
Lastly, don't get caught with your proverbial pants down when you go to sign on the dotted line. The last thing you want is to get to your closing and realize you forgot one of the documents you need. Take your driver's license, passport, or some other government-issued photo ID, proof of your homeowner's insurance, a copy of your sales contract for your own reference, any and all home inspection reports, paperwork the bank used for loan approval (your lender will tell you what to take), a notarized document giving you power of attorney if your spouse is on title and not at the closing, and a bank check or wire transfer for the full amount of your closing costs (another figure your lender will supply and you should have studied for accuracy before closing.) You may not need all of it, but if the escrow officer needs any of it and it's not readily available, your closing can drag on until it is provided. And if you've already got your moving van arranged, that can ruin the party. Of course, double-checking with your loan officer is always a good idea.
Like with most things in life, there are a lot of little things that can go wrong when purchasing a new home. These issues come in all shapes and sizes and can severely delay or even cancel it all together. Fortunately, knowledge is power, and being aware of what could go wrong can help you to prevent it from happening. Here are the five most common problems that pop up during or just before closing that can really interfere with your home buying process.
- Document Errors: It may be something as minor as a typo or as major as a missing document, but either way, document errors can really slow the process down. To help prevent this, it’s helpful to read through all of your paperwork carefully and as soon as you can. It’s also vital that you get every document your lender asks for to them in a reasonable amount of time. This can take a lot of the stress out later and can help keep everything moving right on track.
- Contract Confusion: It is important that you read and discuss your contract so that there are no questions left about what’s staying and what’s going. Any disputes at all should be put in the contract and acted upon for things to continue going smoothly and for the house to close on time. If a miscommunication arises about properties being sold with the house, the whole thing could end up down the drain.
- Oops, Never Mind: Unfortunately, it is very common for buyers to change their mind last minute about buying a house, but there have also been times where the seller has simply decided not to sell. Whichever end of the sale you’re on, it’s important that you’re 100% sure especially once you’ve made it so far in the process.
- Inspection Issues: It is recommended that every buyer order an inspection for a house once they’ve gotten really serious about it, but sometimes these inspections can uncover issues that can completely ruin a deal. Things like structural damage, outdated electrical wiring, or plumbing problems are major red flags for many buyers. It’s smart for sellers to hire a pre-inspection once they decide to put their house on the market so that if these major issues come up, they can be repaired well before they end up as a problem for potential buyers.
- Change in Buyer Situation: Sometimes people make mistakes during closing, or for some reason their financial situation changes and they no longer qualify for their loan due to change in debt-to-income ratio or credit score. It’s important to pay attention to your spending, your bank statements, and to every one of your bills when buying a house so that none of your information is affected. Even good changes can negatively affect your loan qualifications, so postpone things if you can and try to keep all of your finances as constant and stable as possible until everything has fallen perfectly into place.
When they say “it ain’t over ’til it’s over” they must not have been talking about credit scores. Keeping your score high is just as important after you buy a home as it was before you closed escrow, so don’t go on autopilot or revert back to old habits.
According to RealtyTimes’ Jaymi Naciri, while you may have met the goal of homeownership, keeping your scores up can benefit you in several ways. For one, you can get more credit cards, including those cards offered by stores with 0 percent financing for things like furniture, appliances and outdoor fixtures with no interest for several months. But watch out. Once your happy no-interest period expires, your rate can skyrocket if you don’t pay the entire balance. Still, if you just want to buy a little time until a few more paychecks or commission checks roll in, it’s not a bad way to go, using their money instead of your own for a short time.
Cards that offer miles, cash back, or some other perk aren’t offered to just anyone, but if your credit is good, they may be knocking down your door. “If you keep your credit score high enough to snag one, you’ll love being able to rack up miles to use for travel or apply a cash back bonus to everyday expenses to keep costs down,” says Naciri.
And here is something you may have forgotten: many employers run your credit as part of the hiring process. Let your credit drop, and it could keep you from getting a new job.
On top of all this, you never know what’s going to happen to interest rates. Good credit means that when rates drop you can jump in a heartbeat if you want to refinance, sell or buy another home.