During the home-buying process, you will receive a lot of information about the history of the house as well as its current condition. The home inspection and disclosure statement can give you peace of mind before closing on a property.
However, an inspector can only provide information on what they can see, and the homeowner may only be able to provide you details from when they lived in the home—and only to a certain extent. You may want further confirmation that the home is in the condition you think it is. By obtaining the home’s building permit history, you can be confident in the home’s repairs and alterations.
What is a building permit history?
Building permits are official records that certify that home repairs and upgrades went through an inspection process. It’s important to remember that individual municipalities may have different laws on what requires a permit, but there are some common home improvements that may require approval and inspections:
- Additions or extensions to a building
- Finishing a basement or attic
- New sheds, garages, or swimming pools
- Replacing or changing electrical service or HVAC equipment
- Remodeling that requires changes in plumbing, heating, or electrical components
- Building or replacing a deck, porch, or patio
- Renovations that affect the structure, like load-bearing walls, windows, or doors
Reasons to look at permit history
First, building permits help guarantee any home improvements met a satisfactory level required by the city. A building permit guarantees that corners were not cut, and the work done should hold up over time. If a home had major repairs done without a permit, you’ll want to make sure these changes are up to code before closing on the home, and this can affect the negotiation process depending on the potential cost. A permit history also confirms information on the disclosure statement for any major repairs listed such as a new roof or electrical work.
Work done without a permit can impact whether or not your insurance company will cover damages involving the work. For example, if electrical work completed without a permit causes a fire, your homeowner’s insurance might not cover the repairs.
Finally, you may face fines if the city or municipality discovers the unpermitted work, and you may even need to remove the issue entirely. Even though you didn’t complete the work, as the homeowner, it will be your responsibility.
How to get a permit history
There are a few ways to find the permit history of a home. First, check out the city’s website, as many provide a way for you to search for a property’s permits online. If the city doesn’t have this option, you may be able to find a phone number or an email address of someone who can help you find this info. As a final option, you can visit the office of the building official to see if the information is available. It is important to remember every city will have different options on how to obtain a permit history.
Also, confirm that you have the same square footage for the home as the city to make sure any additions had a permit when completed. Additions completed without a permit can impact the overall value of the home, as an appraiser won’t include the addition in the appraisal.
You can also ask the seller to provide a permit history. However, the homeowner may only have the information for when they lived in the home. So, if it is an older house, a five-year snapshot might not provide everything you need to know.
Buying a home is a major investment, and by obtaining a permit history, you can add to your confidence that this is the house for you.