Real Estate Matters | Not pulling permits for rehab is risky

(Daniel Acker/BLOOMBERG)

We want to finish our walk-out basement. I am pretty handy and have done finishing work before, although it is not my profession. I will subcontract the electrical and any needed HVAC out to a pro. Framing, sheetrock, flooring and the like I will do myself. I will work on the project as time and funds allow, which means it could be a year or two before the project is done.

What are the ramifications if I don’t pull permits?

We’re sure you are trying to save money by doing much of the work yourself. However, cutting corners is not the best of ideas. For example, you didn’t mention whether you plan to use an architect or other professional to design the work in the basement. If you fail to consider certain issues, you might be sorry down the line.

You already recognize that you need to obtain the services of sub-contractors to do the electrical, heating, ventilating and air-conditioning work. Knowing your limitations is important. But you also have to think carefully about pulling the proper permits.

Let’s suppose you ignore the permit requirements. When you sell the home, your buyer might ask about the permits for the basement, and you’ll have to answer honestly that you didn’t obtain them. If your municipality finds out that you did the work without permits, you could be in for quite a bit of trouble.

If your municipality finds out you have no permit while you are doing work, it could issue a stop-work order. You would then have to take all steps required to obtain the necessary permits and pay any extra fees and fines. It could also put quite a damper on your timetable for completing the project.

You might think that you can do unpermitted work without being detected, but that’s difficult. Many newspapers publish the addresses of homes that have pulled permits. Neighbors usually notice when work is being done. A disgruntled neighbor might call the police or village hall to complain about work or to see if you have pulled a permit. Garbage collectors, utility employees and police officers frequently look for building permits when they see contractors performing work in homes.

It does not seem too remote a possibility that someone will discover that you’re doing work without a permit. Therefore, we’re not sure why you would take the risk.

Even if you do complete the renovation without being detected, you’re not out of the woods. When you try to sell your home, your buyer’s inspector might suspect that a home was remodeled recently and tell your buyer to ask whether building permits were pulled. If your buyer finds out that no permits were pulled, your prospective sale of your home might fall through.

We know that some municipalities charge a hefty sum for building permits. We also understand that by not pulling the permits for the work, you might believe you’re keeping your tax assessment low. However, if prospective buyers discover that the assessment is based on an unfinished basement, they will certainly suspect that you didn’t pull a permit.

In some states, real estate tax authorities send inspectors out to homes to verify that their calculations for assessments are accurate. If your lack of a permit is discovered, you might end up also having to pay back taxes in addition to other penalties. And if you live in a state where that is a possibility, your buyer might either kill the deal or insist on a lower purchase price to compensate for the risk he assumes due to your failure to get the permit.

We would prefer to see you do it the right way and obtain the permit. One additional small benefit is that a good building inspector might tell you if any of the work performed in your home was done improperly or not up to code.

Ilyce R. Glink’s latest book is “Buy, Close, Move In!” If you have questions, you can call her radio show toll-free (800-972-8255) any Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. EST. Contact Ilyce through her Web site,



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