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Do Inspectors Routinely Recommend Permit Searches?


hausdok
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According to a recent Q & A column by home inspection know-it-all, Barry Stone, "many" do. It's hard to know what he means by many but the implication is that a lot of us recommend that clients research permits.

I don't know about the rest of you, but the only time I'm concerned about whether a permit has been pulled for something is when the quality of the work is so bad that I suspect a couple of lobotomized chimps did the job. In my opinion, permit searches fall under the heading of due diligence and a prospective buyer ought to be doing it without any prodding by me. What say you; is Stone right or is he just making stuff up again?

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Found the link....

http://www.contracostatimes.com/realest ... i_12577947

My opinion is it is the buyers' responsibility to perform due diligence. As inspectors we are checking and reporting on the homes' condition, not wether it meets current or past municipal codes and regulations, or wether it was approved by the local planning department.

I think it is interesting how Barry indentifies the inspector, appraiser, and realtor as 3 people who are likely responsible.....yet he leaves out the buyer....

Can you even find permit information on older structures? I am not so sure you can. I know with my own home, built in 2000, the building department sent me a nice little letter saying that they only keep the blueprints for a period of 5 years, and that if I wanted them I could get them.....otherwise if they did not hear from me they would be destroyed.

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Yes, if I see evidence - usually electrical or plumbing work done in an obviously substandard manner - that leads me to suspect that a substantial amount of work (say, a bathroom install or kitchen remodel) was done without a permit. That's a potential high dollar liability for a client, and IMO I'm remiss if I don't point out that they have the opportunity to investigate it further.

There's also Kurt's concern: if I can observe this evidence, what is present that I can't see?

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I include this as part of my report when a house has been renovated:

"The documentation for all of the previous addition and renovation work (copies of plans, permits and inspection approvals) should be obtained from the homeowner. Additionally, any available installation manuals, operating manuals, and warranties should also be obtained.

Building permits should have been obtained when the work was done. If a building permit was obtained, inspections should have been performed as the work progressed. The local construction department typically issues a certificate of completion after a project passes all of the required inspections."

I specifically exclude verification of completed and approved building permits as part of my inspection agreement.

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This would be an interesting poll topic.

I don't generally recommend permit searches. For Portland homes, I can go online and see whats be permited since about 2000?

I know other inspectors who do broiler plate it.

So lets say that you don't find anything wrong on the surface, and it turns out that no permit was drawn, do you think the inspector should be liable for not recommending a permit search if it something later turns up? How is this different from not recommending a sewer scope?

Chris, Oregon

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I recommend permit research fairly often. Lots of times, I'll find myself in a finished basement, and all the breakers are labeled, except for three or four in the bottom that obviously serve the basement. Who can know what kind of monkey business is hiding above or behind the drywall?

Also, and more importantly, a friend of mine performed a fire restoration job in which wiring and drywall were replaced. When he called the electrical inspection peeps to come bless the new panel, they wouldn't do it 'cause they couldn't see the new circuits behind the walls. My guy had to remove a bunch of the new drywall before the electrical inspector would grant the final.

Too, around here, patio-room companies normally don't obtain permits and construct their aluminum-and-glass beauties on top of a utility easement or too close to a neighbor's property line. I don't want my client to take the heat for something like that when they sell the house.

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Lawyers and banks are now asking for permits on just about everything from fences to pools to sheds. I've refused to issue at least a couple dozen certificates of compliance for non permitted work(most of it will make the hair on your neck stand up). I've raised a lot of tempers and that's led to a lot of razed decks. The banks just won't loan money anymore unless all the stuff is legal.

Anything to keep the officials away from my house

"It's not a shed. I'm storing my concrete forms under a roof until I need them again." That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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I recommend permit searches in every report. I figure that more information is always better than less, right? If someone is going to plunk down 4-500 large on a property, they ought to get all of the information that's available in order to make the best decisions. The history of permits is a small part of that.

Let me ask the brethren: What is the argument against it?

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Let me ask the brethren: What is the argument against it?

Well it's a law enforcement issue isn't it. Where do you stop? I think this leads right into politics. The argument will be it's just a few words for free in the report, what's the harm?. Like Walter says, "Words mean things."

A permit doesn't mean anything with respect to our inspection; it doesn't mean things were done right. Things could have been built right, but didn't receive permision from the State, and that makes them wrong?

It's politics, not inspecting.

Chris, Oregon

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Always recommended the buyer check for permits when we saw recent work or sloppy work. This led to many interesting developments, like having to tear down part of a garage because it was 3' over the neighbors property line and neither the builder or neighbor was aware of it. Local building departments most often would then require a permit, do inspections and issue a cert of compliance. I agree with Jim. It only takes a few words in the report and a phone call by the buyer to the local building department.

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Let me ask the brethren: What is the argument against it?

Well it's a law enforcement issue isn't it. Where do you stop? I think this leads right into politics. The argument will be it's just a few words for free in the report, what's the harm?. Like Walter says, "Words mean things."

A permit doesn't mean anything with respect to our inspection; it doesn't mean things were done right. Things could have been built right, but didn't receive permision from the State, and that makes them wrong?

It's politics, not inspecting.

Chris, Oregon

I agree that advising buyers to check the Building Dept. folder on a property is outside the scope of a home inspection, but it's only a little outside the scope. It's a no-risk, potential high reward move, that is part of the boilerplate in my report.

I'm not saying that work done without a permit is wrong. Far from it. I'm just saying that buyers should acquaint themselves with the history of the house they're going to spend the next 30 years paying for. What they find may mean something to them, or it may mean nothing, but the information is free and available to all, so why not look at it?

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I am also with Jim on this.

I don't see how this is a political issue. The bottom line is that we are hired to do our best to help our clients and educate them about the house they are purchasing.

What is the down side of recommending that our clients contact the local construction office to make sure that there are no open permits and that construction permits were obtained when required?

Many of my clients are first time home buyers that are moving from an apartment. They may not know about the construction process. I explain the limits of what I can see and the benefits of having the local construction department involved in a renovation

As examples I have recently seen a brand new roof stripped and replaced because it was improperly installed over three old roof layers and a new deck removed and reconfigured because it violated zoning setbacks. Both projects were done without proper permits and inspections. The roof issue was obvious to me but the deck was well constructed (just in the wrong place). My clients appreciated my advice and both have recommended me to their friends.

If it is not addressed when they are buying the house, they may have to address it (at their own expense) when they are selling or possibly while they are living in it.

I make it clear that I am not doing the permit research for them.

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I make it clear that I am not doing the permit research for them.

Which takes us back to the original question; should it be a custom of this profession to routinely remind buyers that they have to do due diligence?

If telling buyers to do a permit search at every inspection becomes an accepted custom of this profession, doesn't it then become a defacto standard and won't some buyers then try to blame the inspector if an inspector didn't think to tell them to do something that every Home Buying For Dummies books tells them to do anyway?

I think everyone agrees that when there are indicators of unpermitted work or do-it-yourselfer slop jobs that suggesting that the client do a permit check is entirely reasonable; but to suggest it should be done as a matter of routine, even when the work is done so well that it looks like a pro did it or might be undetectable and wasn't revealed by the seller, who is the one that should have divulged it?

I dunno. Seems like we're opening the door just a crack there and giving folks just one more thing to needlessly screw with us over.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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I say keep it out of the report except for lobotimized construction as Kurt says, but make it part of client expectation manangement (Is it not already covered under most Sop's?).

If we start making things like this an industry standard were going to end up with reports making all those crazy disclamers like don't bath with a toaster, and hold the pointy end of the stick away from your eye.

Chris, Oregon

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I make it clear that I am not doing the permit research for them.

Which takes us back to the original question; should it be a custom of this profession to routinely remind buyers that they have to do due diligence?

If telling buyers to do a permit search at every inspection becomes an accepted custom of this profession, doesn't it then become a defacto standard and won't some buyers then try to blame the inspector if an inspector didn't think to tell them to do something that every Home Buying For Dummies books tells them to do anyway?

I think everyone agrees that when there are indicators of unpermitted work or do-it-yourselfer slop jobs that suggesting that the client do a permit check is entirely reasonable; but to suggest it should be done as a matter of routine, even when the work is done so well that it looks like a pro did it or might be undetectable and wasn't revealed by the seller, who is the one that should have divulged it?

I dunno. Seems like we're opening the door just a crack there and giving folks just one more thing to needlessly screw with us over.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

Mike,

I rarely disagree with you but I think it should be a matter of routine to recommend that our client check for the history of construction permits and inspection approvals when you see that a house has been recently renovated. What is our added liability if we make it clear in our contract that we are not doing this within our scope of work?

Steve

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In wholly respectful disagreement with all who have posted before:

What is the downside of a home inspector recommending to every prospective buyer that they get all of the publicly available information about a property BEFORE they purchase it?

Or, put another way: Do you want to be the guy who selectively educates each buyer? Or the guy who thoroughly educates them? I'm going to take every opportunity to thoroughly educate them, and am open to each of your suggestions.

I have a skinny, bony, little ass. Like Katen, I figure that if I cover my client's; my arse is more than covered. Checking permits takes fewer than 30 minutes, covers the broader regions of the most expansive of asses, and costs a home inspector nothing. An inspector is simply informing his client to be aware of easily obtainable (not necessarily actionable) information out there. It isn't standard practice, it's best practice.

That's a little of what commands Katenesque fees and builds a Katen-like reputation.

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