You’re walking through your clients’ home, getting ready to list it for sale, when you see what looks like a makeshift bathroom in the basement. You ask your clients about it and, sure enough, they had a handyman install a sink and toilet down there 10 years ago. Did they ever have a permit or permits pulled?


If they didn’t, that can come back to haunt them—and you—because it can grind the sale to a halt if a presale inspection is required by your locality or the sales contract requires the seller to provide a certificate of completion to show the work was done to code.

Each municipality establishes its own rules for handling unpermitted work.

Here are three points to keep in mind when helping your clients avoid problems as they prepare to list their house for sale.

Pay attention to renovations with red flags.

Most unpermitted renovations are small scale. Contractors that work on large-scale renovations such as additions typically won’t do the work without pulling the proper permits.

But other projects could have cut corners: a sink and toilet rather than a full bathroom in the basement or a window that looks new but doesn’t seal properly.


Ask questions.

If something triggers a concern, ask the sellers about it.

If they have unpermitted work, or if the work was done by the previous owner and they don’t know whether it was permitted or not, they should consider going to their local building department to see what work requires a permit.

Municipalities vary greatly on this. Some require a permit only for major renovations, like a new bathroom. Others require a permit for something as small as adding an electrical outlet.

If they discover work done before their time that should have been permitted, sellers should inquire with the city to see whether permits were ever pulled and a certificate of completion issued.


Take proper action.

If sellers learn there’s unpermitted work, their best course of action is to make an appointment with a city building inspector, apply for new permits, and, if needed, have the work brought up to the latest code and a certificate of completion issued.

One downside: Today’s generally tougher code requirements may make it more costly and cumbersome to have the project pass inspection. (Local note – one municipality charges 5x the permit fee!)

It’s always a better idea for home owners to get the proper approvals from a municipality at the time the work is done than to wait until they sell the house years later.

Author(s): Carolyn L. Weiss

Bottom Line:

Don’t cut corners.  Pay the few extra dollars for a permit.  You’ll make it back, and then some, when it comes time to sell your home.

And if a previous owner cut corners, go out of your way to make it right prior to listing your home.