It’s a sinking feeling in your stomach when you realize some of the work you did years ago to your home was unpermitted work. It’s understandable; many people have been in your shoes, made some changes to their house but didn’t realize that they needed to file for a permit to do the work. Each state, city, and county may have different building codes and permit requirements, so it’s hard to keep up. However, if you were aware that the work being done was unpermitted, that’s another story and one you probably should address before selling. Below we’ll cover everything you need to know about work permits and what your options are when it comes to selling a house with unpermitted work. So let’s get started!
How Do Property Work Permits Work?
Surprisingly most projects require permits unless you are doing maintenance that doesn’t affect the structure, plumbing, sanitation, gas, electrical, or other utilities- then you should be safe. If you’re doing any construction, re-construction, altering, repairing, removing, or demolishing a structure; or changing the use or occupancy of your home- you will need permits. Permits are necessary to cut away any wall or load-bearing support such as a column and change the supporting structure. Installing storm windows, replacing windows, and installing kitchen cabinets are all jobs that can require permits. Even if the reno involves plumbing or electrical systems, separate permits may be required. Fire code permits may also be necessary for some renovations.
Helpful Tip: The best resource when determining if you need permits for specific work would be the Mass.gov website.
Applying for Permits
Once you determine if you need a work permit, you’ll need to apply for a building permit online or in person. Most municipalities offer permits online, and Boston residents can apply online for short-form permits on the city’s website, and long-form permits can be started online. Let’s take a look at these types of permits:
- Short-form permits: Minor alterations to an existing building that will not change the use, egress, or increase living space or fire protection of the existing building. Usually, drawings are not required.
- Long-from permits: New buildings or additions, structural changes or repairs, changes to occupancy and use, and increasing capacity. Usually, they require construction drawings.
If a contractor is doing the work, they can and should obtain the permits as long as they have a signed contract or letter from the owner authorizing them to sign the application on their behalf. Also, to do this, the contractor must be a registered Home Improvement Contractor (HIC).
If the contractor is registered to HIC, that means homeowners have consumer protections against substandard workmanship through the state’s Guaranty Fund. Hiring a contractor without a HIC license is not recommended.
How Long Do Permits Last?
Work isn’t supposed to begin until the building permit card is posted at the site. Building permits are valid for six months, so the work must begin within six months of the date issued and continue without interruption until the project is completed. After that, if the work hasn’t started, a new permit is required.
Why Do You Need Work Permits on Your Property?
The purpose of work permits is to prevent bad workmanship, which can lead to dangerous conditions. When an inspector reviews the work, he or she can verify that the code is being followed and affirm the quality of construction. If the work is done without a permit, especially plumbing or electrical work, it can lead to dangerous conditions such as fire or burst pipes. If carpentry work is not done correctly, a deck or roof may collapse, for example. So streamlining building requirements helps to keep construction quality standards high and people in the community safe.
Can I Sell My House with Unpermitted Work?
Technically, yes, you can; however, if you knowingly sell someone a house with unpermitted work in MA, you may get into legal trouble. Massachusetts is a caveat emptor, or buyer beware state. When selling a home in Massachusetts, the law requires that you disclose the existence of lead paint and the presence of a septic system, but nothing else is needed. Since these are the only two legally required disclosures, you can expect potential buyers to ask you questions about the house, mainly after they’ve conducted a home inspection. And you cannot legally lie or actively hide the truth.
Selling Your House With Unpermitted Work?
When it comes to selling a house with unpermitted work MA, you’ll need to decide whether you’re going to sell the house with unpermitted work or replace any of the work that wasn’t permitted before trying to sell. Both scenarios may be costly, either if you were to pay for the work to be done following codes or if you were to sell with unpermitted work. Depending on your timeline and how quickly you need to sell, you may not have time to address the unpermitted work. Specific projects can take weeks or even months to complete, and that’s if you have the extra money to redo the work. For some people, it’s hard to justify putting more money into a house to turn around and sell it. But to increase your chances of finding a buyer, you may be advised by a realtor or, if you were to sell by yourself, to complete the work before listing. Below are a few other ideas on how to handle this particular situation.
Selling Your House As Is
Selling your house as-is is a selling option you may want to consider if you’d prefer to sell with unpermitted work. Selling as-is means, you sell the home in its current condition and that buyers are not to expect any repairs to be made before closing. That doesn’t mean they won’t want to know what is going on with the property or forego inspections, but they’ll just understand that it will be up to them to handle repairs and take on that financial burden.
That being said, since you’re selling a house with unpermitted work in Massachusetts, you likely won’t get top-dollar for the place. Buyers will want to account for the cost of repairs in the price, so usually, you may need to lower the price to accommodate for the unpermitted work. But the tradeoff is you don’t have to deal with the hassle of getting permits and redoing all the work or any other repairs to the house you’re aware of.
Another downside of selling as-is, the pool of potential buyers will be smaller. The biggest reason for that is mortgage approval. Most mortgage companies won’t approve loaning a buyer money on a home that is of questionable value. Lenders also request inspections to back up this information. So if you end up selling a house as-is, you’ll more than likely need to find a cash buyer that isn’t confined to bank approval.
Another option is to see if retroactive permits are allowed in your area. Retroactive permits are permits you can apply for after the work is completed. This will save you the trouble of completely ripping everything out and starting fresh. If your area allows this, they likely would require you to open up certain parts, but not all, of the construction and show that the work was completed according to current building codes. If everything is up to standards, then you can get retroactive permits and just fix the minor areas you had to expose for the inspection. However, if the work done previously wasn’t up to code, then this option may not prove to be as helpful, and you’ll be back at square one.
Selling Your House to a Cash Home Buyer
If you’re in a situation where you just need to sell your house fast in Massachusetts and don’t know if the work you had done would be eligible for retroactive permits, then selling as-is to a cash home buyer would be a great solution. Instead of listing your property and waiting for the perfect buyer to come along, you can contact a home buyer in your area and get a fast cash offer for your house instead.
There are several cash home buyers in Massachusetts, so it may be hard to narrow down the perfect one to work with, but one that comes highly recommended is Ocean City Development. They are a “we buy houses company in Boston” and buy houses in other cities all over Massachusetts. Ocean City Development purchases properties with unfinished construction, foundation issues, liens, code violations, unpermitted work, abandoned, and in need of major repairs.
Since they buy houses with cash, they can close in as little as 7-14 days since they’re not held up by loan approval and inspections. Also, since you would be selling directly to Ocean City Development, you wouldn’t have to list your house with a realtor or figure out how to sell by owner. They don’t charge agent commissions or hidden service fees, and closing costs can be negotiated.
No matter what, if you’re trying to sell a house with unpermitted work, you should disclose this information to the next owner. That way, the next homeowner is aware of the potential harm, and you can protect yourself legally. If you decide to do the work before selling, you’ll either want to apply for retroactive permits or be prepared to start over and apply for proper permits this time. If selling as-is sounds like a better solution than doing the work, remember you’ll need to find a buyer that’s willing to take on the project and ideally one that doesn’t need bank financing. The good news is that you do have options; you’ll just need to figure out which one fits your selling timeline and budget.
If selling to a local home buyer sounds like the best choice for you, consider giving Ocean City Development a call today; they’d be happy to explain their process.