Q: I just lost the sale of my house because our buyer learned we changed out a broken toilet without getting a permit from the city. I did not even know this was required. Is there anything I can do? – Barbara
A: You raise two important points. The first is the importance of disclosing everything, even little details, when you are selling your home. While most people correctly view the property disclosure as buyer protection, it also protects the seller from situations like yours, as well as a possible lawsuit if your new buyer learns of a problem later that you did not disclose.
While the expression “let the buyer beware” still rings mostly true, there is an exception for hidden problems that the seller knew about and did not disclose. This problem can be easily avoided by making full disclosure of every issue with your property, even if you think it is minor.
In my experience, I have rarely seen a buyer scared off by too much disclosure, but I have seen many closings destroyed when something turns up in the process. Most people can rationalize almost any concern when they want to buy something, whether it is an expensive watch or a house with a small roof leak, but nobody likes surprises.
The second point is permits, which are becoming more of a roadblock to closings lately. Most work done to your house requires a permit from your city. Certain air conditioner repairs, plumbing and even cutting down a tree will require approval from your city or town. Failure to get a proper permit can have ramifications from a fine to, like your situation, a blown closing.
Many contractors do not inform the homeowner of the need for a permit either because they are unaware of the requirement in your particular municipality or because they do not want the trouble and delay of getting one. However, ignorance of the law is not an excuse for breaking it, and it is up to the homeowner to get things done correctly.
Fortunately, most building departments are helpful and have robust internet resources. You will need to pull a retroactive permit for your home and, going forward, make sure you get one when needed.
Gary M. Singer is an attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Fla. He frequently consults on general real estate matters and trends in Florida with various companies across the nation. Send him questions online at sunsentinel.com/askpro or follow him on Twitter @GarySingerLaw.