When remodeling a Boulder County home for resale, some homeowners skip the permitting process. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Karen Libin, KL Realty

Karen Libin, KL Realty

NIWOT –  When remodeling a Boulder County home for resale, some homeowners skip the permitting process. They believe it’s another expense in an already costly process. Besides, they think, what harm is truly done if one is using licensed professionals?

On the other side of the transaction, if you’re trying to buy a home in the competitive Boulder County market, what’s the problem with buying a remodeled home that has unpermitted work?

Besides the obvious ethical implications, here are some points of which to be aware:

Savvy buyers
Homebuyers have become very savvy. Online access to home information allows them to research any property in which they’re interested, including records of all permits pulled on the property. (In the city of Boulder, one can find these at maps.boco.solutions/propertysearch. Thus, buyers can determine if remodeling work or additions were done with or without proper permitting.

If projects were done without permits, this may be a red flag for some buyers as: (1) there is no guarantee that the work was properly done and, (2) the new homeowners may become legally responsible for this work. In this case, some buyers might require that the work be permitted retroactively before they are willing to proceed with the sale. This may require portions of drywall or flooring be removed. Depending on local regulations, besides paying for the permitting process, the homeowner may incur fines for completing the original work without permits.

Listing problems
If you have constructed parts of your home illegally, you may not be able to count them when selling your property. For instance, it you have built an illegal bedroom in the basement without proper egress, your Realtor will not be able to list it as a bedroom. Instead it will be referred to under another description. This particular example is important as many homebuyers choose a specific number of bedrooms in their online home searches.

Legal responsibility

What is your responsibility when you buy a home with unpermitted work? Again, this will vary by locale. In the city of Boulder, the liability of unpermitted work falls on the current homeowner. Technically, the new homeowner is responsible for getting a permit to complete work and/or bring it up to current code. If you have questions about specific properties you’re considering buying in the city of Boulder, you can e-mail plandevelop@bouldercolorado.gov.

Future issues
What actually happens when you go to do a permitted construction project after the previous homeowner did non-permitted work? In the city of Boulder, when an inspector walks though your house, he may not be able to tell if a powder room was previously illegally remodeled, but he will notice life safety issues – such as lack of smoke detectors – and those items will need to be corrected before a newly permitted project can get it’s final approval.

Other issues can arise when you go to update current work. For example, say a deck was done without permit. In time when you go to replace part of it, you may learn that it was built too close to your property line (improper setback) and you now need to change its dimensions (rebuild entire deck) in order to conform to code. This setback issue is also common with illegally added additions and outbuildings.

Questionable quality
With unpermitted remodeling work, you never really know what’s going on behind the wall and under the floors. Some home sellers who have not pulled permits will say they’ve used only licensed remodel professionals. However, it should be noted that city and county regulations are often more stringent than what some building professionals would deem adequate.

Common sense approach
If you have a desirable house under contract, often in this competitive market there are multiple buyers behind you waiting for the contract to fall though. In this case you probably would not have the leverage to require the seller to retroactively have unpermitted work permitted before the sale. Another course of action is to have a trusted contractor review the work and offer you his opinion. Besides a visual inspection, he may able to contact those who completed the work.

By Karen Libin. Karen is the owner and managing broker of KL Realty, and has more than 29 years of experience in the Boulder County real estate market. Contact her at 303.444.3177, e-mail team@klrealty.net or visit klrealty.net.