I recently met a couple that bought a single-family home about five years ago. They were first-time home buyers, and at the time they were represented by an agent I do not know. The home they purchased was recently renovated, including the entire kitchen. Their transaction seemed to go smoothly, and they were confident that they got a great deal on the price—until their home ownership dream quickly turned into a nightmare. In just a few months after closing, they started having extensive plumbing problems, and eventually their entire upstairs bathroom started sinking down into the kitchen directly below.
This sounds unimaginable, but this type of scenario can happen when renovations are completed without the owner taking the proper steps. The prior owner had removed a supporting wall to redesign the kitchen and failed to consult with an engineer and carpenters to ensure that a proper supporting beam was installed. In addition, the owner had renovated without applying for a permit or obtaining a certificate of occupancy (CO). The new buyers were completely unaware of the seller’s negligence. They were left with an overwhelming expense that they could not afford, and soon afterward the home went into foreclosure.
I tell this story because it is one that could have been avoided. Often, the importance of a CO is communicated to sellers, but it is even more important that CO’s be fully understood by buyer agents and homebuyers. The process for obtaining a CO starts with applying for a permit. Each town has a list of the types of renovations that require a permit and CO. Obtaining a permit requires paying a small fee (generally $10 to $13 per $1,000 worth of planned work) and presenting an outline of the work planned for the home. You might also have to visit several town departments to verify information about your home beyond your work’s scope.
Through this process you will get feedback from your local building department and other town agencies that will help you adjust and finalize your plans. Once the work is completed, an inspector will visit your home and determine if the project was completed in accordance with current building codes. If the inspection goes well, you will receive a CO for your records, which you can share with future buyers. The process is quite simple and requires just a few hours of time and interaction with experts that can turn out to be very helpful. You will gain knowledge about various town departments and how their services protect you, your home, and the property values in your community.
If you are a potential buyer and you notice renovations in a home that you plan to purchase, you should always ask for a CO. If there is none, you can request that the seller apply for a permit retroactively and obtain a CO before you close. Buyers that don’t require this tend to be experienced contractors or tradesmen. These types of professionals often have confidence that they can inspect renovations themselves and are comfortable with the risks involved with doing so. Most homebuyers should avoid that type of risk.
You can learn more and apply for permits online in most lower Fairfield County towns. Click the link for your town.