The inspector is your technical consultant on the home. Call them up and ask for more information, so that you can best decide how to proceed. If the work was done correctly, it is not too big of an issue that they didn't pull a permit. You may want to get a permit for the work yourself, but if anything was done incorrectly, it will have to be fixed, or put back the way it was. That's when it can be a big issue.
I've seen major structural issues come about from the "simple" removal of a wall or part of a wall. Sometimes, the load-bearing aspect of a wall is overlooked by the persons removing it. Many times, the re-routing of electric wires and alterations of the electrical circuits are done incorrectly, causing safety and overloading concerns.
If the walls were removed recently, as you mentioned, compormises to the structure may not be appearant in the form of sagging ceilings and cracking yet.
Do your homework on this one, because after closing its yours to correct if done wrong, and they won't issue a permit on improper work.
Make a personal visit to the Thousand Oaks Bldg Dept (near the 101 and 23 freeways) and ask about about projected work and costs. They have always been very helpful. Ask your homeowner insurance agent about about possible exclusions of claims for unpermitted work. Most homeowners will look the other way and just disclose this issue to the next buyer.
Kazuko and Pacita are correct that there are repercussions when contemplating the purchase of any home where structural changes were made that have not been inspected or permitted. How the removal of these walls will affect your home depends on: 1) the age of the home you're purchasing; 2) whether your home is detached or attached; 3) whether the home is a condominium or a home in a planned development; 4) design of the home (flat roof, peaked roof, two story, one story) and 5) the location of the load bearing walls. Typically, load bearing walls are categorized as the walls that bear the weight of the structure and transfer it down to the ground--for most homes a load-bearing walls or "bearing walls" are all of the exterior walls of the home and, often, the wall in the center of the building that hold up the apex of the roof.
Removal of walls in homes located in California is especially potentially dangerous because we are an "earthquake" state both in Northern California as well as Southern California. As a result, around the mid 1970s, changes were made to home construction to help them withstand 7.0 and later 7.2 earthquakes. In older homes (pre-mid 1970s), the construction of the building did not often include "sheer walls", which make the building more rigid and able to withstand the lateral forces associated with earthquake. Sheer walls do not transfer the roof weight of the building and are not bearing walls, but they are essential to making the home rigid enough to withstand a quake, large windstorm or earth movement. Unfortunately, you will need the advice of a qualified structural engineer in order to determine if the walls that were removed will adversely affect the stability of the building.
As Kazuko noted, talk with the City of Thousand Oaks to determine if a permit was ever pulled by the previous owners to remove the walls. Chances are high that a permit was NOT pulled. You might even take a few minutes to talk with the City Planner or Building Department representative to find out their opinion regarding how removal of walls without permits will affect your home. (They'll likely tell you that the home should be inspected, permits pulled, and repairs made as necessary and as indicated by their inspectors. By the way, there are penalties for NOT obtaining permits, and that penalty falls on the current owner, so I would not suggest quickly telling anyone the address of the home you're considering purchasing).
Finally, obtain the opinion of both a qualified contractor AND a structural engineer regarding the possible problems associated with the removal of the walls. Only a professional can really tell you how the building will react to the loss of supports.
Good luck and cover your basic by getting qualified help and advice from professionals who can inspect this home.
Grace Morioka, SRES, e-Pro
Area Pro Realty
Co-Host: "Naked Real Estate" on http://www.blogtalkradio.com - this week's topic "Homeowners Associations"
Properties are bought and sold every day with all sorts of permitted and unpermitted renovations. If you really want the property, you'll have to decide if the potential problems outweigh your desire to own the home.
There are some times, though, when you definitely want to be conscious of permits. For example, if the removal of the walls changed the number of bedrooms or baths, that can change the value of the home. However only permitted work will be reflected on the tax rolls and therefore an unpermitted room cannot be counted when determining the value of a home. The square footage and room count represented on the tax records are used to determine the value of a home, and only permitted work can alter those numbers.
David Ethridge, REALTORÂ®
Sea Lion Real Estate
419 Q Shoreline Village Dr
Long Beach CA 90802
And yes, the onus is upon the buyer to do due diligence and research the property.
There have been several questions and blogs about the dangers in buying a home that had work done without permit. Of paramount importance is knowing the work was done according to cod because of safety and hazard issues.
During home inspections, we've seen where some remodeling was done in kitchens, new appliances were installed without upgrading the electric, or they were wired wrong --- just think of electric fires, gas leaks, etc.
Structurally, if a wall was installed, or a room was built out without permits, how confident would you be that the the roof won't fall in, that the wall will stay up, etc.
Regardless of whether or not the work was done before the current owner bought it, it was their decision to buy at that time. Don't make the same mistake this time.