Home Buying in Fremont>Question Details

FremontBuyer, Home Buyer in Fremont, CA

Need advice on buying a house with remodeling done without permit

Asked by FremontBuyer, Fremont, CA Sun Apr 8, 2012


There is a house in Fremont which looks good. However, a number of modifications have been made without permit. They include: addition of a sun room, copper re-pipe, insulation of all walls, numerous updates in the kitchen (including island) and bathroom, water heater, flooring, raised ceiling, and garage firewall.

The seller claims everything has been built to code. But my question is: Is it risky to own this house nevertheless? How can I safeguard myself from potential future inspections/fines? If I want to get ANY future work done with permits, what are the chances of the inspector asking for proof of permit for any of these previous updates?


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For most of us, buying a home is the biggest single investment we’re likely to make – and we’re only likely to do it maybe once or twice in a lifetime. The process is, by nature, filled with checks and balances – and many complex details. An important part of buying a home is reviewing the preliminary title report and checking with the city and county for the permits that are on file.

Permits are not required with many loan programs as long the work has been done in a workmanship manner. Even though your lender may lend on a home without permits, you will have the same challenge of selling a home without permits when you decide to sell the home. Unless you have a contractor that can do the work needed to get a permit, buying a home without permits may not be the best idea.

Carol Perdew
Prudential California Realty
(209) 239-7979
DRE 985176
1 vote Thank Flag Link Sun Apr 8, 2012
If you're concerned now....think of what it would be like when you try to re-sell the property. The buyer will have the same reservations. And that buyer may insist that you get all these projects permitted.

Those are major remodeling projects. Bad enough that they were done without permits, but how sure can you be that they are done according to code? How is the structural integrity? There are reasons why such projects will require permits --- and most importantly, for safety reasons.

It i not unusual to hear of homeowners being fined for unpermitted work, and worse, being told to remove the offending structure, or, pull the necessary permits (if the remodeling plan is allowed) and have building inspectors check each and every change. It's bound to be more expensive to remove and re-do, than it is to start anew.

If you proceed with buying the property, and then you yourself want to have more work done, the inspector may be able to spot unpermitted work....why take a chance?

With these many unpermitted "improvements", if I were you, I'd pass on this, and continue searching for something else. The headache and the many unknowns are just too many for this one.
1 vote Thank Flag Link Sun Apr 8, 2012
First of all, the seller saying things were built to code doesn't insure they were. And inspectors don't have xray vision so they have no way to know what's going on or what kind of work was done where they can't see. This sounds like a remodel that is way too extensive not to be done without permits, so I would be suspicious about why they didn't.

The only things you can do are have extensive inspections - and I would try to get the seller to pay since they didn't get permits - and knock the price down considerably over what a similar house would cost that had done things properly.

In the end it might work out fine, but you are taking on a lot of liability and you will definitely be hurt on resale unless you rectify the permit situation.

Best Regards,

Lance King/Owner-Managing Broker
DRE# 01384425
1 vote Thank Flag Link Sun Apr 8, 2012
What did you do finally? I am considering a house that was renovated without permits.

i.e. kitchen remodel or counters and cabinets. bathroom floor remodel..
installing recessed lighting and cementing driveway.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Jun 29, 2015
Damage/destruction caused by unpermitted work....another big IF and source of serious concern. Certainly something you should ask your insurance agent to explain.

...this illustrates the need for permitted work done to code ---- safety!

You've raised some issues. By this time, you must have a feeling in your gut what you should do, right?

Good luck to you with whatever you decide to do. You'll surely need it.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Apr 9, 2012
Have your Attorney contact the local building department. Regards,
0 votes Thank Flag Link Mon Apr 9, 2012
Thanks you all so much for the inputs and advice, really appreciate it.

Another question that occurred to me later was related to insurance. If something were to happen and the origin of the damage was a non-permitted work, like a short circuit in the non-permitted sun room leading to a fire, can the insurance company deny coverage for the whole house? Meaning, even to the parts that were originally built with permit? Another example could be some re-plumbing work that floods the house.

0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Apr 8, 2012
Any further insights on the insurance question, I'm facing similar situation in Oakland
Flag Thu Sep 26, 2013
Any modifications/upgrades which require the permit (http://www.fremont.gov/index.aspx?NID=557 ) and were performed without permit can be major issue for Buyer (Owner). Worst case buyer/owner will have to pull city permit and work with city to legalize the work, this can be costly.

I am working with buyer to purchase property in Fremont with same issues. Part of the property was upgraded with permit (but missing final inspection) and other part was upgraded without permit. In our case City code enforcement inspector found out property was for sale, he contacted current owner (bank) for outstanding code violations….We are working with city to legalize the work and moving forward with the purchase since seller discounted the purchase price.

I would buy the property if price is discounted….If violations are not legalized, you will face same issues when you sell or plan to do any modification with permit (unless you get lucky and inspector does not notice previous upgrades).

0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Apr 8, 2012
Have a hole home inspection done, just because there was no permits dose not mean its not done right. Home owner builder can do many things with out a permit. You can not be fined for it but you can have it inspected and permited after you buy as well. Check with you county on the cost. Also any work done with out permits dose not increse the value.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Apr 8, 2012
You can always go to the county offices and see if a permit has been pulled on those projects or not. Some counties will issue permits for work completed as long as it was done to code, these are called "as built" permits. You may want to ask the current owner to see about obtaining this type of permit, that way you know it was built to county specifications and safety codes.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Apr 8, 2012
Regards to JK Watson's remarks, yes, the seller is covered. However you are not. I have a lot of background in construction and I can tell you without any reservation whatsoever that assuming everything was done right can lead to a lot of expenses down the road. For example:

They may have replaced the pipes that were there, but if they didn't weld the joints properly or notched the studs to the point that they fail or places them improperly there could be disastrous implications.

This doesn't mean it was done wrong but you need to find out.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Apr 8, 2012
I work in Fremont and as long as the seller is disclosing that things were done without permits, he is covered. In the future I don't think you'll have issues regarding additional permits. For instance, a copper repipe is simply replacing what was there. Same thing with a water heater.

As for the other additions, does the seller have the receipts? Who did the work? Was is a licensed contractor? Some folks get cheap and don't want to pay for the permits, but that doesn't mean the work wasn't done properly.

How does the seller know the work was done to code? It's a simple question that should be simple to answer. Don't give up too easily, especially if you like the house.

Get a general property inspection and follow the inspector around. You'll get a lot of answers that way.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Apr 8, 2012
Hi, when the title report and municiapl searches are done they should reflect the work thats been done. If not the title company will have an issue and that opens up the can of worms. No bank will fund a loan if there are permit issues. Your best bet is to have the seller take care of all the co's and put the issues to bed. Otherwise you will run into the same problem when you go to sell the home (if you pay cash for it, the banks dopn't become an obstacle).

0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Apr 8, 2012
Hello FremontBuyer....
I am up on the permit processes in several counties here in VA, DC and MD, but not in CA, so take my comments with a grain of salt.
First, our counties here are able to grant permits and inspect even finished projects. However, some inspections will require "access", especially the copper pipes. What a nightmare, not to mention I doubt the seller will be happy to pay for this operation.
Secondly, you could hire a good home inspector and/or engineer to review the items and give you an opinion as to the quality of the work. Here too, some access would be required, which translates, again, into $$ from the seller.
Thirdly, you could do the down and dirty option, reporting the work to the county anonymously and let the chips fall where they may. Many counties, while assessing homes for taxes, do a visit and can demand permits for work they find done without permits. Obviously, they would not notice things like the pipes or insulation, however, I bet that sun room stands out like a sore thumb....My county came by and asked for permits for a storage shed. It turned out, 15 years ago, a permit was obtained and they had the final inspection approved. This was all done before I purchased, thank goodness.
You could also explore with your county grandfather clauses. It seems fair to me if the home is sold, the new owner starts with a proverbial clean slate, in other words, work done before you owned it, the county may have little choice but to accept the work, as you have. If there is such a codicil, make sure you know the work is done well for your own peace of mind.
Best wishes, Jim
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Apr 8, 2012
If permits are required, it,s going to be tough to get a mortgage. If the bank allows you to close with a certain amount
of open permits, the seller will have to leave money in escrow until the issue is resolved.

Good luck
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Apr 8, 2012
Sellers saying things like it has been done correctly can be true or not. Are you willing to risk it? There is some risk the city or county could force you (the owner) to remove enough to prove to them that it was done correctly which could cost you thousands. I would not risk it, speak to the building inspectors and find out what it would take to get their blessing and make the seller do that before you buy it. Certainly get some inspections, but know that an inspector can't see inside that wall.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Apr 8, 2012
When were the improvements done? Building codes are a recent development, it is possible that permits were not required when the improvements were done. If that is the case, then bring in an engineer to confirm all was done to code.

If permits WERE required, insist on getting copies of closed permits for all the improvements prior to closing. The town will still come out and make sure everything was done to code and provide a closed permit even though it's been some time since the improvements were completed. Some of the improvements you list may not require permits, but some definitely do.

I had this same situation on a closing of mine recently. The town was very cooperative and there were very few changes that had to be made. But you should have everything inspected and permits properly closed prior to closing. It's important not only for your safety, but also to protect your interests in the future when you may want to sell the house and move up to your next home. If permits are not taken care of now, then YOU will be stuck with the job of obtaining permits in the future and THAT may have a negative impact on your ability to sell the home when the time comes.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Sun Apr 8, 2012
Flag Thu Apr 2, 2015
do you know the recent development of code is how recent? My house being reported to the city of remodel kitchen & bathroom & they pushing me so hard to pull permit & contest about it which invited them to further come to my house without inform me twice to add more like taking the wall off without proof. They issue me the warning letter & I contest again then they came again & dig more & I am in nightmare now, it like non stop business to them. Do they have the right to keep ding it?
Thanks for advise!!!
Flag Thu Apr 2, 2015
How much did your getting it all permitted end up costing? How extensive was the cost of the remodel as well as the cost to obtain legal pwermits? Thanks
Flag Mon Jan 12, 2015
What exactly did it cost you to ultimately get the permits? And how extensive was the remodel,and repairs needed to permit it?
Flag Mon Jan 12, 2015
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