Charlie C, Both Buyer and Seller in San Francisco, CA

What's the difference between a renovation and a replacement?

Asked by Charlie C, San Francisco, CA Mon Nov 26, 2007

I've seen a number of real estate agents discuss the need to get a permit in San Francisco for work done. On the other hand, folklore among homeowners - discuss the issue of increased time, costs and hassles of getting quality work done - and - most importantly - getting cited for work that wasn't previously permitted. With houses that are over 100 years old - this becomes the biggest issue - as many over the years have refinished storage rooms, attics, etc.

When one remodels a bathroom or kitchen - one can replace floors, sinks, counters, cabinets, etc. without a permit. Are buyers in SF really asking about permits for updated kitchens, bathrooms, etc.? Is the folklore about getting cited for prior unpermitted work true - or have they changed the situation to get more people to do things by permit? What about doing quality unpermitted work with an external third party inspector signing off on the work instead?

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Jed Lane, Agent, Petaluma, CA
Mon Nov 26, 2007
I've done many "renovations" in properties that I've lived in or were owned by friends over the years. I've also worked in construction throughout the Bay Area. My belief is that if you ask the building department if you need a permit you will need one (they need the fees).
A new day is upon us in SF. Imagine my surprise when I was involved in an interview with San Francisco's new Director of DBI, Isam Hasenin and he said "if we don't bring value then we don't need to be involved". I pointed out how radical that is and he agreed.
Most of the work that is required to be abated are illegal units or land use issues. The problem is if the builder doesn't know what they are doing, and it usually builders that don’t know what they are doing, creates a serious enough issue then it needs to be remedied. Most of the professional builders I know always get permits. It is actually easier and better then you’d think and costs less in the long run.
There are many areas where building codes protect all of us and whether you get permits or not you should build according to current code. Eventually the property will be sold and it can cost you lots of money if things are not right. I had a client that, in the 70's, got a re-roofing permit and proceeded to tear off the roof but then added a whole new story. The views were incredible and they lived there for many years but when it was time to move on it cost them more then 100K in comparable value because it wasn't done with permit.
Buyers will look for any advantage to buy your property for less than a comparable property. No permit means lower offer.
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Liz Stevens, , Berkeley, CA
Mon Nov 26, 2007
Getting permits for a kitchen remodel is important because much of the rough work is hidden inside the walls (electrical, plumbing), and if the homeowner had an inspector come to the house for a different project, it is possible that the permit status of the kitchen would come up. If you sell a home with work done without permit, you must disclose it - that makes the permitting issue important. If you do small jobs in the kitchen (or anywhere else), not getting permits becomes less of an issue, but the entire remodel is important to have permitted. Only a sign off by the City building inspector counts as a sign off on permits. Remember the building code is also for "safety", and much as the bureaucracy of the city is a pain, it matters in the full disclosure to the potential owner/buyer, and is perceived as questionable, and perhaps of less value if not permitted. Liz Stevens, Windermere in Berkeley
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