I am a former 25 year resident of howell, a licensed real estate agent in Howell , a licenensed real estate appraiser and an investor who bought and renovated several home sin Howell.
The first thing is to is visit the tax assessors office, tell him you'd like to see the 'jaacket' for the property. Look it over real good and see if the basement was listed on the form as finished and then taxed. If so, once they take tax money on an improvement, they can do nothing so end the worry of the town and penalties.
Now you need to worry about the quality of the work. either way if you intend to proceed get a copy of the last assessment so you have a record or what is or is not taxed that could or should be taxed as well as what is taxed that does not exist. Generally speaking assessments are 'done under the gun' so speed counts not accuracy. My house had several errors including a non existant finished basement and inground pool that I got deleted and saved tax dollars as well as incorrect too small square footage that I ignored saving me more on the rediculous property taxes in Howell
Now if it was taxed or if not and you still want to proceed with the purchase, you should hire a professional home inspector and get a copy of his errors and omissions insurance policy in case he screws up. This is very important as Howell has been in trouble serveral times for faulty inspections and taking bribes to pass substandart new homes . Several developments have had huge problems with bad work and at least 1 was in a flood area. Use your computer to look up stories in the Tri Town News and Asbusry Park Press about Howell crime, lawsuits agfainst Howell and their building Department.
The good news Patty Hoover who did the Certificate of Occupancy (aka CO for new homes ) inspections was told to resign and the inspections now are only for smoke and carbonmonixide detectors, so not much room for a shakedown or bribes or errors in a thorough inspection. a CCO is a Continuing Certificate of Occupancy inspection for formerly occupied structures , but many people simply call them CO inspections also
In the past 20 or so years there have been several busts in the building inspection department for taking bribes. Within the last few years when faced with a serious civil rigfhts lawsuit they told corrupt officials judge Alan Kaplan, prosecutor William Greetze, Code Officer Patty Hoover, the head of the Building Department Eddie Macv and others to resign or be fired and lose their pensions, the man who replaced Eddie Mac, Ted Shostack was fired for corruption along with many many others.
Code officer Jim Burdick was demoted to truck driver and twice on several years apart occassions several building inspectors were terminated also for inferior work, soliciting and /or taking bribes concerning developments built substandard and giving approvals for a development and the cosntruction inspections of at least 1 development built in a flood area, that I understand the town and/or state bought back from the owners . Howell Police also had it's share of crooked cops, but that was long ago and most there now are good cops, You can look that up online also
I have found it good practice to tape record any and all conversations with township officials . Contrary to most opinions it IS legal to record phone and in person conversations without notifying anyone . Look up NJ2a:156. It's extremely common for any of them to say 1 thing then blame you for lying when you mention it and the police and courts always side with the town workers as your word agtaionst their word. Buy a voice activated recorder and always put in new batteries before engaging in conversations where what is said may be important in the future . In my experience 1 will lie and 3 will swear he's telling the truth, but the recording proves you are right not them. Carry it in a shirt top pocket, a hand bag or a pants pocket and practice using it. If you use a cel phone use the speaker phone feature and hold the recorder in the center to get the whole conversation.
This may seem extreme but it's insurance, easy and in a situation invoilving town government, where corruption is a way of life it's simply a smart thing to do. If you have it and never need it,. it's OK If you need it and don't have it, you lose. Keep the recordings for 6-10 years to be safe