The risk of remodeling your home in Venice Florida without a proper permit

Some people always  need to learn it the hard way …and one of our sellers recently did so too. This blog is about permits, cutting corners and (not) saving money. Although, you can save a lot of money when you are handy and know how to swing a hammer, when it comes to “major home modifications” you need to think twice what you are doing.

If you don’t ever want to sell your home, or if you are sure that you will never have an insurance claim, you may get along with your “none permitted” roof replacement (unless a “nice” neighbor turns you in – what exactly happened to one of our sellers). Be aware that most cities and counties require that homeowners obtain a permit before carrying out major modifications, and they are enforcing the permit laws vigilantly. Ignorance of the law is no protection against punishment!

What is a major modification? This is a question the building department can answer best, or you can find the exact information on the building department’s web site. Here are a few major modifications for Sarasota County: Roof replacement, A/C replacement, replacement of doors and windows, installation of hurricane shutters, major plumbing … the list goes on and on and is not complete, but it might give you an idea. At this point, you may ask yourself what a homeowner actually can do without a permit. The answer is: Not a lot – it basically boils down to beautification stuff (painting, floor coverings, new cabinets, etc.).

The county/city rules are pretty clear, but how come that some homeowners want to take a risk by doing major modifications without a permit? First of all, there is a fee involved (for the permit and later for the inspection as well), and they want to save the money. That’s somehow understandable. Second, the whole process of getting a permit can be very time consuming and inconvenient, not to say “nerve wrecking”. Plans need to be drawn and filed, and time lines, set by the building department, need to be observed. Furthermore, certain improvements may increase the taxable value of the home, which will result in an increase of the property tax. Wow! Now quite a few homeowners have enough and skip the permit application process. Is this really a good idea?

There is always another side of a coin. Therefore, let’s investigate a little: What is actually the risk they are taking for remodeling without a permit anyway? If they are turned in by a “nice neighbor”, or if the building department finds out by other means about their “secretive project” the homeowner may find himself in boiling water. The best case scenario is when he can obtain a reciprocal permit. He is paying a lot more for it though, but once the modification project has passed successfully the eagle eye of the building inspector he is out of the woods. Worst case scenario: the alterations cannot  be inspected because they are already hidden in the floor or in the walls. Now the building inspector may demand to have the floors/walls cut open again in order to inspect the modifications; and if the homeowner added a whole structure without a permit he may be completely out of luck. In many cases, the unlucky fellow will have to tear it down.

Now, let’s assume he did some major modification without the paperwork, and nobody noticed it. Eventually, the lucky devil wants to sell the home…. and he is in real trouble.  In a case like this he is obligated to disclose the fact to any potential buyer. Yes, he is! Guess what is most likely going to happen: either the buyer wants him to discount the selling price dramatically, or he may want him to get a permit/inspection retroactively. Many buyers will also decide to let go and walk away because they don’t trust the “crooked seller” anymore.

Now, you think this does not happen out in the world? We thought so too, but it just happened to us. Shortly after two offers fell apart and two buyers came in with a low-ball offer, we convinced the seller (who had replaced the whole shingle roof all by himself before he had listed the home) to get a permit retroactively. After paying a hefty fine the inspector came and the roof …….didn’t pass. It looked a little odd, but not that bad. Anyway, the shingles had to be ripped off completely and the roof had to be rebuilt. Finally, the roof  passed the inspection with flying colors. Surprisingly enough, only a few weeks later the house sold for the ….ASKING PRICE.

Was it worth going through all the hassle and paying for the roof twice? You decide.

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