Dear Barry,

When I bought my home, the seller disclosed that the sunroom was added without a building permit. At the time, my Realtor assured me that a permit was not required because the room is less than 150 square feet. But now I’m doing some remodeling, and my contractor says the sunroom is not legal without a permit. When I called my Realtor, she said the contractor is wrong. Who do I believe? –Barbara

Dear Barbara,

Your contractor has advised you correctly. Your Realtor is badly and sadly misinformed, and she has caused you to be misinformed in a major investment decision. The proper advice for a Realtor, when faced with building code questions, is to simply say, “I don’t know, but I’ll check with the building department for the answer.” An agent who offers uninformed advice of this kind could get involved in a sticky legal mess with enormous financial consequences. Prudent Realtors, and there are many, know better than to do this.

The building codes are very specific as to what kinds of work require permits and what kinds do not. For example, Section R105.1 of the International Building Code states:

“Any owner or authorized agent who intends to construct, enlarge, alter, repair, move, demolish, or change the occupancy of a building or structure, or to erect, install, enlarge, alter, repair, remove, convert or replace any electrical, gas, mechanical or plumbing system, the installation of which is regulated by this code, or to cause any such work to be done, shall first make application to the building official and obtain the required permit.”

Wording of that kind doesn’t allow much wiggle room, does it? It’s straightforward and absolute, with few likely exceptions. Another example is Section 106 of the Uniform Building Code, which states:

“… no building or structure regulated by this code shall be erected, constructed, enlarged, altered, repaired, moved improved, removed, converted or demolished unless a separate permit for each building or structure has first been obtained from the building official.”

If your Realtor still disagrees with your contractor, ask her to explain these codes.

Dear Barry,

Why does the appraisal value of a home often differ from the price listed by real estate agents? When we bought our home, we paid a few thousand dollars more than the appraisal price. When we eventually sold, we got less than the value determined by the appraiser. Why is there so much variance among these relative values? –Betty

Dear Betty,

Real estate appraisal, the practice of determining the market value of property, is an inexact science. This is particularly true in an active market, when prices are rapidly rising, or in a depressed market, when prices are falling. It is also true for properties whose characteristics are unique.

Appraisers depend upon recent sales to determine property values. When market prices are rapidly rising or falling, recent sales prices may not be reliable unless adjustments are made according to the apparent price direction of the market. Appraisers also rely upon comparable properties for price comparisons. If a home is different in size and amenities than those that have recently sold, an appraiser has to make adjustments for those variables, and these can be somewhat subjective.

In truth, the value of a property is whatever a buyer is willing to pay. And that price then becomes the comparable sale to be used in future appraisals of other properties.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at

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