DEAR BARRY: We bought our home about four months ago and now have a big, undisclosed problem. The house is very old and was completely renovated — not by the person who sold us the property, but two owners previous to them. Our Realtor advised us to check for permits at the city hall, which we did. The city showed us copies of permits for the electrical, plumbing and mechanical work. But we did not notice the absence of signatures on the permit records. We didn’t know that people could apply for permits and never call for inspections.

DEAR BARRY: We bought our home about four months ago and now have a big, undisclosed problem. The house is very old and was completely renovated — not by the person who sold us the property, but two owners previous to them. Our Realtor advised us to check for permits at the city hall, which we did. The city showed us copies of permits for the electrical, plumbing and mechanical work. But we did not notice the absence of signatures on the permit records. We didn’t know that people could apply for permits and never call for inspections.

Our second mistake was buying the property without hiring a home inspector. We’d like to blame someone for this mess, but I suppose the lesson here is "buyer beware." What should we do to get all of this straightened out? –Alison

DEAR ALISON: Some home inspectors routinely advise buyers to verify signoff of building permits. This is because many people have taken out permits for additions, renovations, remodels, and even new construction, without ever calling for an inspection.

Municipal building departments don’t check up on every property that has an outstanding permit because many permits are issued without work ever being done. This makes covert work, without inspections or signoffs, an easy sleight of hand. Unfortunately, the victims are the unsuspecting buyers who are easily fooled by the display of an unsigned permit.

At this point, you need to know what is right or wrong with the work that was done. A qualified home inspector can help you find those answers. This, of course, should have been done before you purchased the property. Unfortunately, too many buyers find reasons not to hire a home inspector.

After you review the findings of the home inspection, arrange for the building department to inspect and approve the renovations. But be prepared for anything. This process could be quick and easy, or it could be complicated and expensive, depending on the style and approach of the building inspector. For example, the inspector could order you to remove drywall to expose the piping and wiring within the walls. Hopefully, the corrective work, if any, will not be too costly or extensive.

After this process is completed, you’ll know that the renovations are safe, operable, and in compliance with code. When you eventually sell the property, you can do so without fear of undisclosed defects.

DEAR BARRY: What can I do about windows that become wet with dripping condensation in the winter? –Barbara

DEAR BARBARA: Condensation often occurs on single-pane windows, especially ones with metal frames. This is because the glass and metal become very cold in winter. Air moisture inside the house, from cooking and from showers, tends to condense on these cold surfaces.

The best solution is to install replacement windows with dual panes and vinyl frames. Unfortunately, this can be very costly. On the positive side, dual-pane windows reduce heating bills, keep your home cooler in summer, reduce noise from outside, and modernize the appearance of your home. Alternate ways to reduce window condensation include dehumidifiers and increased ventilation.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

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