DEAR BARRY: The home I’m planning to buy has an unpermitted garage conversion and an unpermitted addition. Can the city or county require me to bring those portions of the building up to code? –Sandra

DEAR SANDRA: Municipal building departments have absolute authority to enforce code compliance. They don’t always exercise that authority, but they definitely have the power to do so at any time. This means that they may never bother you about the unpermitted work, or they might suddenly decide to order removal of the addition and restoration of the garage. This could occur if a neighbor complained about the lack of permits, if you took out a permit for other improvements to the property, or if the authorities decided to do a clean sweep of the community to eliminate existing violations.

DEAR BARRY: The home I’m planning to buy has an unpermitted garage conversion and an unpermitted addition. Can the city or county require me to bring those portions of the building up to code? –Sandra

DEAR SANDRA: Municipal building departments have absolute authority to enforce code compliance. They don’t always exercise that authority, but they definitely have the power to do so at any time. This means that they may never bother you about the unpermitted work, or they might suddenly decide to order removal of the addition and restoration of the garage.

This could occur if a neighbor complained about the lack of permits, if you took out a permit for other improvements to the property, or if the authorities decided to do a clean sweep of the community to eliminate existing violations.

Before you purchase the property, visit the local building department and discuss this with the building official or one of the inspectors. Ask for clarification of their official policy regarding existing work that is not permitted. Another option is to ask the sellers to apply for "as-built permits" for the altered portions of the property.

This would allow the building department to inspect those changes and officially approve or disapprove them. In such cases, they usually call for correction of code violations. But they might disallow the alterations entirely. If so, it would be better to know now than to be surprised after you become the owner.

DEAR BARRY: Our Realtor has advised us to hire a home inspector before listing our home for sale. We know there are problems with the house, and we were planning to repair them before putting the property on the market. Since we will be repairing these defects, what’s the point in having a home inspection? –Terri

DEAR TERRI: Your intention to repair the defects is good, but the belief that you are aware of all of the defects is erroneous. No matter how much you know about the property, there are defects that you have not discovered, and these can be revealed by a competent home inspector.

In most home-sale transactions, buyers are the ones who hire the home inspector. When that happens, buyers typically renegotiate for repairs or a reduced sales price. An alternative to this routine is to hire your own home inspector before listing the property. Essentially, there are four advantages to this approach: …CONTINUED

1) You decrease the likelihood of liability for undisclosed defects that might be discovered after the close of escrow.

2) You demonstrate an uncompromised willingness to disclose everything about the property.

3) You provide the basis for an as-is sale by disclosing all known defects at the outset of the transaction.

4) You avoid the need to renegotiate the terms of the deal after the buyers hire their own inspector.

All of these advantages depend, of course, on one vital variable. You must find the most thorough home inspector in your area. So shop around. Look for a home inspector with many years of experience and a reputation for uncompromised detail. This is how sellers can make the most of home inspection.

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

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