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posted: 7/20/2012 12:47 AM

About real estate: How sellers can cope with 'unpermitted' conversion

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Millions of homeowners have made changes to their homes without first getting the local government's approval. Asking for an "as built" permit can save money when planning a sale.

Q. About four years ago, we converted our attached garage into an extra bedroom and added a small bathroom to it. The contractor did a great job, and we have never had any problems, but we didn't get a building permit for the conversion because we wanted to save money and didn't want to deal with nit-picky city inspectors. Now that we are planning to sell, would we have to disclose the unpermitted work to a buyer even though we have never had construction problems?

A. Yes, you should inform the future buyer -- in writing -- about the unpermitted conversion. If you don't, the buyer could later sue if something goes wrong or if the city itself discovers that the work was done without the permit and then requires that the converted garage must be torn down unless expensive improvements are made.

Many potential buyers understandably get nervous when a seller notifies them about unpermitted work, and then insist that the seller either pays to ensure that it meets current building codes or demand a much lower selling price. Other buyers simply don't want to be bothered with such issues and instead look for a different home.

Your best option would be to contact your local building department to see if you can obtain an "as built" permit for the converted garage before putting the property up for sale.

An as-built permit is basically a document that is issued after a project is completed and city inspectors determine that it meets current construction codes. By getting an as-built permit now, you probably won't have to make a disclosure about the conversion later.

The city might require that you make some structural changes before issuing the permit, and might even assess a fine because you made the conversion without getting the local government's pre-approval. But the cost likely would be less than the steep discount a buyer would demand to purchase your home if you simply disclosed its bootleg conversion, and would certainly be less than the legal fees and possible monetary damages you would have to pay if the buyer eventually sued because you didn't disclose the unpermitted work at all.

Q. Now that summer is here, our yard is full of mosquitoes, and they often get into our house. Is it true that planting marigolds in our garden will keep them away?

A. Sorry, but most entomologists and pest-control experts say the answer is no.

Some homeowners swear that planting marigolds, daisies or chrysanthemums will keep the airborne buggers away. Others say that planting garlic, or simply swallowing garlic pills, also will do the trick.

All those plants are rich in natural oils that mosquitoes don't like. But those same oils break down quickly in the summer's hot sun, whether they're in a garden or swallowed in a pill. That means that they can't defend against the thirsty bloodsuckers for more than a few days.

Q. The homeowners association that runs our condo complex is making some safety improvements to our common areas, but I think they are going a little overboard. In particular, I'm disturbed because the association's board installed video cameras around our community swimming pool and hot tub, as well as in our elevators. Can we make the HOA take them down because the cameras are invading our privacy?

A. Probably not. HOAs have a legal duty to protect owners who use shared amenities and common areas. Installing video cameras is a good way to achieve those goals, in part because it can deter crime and provide vital evidence if a thief or other hoodlum is caught.

There are limits, though, on how far a homeowners' association can take its crime-fighting efforts. Most states have laws that prevent HOAs -- as well as property-management firms, retailers and the like -- from installing cameras in areas where people have a reasonable "expectation of privacy."

It would be illegal for the HOA to put cameras in, say, the development's shared bathrooms or a changing room that's near the pool or gym. But the association apparently hasn't gone that far, and the video equipment that it has installed in the elevators and other frequently used common areas don't constitute an invasion of your privacy.

Real estate trivia: Thomas Daigle of Milford, Mass., recently made the final monthly mortgage payment on his longtime home by using the 62,000 pennies he saved -- about two or three per day -- during the past several decades. The coffin-sized pair of steel boxes that he delivered to the bank each weighed more than 400 pounds.

• For the booklet "Straight Talk About Living Trusts," send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to David Myers, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405.

2012, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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