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posted: 12/19/2013 10:07 AM

Sellers afraid to disclose unpermitted addition

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Q. Six years ago, we enlarged our house without a building permit. The addition was built by a qualified contractor, but we knew that didn't make it legal. Now we are planning to list our house for sale, but we are afraid to tell the Realtors about the illegal addition. How can we do this without stirring up trouble and without costing a fortune?

A. Realtors are not shocked about non-permitted additions. They deal with them all the time. So set your fears aside. When you list your home, simply tell your agent the truth, and disclose the full story to buyers. Some buyers will be concerned, but others will not. Whoever buys the house will most likely hire a home inspector, and the inspector can determine if the addition has significant, observable defects. This, of course, does not dismiss the possibility of defects concealed within the construction, but that applies as well to construction that was built with a permit.

The other alternative is to apply for an as-built permit from the local building department before listing your home for sale. In that case, a municipal inspector would determine whether everything was built to code and would specify corrective work if violations were found. Once the violations were corrected, the addition would be signed off and legal. If you decide to take this approach, hire a home inspector in advance to learn what the building department might be likely to discover.

If you decide to apply for an as-built permit, be aware that the building department has the power to order removal of the addition. This does not typically occur, but the possibility does exist. It can happen, for example, if the addition was built too close to the lot line, if a local building moratorium prohibits additions, or if there is a size limit for homes in your area. It can also happen if you encounter an unreasonable building official who operates as a bureaucratic machine rather than a person. Again, these are worst-case scenarios and not typical. To avoid this kind of problem, you can discuss with the local building official how the as-built permit process works, without giving specific information about your home.

Whatever you decide to do, disclosure is your main obligation. Let your agent know the full story, and don't withhold any pertinent information from buyers.

Q. Our home inspector disclosed that the home we are buying needs a new roof. The sellers got two contractor bids, one for $7,500 and one for $5,700. Naturally, they prefer the cheaper bid but are willing to hire the more expensive contractor if we pitch in $1,000. What are your thoughts on this?

A. The big question is: What is the quality difference between the two bids? Some contractors charge more because they have employees and have to pay workman's comp and other costs. Likewise, some contractors charge less because they work alone or have a family business. On the other hand, prices can reflect significant differences in workmanship and materials. If it can be determined that the $7,500 bid means a better roof, it would be wise to kick in the extra $1,000. Discuss the price differences with the two roofing contractors and see what they have to say.

• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.

Action Coast Publishing

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