Why It Doesn't Pay to Skip the Permits When Improving Your Home

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You could end up regretting your decision if you don't get the permits that are required.

Home improvement work can be expensive and time consuming, and you may need to finance your upgrades with personal loans or even by getting a second mortgage.

When you're already spending a lot of money to finance home renovations, it can be frustrating to have to pay for permits -- not to mention a hassle to submit an application for a permit and wait for approval. The reality, however, is that while you may be tempted to skip out on the permit process, there are a few important reasons why you probably don't want to do that.

1. Most reputable contractors will require you get the right permits

You won't need a permit for every home improvement job. Whether your job necessitates one will depend on building codes where you live. Since local codes tend to reflect regional issues, such as hurricane or tornado risks, you'll need to check the requirements where you live in order to find out if you'll have to get a permit.

In general, however, more jobs require permits than you might think. For example, most plumbing and electrical work require a permit, even if the job, like repairing damaged pipes, seems minor. Major jobs, such as additions and remodels, will also definitely require you to get a permit. You can check with your local municipality's building department to learn the rules.

If you are hiring someone to do the work, you are likely going to have a hard time finding a reputable contractor who is willing to do the job without the proper permits. Most professionals want to obey the law, and they don't mind working with the homeowner to pull permits.

If you find a builder or tradesperson who is willing to overlook the fact you're breaking the rules to do a job without the proper permission, this should be a big red flag that they may also be willing to cut corners elsewhere during the project.

2. You could face a stop work order or have to tear out work that was already done

If your municipality finds out that you are doing work that requires a permit when you don't have one, you could end up coping with a whole lot of trouble.

Your local government could issue a stop work order and force you to discontinue the project immediately. It could take a long time and a lot of money in fines and delayed permit fees to get things up and running again -- if you even can.

If it turns out that the work you're doing violates the local building codes or zoning rules, then you could be forced to tear out the improvements -- in addition to paying fines. You'd be out whatever money you spent on the project plus more and would end up with nothing to show for all of your expenses.

3. You could have big trouble when you try to sell your home

When you try to sell your home, you'll likely have to disclose to potential buyers that there was unpermitted work done (depending on your state's disclosure rules). This could scare potential buyers away because when they purchase the home, they would become responsible for any fines or consequences of unpermitted work.

Even if you don't disclose the fact that you did work without required permissions, it's possible the buyers could find out on their own. If they're aware that the house was remodeled or that an addition was put on, their real estate agent will very likely check to make sure that the permit was pulled. If it wasn't, chances are good the buyers won't want to purchase a potential problem.

Since you could lose the value of your home improvement money, have a hard time finding a buyer, and potentially end up with a builder that does low quality work, you very well could seriously regret not just getting the right permits in the first place.

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