Be cautious buying a house without permits

Be cautious buying a house without permits
Date Published: November 7, 2008

Dear Sue,
I am in the process of buying the home of my dreams. It is everything that my wife and I have been looking for. I think that we are getting a very good price on it. There is only one issue.
The seller said that they built the master bathroom to code but didn’t get a building permit because he didn’t want the property taxes to go up any higher than they already were. He told our agent that he wasn’t prepared to get it permitted and that we had to take it or leave it.
My agent thinks that since we are getting it for such a good price that we should just buy it anyway and permit it later. My wife thinks that if it’s not permitted we could have a problem selling it in the future. We are also worried about being penalized by the county.
We really love this home but we don’t want to buy it at any cost. What are your thoughts?
— Worried Walt,
Dear Walt,
Some people when buying a home are very concerned about permits while others are not.
There are many properties in Placer County that have been added onto or remodeled without having gone through the permit process. What I am hearing is that you are worried about a future buyer.
If you choose to buy the property and re-sell it, you will be faced with the same two options. You can permit it in order to sell it, or insist that the new buyer purchase it “as is.”
Before you make a decision, I think it’s important that you know the extent of what you are getting into.
You can determine the scope and cost of the work before closing escrow. This information will help you decide if you want to take it on.
My suggestion would be to have a licensed plumber such as JeffCo Plumbing, Inc., determine beforehand whether or not the bathroom can be permitted and how much it will cost.
The plumber will look at the spacing of the toilet to make sure that it is to code. The shower will be checked for size as well. And all of the fixtures will need to be properly vented.
These are only a few of the items that will need to be considered.
If square footage was added, it will be important to check the setback requirements. If the bathroom encroaches on the setback, it may be necessary to get a variance.
While many counties are fining, Placer County has not been fining people for preemptive work. Keep in mind that this may change in the future.
Today a permit for the added bathroom shouldn’t be over $400 plus the cost of any changes that may be required in order to obtain the permit.
Knowing what you have your hands on before you close escrow is a matter of good Home $$$s and Sense.
Sue Thompson is owner and sales manager of HomeTown Realtors. She can be reached at, or on the Web at