Before the home inspection, I ask my clients to provide three pieces of additional information in order to produce the most comprehensive review of all the sources of available data in addition to the home inspection. The result should produce what is the most accurate assessment of the current condition of the property along with hopefully answers some important questions too. Although the requested documents are not required and have no effect on the home inspection itself, furthermore many clients do not provide all or any, here is the list. The MLS listing, the property disclosure form and the property card including any other property information available from the municipality.
The MLS listing contains information such as the year built and description of the property as well as what should be very clear pictures. Often just by looking at the images issues are discovered that require further inquiry during the inspection. Also, terms used in the MLS Listing description such as: new, newer, recently, mildly, freshly, slightly, updated, etc. are subjective. If ten clients were asked, “What do you think is the age of a newer roof or water heater is?”, ten different answers would be received. None of which would be technically wrong but not the actually age of the item in question. Maybe the date of installation can be found on the property disclosure statement or the property card?
The property disclosure form is far from perfect and allows for vagueness and the ever-popular answer, “unknown.” It’s a personal choice when the form come back with all answers “unknown” or some degree of vagueness. Although there are many sellers that fill them out accurately and with great detail and those who honestly just don’t remember, there are still those intentionally trying to deceive, hiding or hoping certain conditions or alterations go unnoticed. However, since most work requires a permit, the property card from the town may clarify some answers or provide some insight.
The property card from the municipality along with any other information contained in the folder is a matter of public record. It is easily obtainable with a trip, maybe two over to town hall. It is the perfect opportunity to visit and familiarize with the location, building, people and process of the town. These records should contain all of the work at the property location where CONSTRUCTION WORK PERMITS were obtained from the town and their current status. If the work required an inspection from a town official such as that roof or water heater mentioned earlier, this is the place to find out. So, if MLS advertises; finished basement, new roof, new water heater, remodeled kitchen and there is no record of it here, odds are it wasn’t inspected by the town and they are unaware of the work.
So, what does this all mean? It means as an inspector trying to gather all the information possible to provide the most accurate assessment of the current state of the property for our client, this information could be helpful. Since, the home inspection is a non-intrusive, visual, performance based inspection which provides a description at the time of the inspection once the buyer moves in and begins utilizing the house to their own needs be aware issues due to incorrect building or remodeling procedures may arise.
What does that mean? In terms of this article as an example that really happened me several years ago: the kitchen was remodeled without a permit, the outlets, lights and all electrical components worked properly at the time of the inspection. It turns out that the layout was changed from the original design and instead of running a new electric circuit, the outlet in the bathroom on the adjoining wall was tapped into instead. Now whenever the microwave or refrigerator is running and a blow dryer is being used in the bathroom the circuit breaker trips. This problem wouldn’t be discovered during a home inspection, maybe not even if further evaluation by a licensed electrician was recommend. But, by seeing that the kitchen remodel was done without permits and not inspected by the town, who knows what was done. Just be aware that these are some of the potential problems that could arise after closing, it’s impossible to predict them all especially when dealing with unknown variables.
I’ve seen a lot of work done without permits. Permits are not pulled for several reasons, such as: the owner doesn’t want to pay the cost, afraid of the tax increase, avoid the delay waiting for inspectors and so on. This doesn’t mean that the work being performed is not done correctly, it’s just that it hasn’t been inspected by the town and they are also unaware. On the flip side, I have seen a lot of work that so poorly done that it was borderline criminal. That’s some of the reasons permits and town inspections are needed and to be cautious when purchasing a house with work done without a permit.
As always, all information provided is not intended to influence reader's decision in any way, just provides additional insight and general information on the inspection process & possible issues found in multiple properties over the course of my time in real estate, construction & home inspection. The Final Inpsection LLC along with David Keizer assumes no liability for the accuracy of any information provided & will not be liable for any losses in any of its uses. Recommend consultation with an attorney or real estate professional before making any desicisons.