“I was wondering how important is it to buy a house that has been updated with permits?”


“Dear PoPville,

I hope you and your readers can give me some advice. My husband and I are trying to buy a house in DC. We found a beautiful one this weekend in Bloomingdale off of North Capital. We started to put a offer in but our realtor cautioned us not to because the price of the house had double since the owners bought it a few years ago and it was because of the extensive renovation. It has a brand new kitchen and you can tell lots of other work had been done but she could not find any permits for the remodeling. We didn’t put in a offer because we wanted to do research and find out if it was illegally renovated but now it is under contract with someone else. I was wondering how important is it to buy a house that has been updated with permits? What are the consequences? If it isn’t a big deal I want to know for next time so we won’t miss out again.”

82 Comment

  • As someone who remodeled their house without permits and wants to sell in the near-ish future I’m curious as well. Thanks for posting!

    • why would you do this? my contractor told me about a client of his who got hit with a $4,000 fine for doing something in DC without a permit.

      • All I can say is we weren’t super responsible and didn’t look into it. We didn’t do a gut renovation just remodeled the bathroom, replaced floors, and turned a bedroom and den into one master bedroom. We’ll see how this comes back to haunt us later I guess.

        • If that’s all you did I wouldn’t have a problem buying your place. The only place I could see running into problems is the bathroom with plumbing and electrical.

          • justinbc

            The problem is, without permits, you have no one to attest that that’s in fact all that was done. Or, more importantly, the integrity of the work. I sure wouldn’t want to risk someone doing a poor job on a 2nd floor bathroom remodel then finding out by my 1st floor ceiling falling in on me.

          • If anything, a permit gives you a false sense of security in a bad situation. Plus, most plumbing fixtures and electrical changes can be installed with a postcard permit. And, its unlikely the ceiling is going to randomly fall on you without any other signs of problems.

            On what is in scope under postcards: http://dcra.dc.gov/service/permits-postcard-permit

            Postcards dont show up and there is no record. Sometimes plumbers/electricians wont even give the homeowners a paper copy – so not having one proves nothing.

            So basically, as others have said, if there are structural changes that dont have permits (removed walls, basement dig out, pop up, etc) then yes, start digging a bit. But, a.) the only way to know for sure that no permits were pulled is if 0 permits were ever pulled… anything that gets structural’s approval at DCRA could have been done in conjunction with something else and b.) EVEN if the work was permitted, I’d still take a hard look at the structure and get your home inspector to take a hard look at anything where its obvious the structure was changed.

          • That problem exists even with permits. A neighbor of mine bought a house so poorly flipped that his garage door had 120V going across it.

          • justinbc

            Oh by no means did I mean to give the impression that having something permitted means that it’s failsafe. We all know there are ways to get permits that you really shouldn’t have been able to. But it’s at least better than NOT getting them and having no idea what’s behind the walls.

        • Ah, I see. This doesn’t seem problematic to me. Maybe you would have issues with the plumbing.

        • We were thinking about having our contractor friend do some work like that, and he would have proceeded without a permit simply because he works exclusively in VA where they’re not necessary (it’s like the Wild West out there).

          • Not true. VA does require residential permits. We needed them for some renovation work in both Alexandria and Arlington. Same for our renovations in our DC house.
            I’m sure your VA contractor knows better.

          • From my understanding it’s only for major things like plumbing.

        • TBH, this doesn’t sound like a big deal. Permits for things that are load-bearing or could *seriously* compromise the structural integrity of a house would be recommended for permitting and hiring a licensed & bonded contractor. That’s more for protection.

          But to take down a wall, re-route some plumbing, and possibly move an outlet isn’t a big deal.

          Outside of that, if you explained yourself to a buyer and that you didn’t want to add another $X amount ($752?) to get a permit, then more power to you. But remember, you’re leading to budget shortfalls in DC if there are any!

    • Always get permits if you are going to create dust, loud noises, and have people in and out of the house. Neighbors will always call DCRA and you will have an inspector there quickly. Fines and stop work orders will follow.

      • Lol. What neighborhood do you live in? In our part of Petworth you’d have to knock a house down for anyone to call DCRA.

        • I have done houses in Petworth, Brightwood Park, Takoma, and Eckington and have gotten DCRA called every time.

          • But it sounds like you’re a developer? I think people are a lot less apt to call DCRA on a neighbor they know and have a relationship with than a random developer who doesn’t live in the neighborhood.

  • its crazy to purchase a home that has had extensive un-permitted work. For one thing, you have no idea what is hidden in the walls. It could be shoddy electrical work/gas line work, work not done to code, etc etc and could potentially be a fire hazard. You need to ask yourself a question: if the flipper had all this work done, why didnt they get permits?

    I imagine it could affect your home owners insurance. Besides that, if the work is done imporperly and not to code, you will have the added expense of bringing it up to code eventually. If you try and sell the house later, the new potential purchasers might not want to buy a house that has a history of unpermitted work.

    • Exactly. See (almost every episode ever) of “Holmes on Homes” on Netflix for examples.

    • My first home I purchased was renovated where and turned into a 2-unit with separate electric meter and all. There is NO records of anything being done. When I look at the database the pic that’s there shows 2meters and shows the basement unit front entrance which none of the other homes have and this was in 2001. I don’t understand how a new meter was installed but yet the city has NO record of it.

      • Another note- is that in the tax records- the property is listed as a conversion. So I’m not sure how one agency has the home listed as a conversion/multifamily and dcra has NO permits showing the work.

        • The different D.C. government agencies don’t communicate with each other — this doesn’t surprise me at all.

    • We own a home that had work done with zero permits (a foreclosure) over the years before we bought it – some things are a little funky (as in, why did they install that waste pipe at that angle or what is this bunch of capped off wires in the wall), but no huge issues and no impact on our home owners insurance.
      I wouldn’t advise waiving an inspection or anything, but I don’t imagine that it would feel like the end of the world for us to buy another renovated-sans-permits home.

  • Others may disagree – but i think it’s important to show permits for the work. It’s probably more important to have a good home inspector, who can identify any issues. Just because someone did or did not have permits, it doesn’t mean there aren’t hidden issues. Although a home inspector can turn up most issues, I would be wary of some that might exist behind walls (ie bad wiring) if there were no permit.

  • Hmm, how extensive? A complete gut with wall removal and all that? I don’t think I’d feel comfortable buying a house that had extensive renovations with zero permits! Now if they had just replaced flooring, maybe updated the bathrooms and things like that I wouldn’t mind. The consequences are the work may not be on the up and up, it could not be to code, etc. I know people who have renovated bathrooms and kitchens without permits, but certainly not a whole renovation.

    • +1 I completely agree. I would be even more concerned if the home was flipped without permits and the developer is the current owner (look and see if the home has been sold w/in the past 2 years). Good developers are professionals who play by the rules in their field — one who can’t be bothered to get permits probably isn’t going to bother to do a good job either. If it was just a homeowner who updated some things here or there, it is a tougher call. That said, I’m naturally wary any time a Realtor tells you NOT to buy (as all they time they spend with you impacts their bottom line and they have every incentive to encourage you to bid ASAP). When we bought, we bought a house with a 5+ year old renovation, the logic being that we might have to replace appliances sooner, but the “guts” seem to be holding up/it wasn’t a shoddy flip. Although we’re happy so far, only time will tell if that was the right call. Don’t forget that while there is a feeding frenzy in DC real estate right now, it won’t remain that way forever. You want a home that you can enjoy safely but also that you can sell even if the market tightens in a few years. Good luck!

  • This is a great question and I would be definitely concerned. With all the mom and pop flippers out there, you have to be careful. I have witnessed many homes in the neighborhood being pieced together with crappy renovations. Quite frankly it is of my personal opinion to buy a house that needs work and contract it out yourself so that you know what you are buying…especially when prices are going through the roof. Maybe there is some sort of clause you can work out regarding future issues with the home related to electrical, water, sewer, etc… which btw if they didn’t replace the sewer line…that is a ticking time bomb. I replaced mine and it was like lobster shell with the lifted it out of the ground, i.e. split open like a lobster tail.

    • Unless you have a background/expertise in home building and can easily spot sub-standard work, contracting it out yourself does not guarantee good results. You probably can’t negotiate anything in the contract in this market, but you can always purchase a home warranty.

  • It sounds like this may have been a live in renovation and not a flip? I’d look closer to see exactly what they did. If they knocked down walls or re-plumbed the whole house they definitely should have gotten a permit. If they re-tiled, put in new floors, and bought new appliances it should be fine. Surface changes can make a really big difference in kitchens and bathrooms.

  • My understanding is that when our house was initially renovated in 2004, it was done without permits, and the city compelled the contractors to rip out everything that had been installed. I believe the house was offloaded to a separate group who started over. Anyway, probably a good idea to have all your paperwork in order.

  • I know someone who tragically died in a house fire after the place had changes that were not done to code. I know DC bureaucracy sucks, but these codes and processes exist for a reason. Yes, DC should improve their bureaucracy, but I’d be extremely reluctant to purchase such a property on the grounds that “well, bureaucracy sucks, but the work they did is probably fine and I really like the neighborhood.”

  • Permits do not necessarily mean you get a quality job or that it is done to code.
    I gutted a house over a period of time, and rarely got permits. But we put in quality work, and even had the electrical work voluntarily inspected by an electrician. No one questioned it when we sold…
    Ideally, getting permits would be a simple and helpful process. But sometimes it can toss you into a bureaucratic hellhole and you would be forced to do stupid things as part of the renovation.

    • Conversely, permits do not guarantee good work. I know several people with houses that had permitted work which they later realized was terrible and/or dangerous. Inspectors can’t see everything and wheels sometimes get greased here.
      Same goes for your inspector. Most of the biggest potential problems they cannot possibly see.

    • Exactly this. Any joker can get a postcard permit and contractors regularly far exceed these permits in scope. As a homebuyer in this insane market unfortunately you’re probably going to have to make some compromises to snag something.

  • I’ve bought two houses in DC that were renovated without permits. There weren’t any issues. Quality of work is another issue – just make sure you have a good home inspector.

  • Permits are only as useful as the inspections that go with them. I’ve heard stories about DCRA inspectors who are too lazy to walk to the 2nd floor to inspect framing.

    As others have said, if it’s just a bathroom and kitchen remodel, I wouldn’t worry about it. If it’s something structural (especially a basement dig out) then I’d want to see permits and have an building inspection.

  • I think the home inspection and learning about things yourself so you can identify possible problems is way more important.

    I’ve done enough work that needed a permit where I got a permit, work that should have needed a permit that didnt need one, and work that needed a permit and shouldnt have, that its really a crap shoot.

    Plus, as far as I am aware, there’s no guarantee that the work was inspected just because a permit was pulled.

    Basically, despite what most people will tell you, a permit means nothing about whether the job was done to code, or really even safely.

    I bought my house and either fixed by hand, or hired out, a number of issues that were clear safety problems.

    Additionally, the code changes. So something that was totally fine (and probably still is) is a glaring “safety” issue for someone now.

    You really have to take these things on a case-by-case basis. And, I’m sure even the house you think was 100% permitted, actually wasnt. There are so many things that are buried down in the paperwork that there’s no way of really knowing what was in-scope and wasnt in-scope, without spending more time than its worth.

    Beyond that, people buy houses all the time in places that dont have as strong (or inconsistent) permitting regime. I am not aware of huge problems in those areas.

    In summation, I think given the lack of inspections, overall inconsistent quality offered by for-hire contractors, and the ever-changing requirements (over years, not months), that you shouldnt get too wound up about what has a permit or doesnt.

    Plus, post card permits dont even show on the online system. A TON of work can be done with those…

    • Also, I wouldnt trust a realtor simply by virtue of being a realtor, of knowing anything about permits or renovations. If its someone who is clearly competent and knows stuff beyond how to file real estate paperwork, maybe listen to them – but so many realtors I’ve dealt with know absolutely NOTHING about houses except how to do the paperwork (many dont even know how mortgages work).

      • +1 million on useless realtors… It boggles my mind how they are compensated so much. Even if you know absolutely nothing at least get the date correct on my contract for Pete’s sake… Can’t stress how important it is to get a good home inspector. He was the only thing that saved the entire experience.

  • I can think of four houses on my street that were flipped by developers who had permits and had the place inspected by DCRA, the houses are a mess and the new owners are paying dearly to fix up the mess. Everyone I know who purchased a home that was completely renovated has had issues, the complaint I hear all the time is not enough insulation.

    • I don’t know about a “mess” or “paying dearly.” We bought a flip that definitely needed some extra insulation like you mentioned. Fortunately the DC SEU program will pay up to $1800 to cover that work if you have an energy audit done. So its not costing us very much on top of that. Well worth it given we otherwise love our house. In this sellers market you have to make compromises.

  • Buying a house in any other place than DC (and SF, NYC…handful of places where housing is crazy), I would ofcourse require proof that any work they did that required permits, was done legally. Of course, there is lots of work that can be legally done without permits, but the volume of work described doesn’t sound like one of those situations.

    Here is the rub…potential buyers in DC don’t have the luxury to demand anything from sellers, or wait for sellers to provide them anything. As you discovered, there were people (probably many people) in the wings who either didn’t care, or were willing to risk moving forward without proof.

    It is a rare place in the US where people have to forgo contingencies like inspections, financing etc to get a house, but that is the market we live in, atleast for a little while longer.

    • you are correct in that you cant demand anything form the seller. however, you can ask them to supply permits after your inspection and if they cant or dont want to supply permits for work done, you can decline to purchase based on your home inspection report.

      that is what we did. funny enough, the house then appeared on an episode of the HGTV show House Hunters.

      • But I think what Becca is saying is that it’s a very competitive market where there are tons of people who waive contingencies, inspections, and permitted work (like with this house). Then there are the people with crazy escalation clauses. It can take a reallllly long time to find a house.

        • I feel you. I also think unless you have a bottomless pit of money to put into your house, waiving an inspection, particularly in DC where most of the rowhouses are over 80 years old, is a stupid mistake for a first time home buyer. .

          • We waived the inspection contingency but then paid for our own inspector. I don’t know many people who are just completely waiving inspection all together.

          • west_egg

            @A: So what would you have done if the inspection had turned up something serious? Having waived the contingency you’d have no basis to walk away (without losing your deposit)…no?

          • HaileUnlikely

            Can’t speak for A, but I had the inspection performed on the morning of the day that I was writing the offer, and was present for the inspection. I of course didn’t receive the completed inspection report on that same day, but I spoke with the inspector enough to figure out whether I wanted to submit an offer or not.

  • http://pivs.dcra.dc.gov/PIVS/Search.aspx (I think the database goes back into the 1990’s but not sure)

    is your friend! I could write 1000+ words on our home renovation discovering all sorts of issues done w/out permits by the previous owner(s).

  • I would wager there is a difference between someone flipping a house and an owner occupant who renovated over time. All someone flipping cares about is that the house looks nice on the surface and the profit. An owner occupant is going to care a lot more about safety and quality work since they are actually living in the house. I’d be a lot more wary if it was a flip job and there were no permits than I would be if it was a home owner who had lived there a number of years.

    • And, to be fair, the flipper is the one more likely to get the permit.

    • Also, the flipper should know permits are necessary. If they knowingly avoided getting them they’re probably trying to hide something.

    • +1000.

    • Yeah to the above. And also, some of those doing-renovations-over-time owners are often too dumb to care about safety – they things they do, while thinking they are improving their homes, are often mind boggling – when one gets into the walls after having bought such a place. People in the same situation can differ a lot – owners can do good renovations, or dangerous ones. Whether they are doing the work themselves, having friends do it, or hiring people.

  • HaileUnlikely

    I would run like hell if it has an open floor plan on the first floor, because people without permits sometimes fail to appreciate the function of load-bearing walls, and very negative outcomes sometimes result. If not an open floor plan, I would try to arrange a pre-inspection, i.e., try to get my inspector in there before I even put in an offer, and take the results of the inspection under advisement in determining whether to make an offer or not.

    • We bought a gutted/flipped house in Petworth 3 years ago and confirmed that there were multiple permits filed for the renovation. We’ve since discovered a few shortcuts, the most egregious of which was the HVAC guy ran not one, but two 2-1/2″ pvc pipes THRU six 8″ floor joists. Seriously, this would have taken way more effort than routing it another way. We had to have ceilings/cabinets removed and all those joists sistered/supported and everything put back. Based on this we were afraid that the open first floor was not done properly so we also had those ceilings opened up for inspection. Much to our relief, the necessary structural work had been done on the first floor. Just goes to show you that even if there are permits, it doesn’t mean everything was done to code.

      • HaileUnlikely

        Almost as a general rule, I have found that most contractors in a specific trade don’t give a f* about stuff outside of the very narrow scope of their trade. It is hard to find electricians, plumbers, HVAC contractors who care about things like the structural integrity of joists.

  • I redid all of the of the doors/jams/framing in every room on the 2nd level including closet doors to give it a new look because the originals were so badly dented and etc. I’ve re-sanded/stained my floors as well on both levels. I also enlarged the existing openings. Where needed, extra support was put in place etc. I also re dry-walled the entire 1st floor ceiling. Though I didn’t pull permits, I didn’t skimp on the contractor.

  • A permit just gives you permission from the city to do the work. Depending on the permit, there is a post inspection requirement but that’s usually only for major items. So no, I wouldn’t care about the permits. I’d care about any post-work inspections. Plus, the permitting process is out of control. Permits to change windows and paint? Give me a break.

    • HaileUnlikely

      My favorite insane one is the supplemental plumbing permit needed to change a faucet or a toilet. The permit legally required to change out the faucet in your bathroom sink can only be issued to a master plumber. Yes, a faucet.

  • We permit everything we can when flipping houses. It’s annoying, causes delays, and the inspectors like to hassle you over minor things… but it’s better then the alternative. The current house we are working on had such high quality work that the inspectors used it to train the new guys on “how the work should be done”. Didn’t stop them from delaying for minor issues though.

    Large scale renovations (moving around plumbing, reconfiguring rooms/walls, electrical)=get permits
    Small renovations (bathroom tile, floors, closets)= Just get somebody to come do the work quickly

    Rule of thumb, if there is going to be loud noises, dust, and many contractors outside of your house… you BETTER get permits. Because you will have inspectors there everyday for the duration of the work. Miss Smith next door absolutely hates when she gets woken up at 9am on Monday and finds out that her new neighbors are going to have a better kitchen then her.

    On a similar note, email me if you are looking for a house in Brightwood Park or Petworth!

  • Well, we bought a house that had been (sort of) renovated without permits, so let me tell you what you missed. Now, in our case, the reno was obviously janky and we were planning on doing some upgrades ourselves, so perhaps noticed some things that you wouldn’t have if you weren’t doing your own construction. On the flip side, we didn’t have to discover the mess by falling through the floor or something.

    Basically, every short cut was taken– the exhaust in the bathrooms just went to the insulation above them (hello mold). beams were just cut, the fireplace was totally unsafe, the roof had just been cemented over, so that we needed to replace it immediately (even though it was supposed to be new). Crazy people even “repaired” mortar with caulk. Didn’t help that our inspector didn’t catch anything, but then again, most of it was hidden.

    I will say, though, that they did put in an “illegal” bathroom in the basement (the ceilings are too low for it to be a dwelling place), which we couldn’t have done, so that was nice.

    On the other hand, just because they got permits doesn’t mean they didn’t make a mess of things either. The lesson is, go on property brothers so you can fix up your place (and hang out with the property brothers).

    Good luck next time!!

    • UMMMM, that inspector was horrible!!! Seriously, nearly everything you listed should have been caught by an inspector and I would not have bought that house. Roof had been cemented over…how do you miss that? Our inspector climbed out on our roof, went up in our attic crawl space, etc.

  • DCRA can always come back and fine home owners for non permitted work. New home owners may also inherit fines/repairs stemming from non permitted work that fails to meet code requirements and pose a life safety issues.

    Your best bet is a really good inspector. A building professional (architect, engineer, building inspector) will have a good eye for seeking out potential problems, sometimes based on materials used and quality of workmanship. If you have a name of the “developer” or contractor, ask about their references. See if previous clients have had problems with their builds.

    While I would always advise clients to obtain permits, permits do not ensure good quality and workmanship. DCRA do not performance test during their “walk-through” inspections. In my experience everything is solely visual taking enough time for them to walk in and out of your home.

    • “DCRA can always come back and fine home owners for non permitted work. New home owners may also inherit fines/repairs stemming from non permitted work that fails to meet code requirements and pose a life safety issues.”

      Thats not true, or only true in limited instances – and almost certainly wont apply to new owners. And, I doubt that it ever happens judging by the large numbers of really shoddy work done on the exterior of structures that are, without a doubt, done in the absence of permits and not to code.

      This is a bit of unnecessary fear mongering.

    • How so? How can they prove who/when the work was done? Seems like they would have to catch you in act in order to fine you.

      • Let’s say the previous owner didn’t pull a permit for that lovely new deck and fence out back. Let’s say your new next door neighbor doesn’t like you (damn gentrifiers! Get out of my neighborhood!). Neighbor calls in to report an unpermitted deck and fence. Guess what? Not only can you be fined, but you can be forced to remove the deck and the fence!

        Yeah. Make sure they got the permits.

        • I’m not sure that they would care…

          • HaileUnlikely

            What hypo describes is admittedly rather unlikely (haile unlikely, I might say), but I do believe that it would be within DCRA’s authority to do exactly that. More likely: if new owner pulls permits to do more renovation in the future, inspector may require other non-compliant stuff be brought up to code. That happens much more often than hypo above, and can be extremely expensive.

        • This is an unlikely scenario. What they do is fine, issue permits, and make you have it inspected. You can essentially legalize work after the fact. We went thru this process. Now if you live in a historic zone and it is external work (deck etc) all bets are off.

  • With as expensive as houses in DC are I don’t know why you would want to buy a house that isn’t legit? If the person flipping it didn’t want to get permits I would be nervous about what else was skipped. Get a good home inspector and a place that was correctly permitted and hope for the best!

    We recently bought a house that was flipped and gutted so my advice will be to get a roof inspection. Most home inspectors won’t go on the roof (particularly if it’s a flat roof without indoor access like many DC houses) and the house we were going to buy needed a new roof and taking the extra step to get a roof inspector out there (for free!) saved us $5-6,000. Other than the roof everything else in our flip/total renovation has been done well.

  • Use a good inspector! Don’t rely on a whether or not someone had a permit.

    1) as the original poster discovered, if it’s a good house, someone will buy it out from under you while you suck your thumb about what the realtor told you about permits

    2) look at all the horror stories, just in this post, about houses with permits that were garbage. A good home inspection is worth way more than a piece of paper

    3) how do you even know that the DC database is accurate? I just checked this place that is near my house on the permit website that someone just posted:


    it showed ZERO permits. I know for a fact there were permits, because I saw them. I saw the inspectors too. So why isn’t it on the DC official government website? DC is soooo freakin’ on top of everything and does everything so efficiently, so why isn’t in on there?

    And I just checked my place and I don’t see a permit either. And I KNOW I got one because they wouldn’t turn my electric back on until the inspector approved it.

  • It’s a complete crap shoot. Having a permit and an inspection in DC guarantees basically nothing. As others have noted some inspectors don’t do the best job, and some of the big time flippers know which palms to grease, so a permit can be worthless. You can even hire 3rd party inspectors that are licensed by DCRA but don’t actually work for the city. I can’t count the number of downright dangerous stuff I’ve found behind the walls of our renovated, fully permitted house! There’s no good answer here. That being said, I agree with everyone else on the major structural stuff. If you are underpinning a house and don’t put together the engineering drawings that are required for a permit chances are you are taking dangerous short cuts somewhere else. But replacing a faucet? Adding an outlet? Basic DIY skills that can be done safely. I think you actually need a permit for interior painting if it exceeds a certain square footage!

    • That being said, where is this house in Bloomingdale? Tons and tons of renovations happening there right now.

  • Aren’t permits just meant to keep the city from being sued if something goes wrong?

  • Permits tell you nothing. Most people I know will try do unpermitted work because they don’t want to deal with the hassle and delay that dealing with the DC Government causes. I waited 7 months for permits for a complete gut with new electrical, plumbing but no structural changes. The inspector had no idea what he was looking at anyway. Furthermore, DC allows 3rd party inspections. The permitting process guarantees nothing. Does having a permit prevent a rat from getting into your walls and chewing through your wires (they do this for some reason)? Does having a permit prevent a thin walled pipe from bursting?

    At the end of the day, it’s worth it to pay an extremely experienced general contractor to inspect the work with a fine tooth comb. Most fly-by-night home renovators/flippers leave visible signs that they’ve cut corners on a job. They are invisible to most, but an experienced general contractor can read a house like a crime scene.

  • I just looked at a house in Eckington that double in price, has no permits listed ,and the last time it was listed 8 years ago it had 2 kitchens and no electricity. I am still thinking of putting down a offer with a inspection contingency.

  • Buyer beware in DC! PLEASE heed the lessons learned by others who have trod down this path before you: http://www.popville.com/2014/08/dear-popville-lessons-of-a-bad-home-purchase/

    In short, if I were to buy a flipped home, it would have to be from a reputable flipper (John Formant comes to mind) who pulled all the required permits and used reputable subs.

    I once asked someone I trust who works in real estate if he would ever buy a flipped home where no permits were pulled. He said that the only way he would do that is if the seller would have all the walls removed for the home inspection so that the plumbing and electrical could be adequately inspected.

    A good home inspection can only see what is visible…

  • We glibly bought a house in ZIP 20001 without looking into the permits on a gut renovation done, on the cheap, in 2005. Guess what. Over the years, we’ve had to replace all the house systems. Our plumbers, electricians, masons and carpenters laugh at the shoddy work that the flipper got away with. Sellers and buyers should definitely look into proper code and inspection compliance.

    • So, it sounds like you maybe knew the gut renovation was done on the cheap, so did you basically get the house you expected to get (knowing things would need fixing over time) for the money you were able or willing to spend? Do you wish you hadn’t bought the house? Would you have found another renovated house in the price range if you had checked permits?

  • The answer is, as I thought when I read your post, and as is also clear from the comments, is that how important it is is how important it is to YOU. Depends on your level of risk tolerance, which varies among different people.

    What is clear is that you can arm yourself with a good home inspector – and hire additional ones for specific systems if you have concerns about specific systems. This you need to do whether a home has been renovated with permits or not, and also whether a house has even been renovated or not.

    You need to start learning a lot about the construction and renovation of houses like the kind you are looking at. One way I did that is to have inspections done on some I was considering making offers on – you can learn a lot from an inspector who will talk to you and point things out as you walk through. And then you take this knowledge with you as you look at other homes and go through other inspections.

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