You’re getting ready to make improvements to your home and you’re wondering whether to do the work yourself or hire a contractor? The problem is you’re worried about the building permits and how much they will set you back or if it will increase your property value and affect your taxes? Well, most of your fears are unfounded, but failing to get the proper permits or not inspecting your property could present some serious issues. There are just realities concerning building permits, and here are some important things to understand about them.
When You Do and Don’t Need a Permit
There are many improvements you can do to your home that don’t require a permit, and the rules governing it all are different for every community. Anything done in your home as far as replacing existing elements does not require a permit. Work done that changes the structure of your home or a real estate improvement will require a permit. For example, replacing a sink faucet or light fixture is legitimate, but putting in an extra room in your home or calling in residential roofing contractors to replace your roof requires a permit. Get in touch with your permit office and speak with an inspector or go online and find what kind of work you can do in your house that requires building permits and an inspection.
Speaking With your Local Permit Office
When you call your local city or county permit office, you aren’t immediately identified as a potential permit violator. A permit office is there to make sure that any improvements you or anyone else does are started and finished in a safe manner and don’t present risks or problems for other residents. Most inspectors are more than willing to answer questions and if there isn’t one available, an inspector will get back to you with the answers you need to complete a room in your home or something related to your room addition.
It may surprise you, but there isn’t a fee set in stone for a building permit. The cost of the permit is based on the cost and involvement of your project. The nationwide average for a building permit from a couple of years ago was $1,043. The range runs from $400 to around $1700. These are average costs for the construction of an entire house. Permits are quite a bit less for uncomplicated projects and can run $100 or less. Permit costs overall are based on a percentage of the cost of a project. In working with a contractor, the costs of permits are usually part of the bid you receive.
Owner/Builder Permits Can Be Problematic
Another misconception with building permits is that they are only issued to licensed contractors. This simply isn’t true. Inspection offices issue building permits to homeowners on a regular basis just as they do for licensed contractors and contractors for roof installation services. You can act as a general contractor when building your own home in the form of an owner/builder permit which allows you to not only live in your house for at least a year and subcontracting out various
tasks. This allows you to save on the 15-25% fee charged by general contractors. You are, however, faced with any liabilities that may occur on the job.
Before you start any building project, check the utility easement area that runs along your property. Any time you have a sidewalk, main sewer line or power near your property, there is an easement. What this means is you can’t construct an addition to your house and have it run into an easement. To understand more about easements and how they affect your property, check with your county assessor’s office. Sometimes the only exception to the rule is a minor addition such as a fence.
A setback is a buffer zone between the borders of a property and more permanent structures. They help preserve the feeling of openness in subdivisions as well as areas of safety, particularly in the case of fires. If you’re expanding your home, you’ll need to know your local setback distances. This will involve keeping a distance between structures and property dividing lines. Any kind of home addition and other structures will have to follow setback rules. Ask your building inspections office about current setback regulations.
There are very few waivers for easements but variances are a bit different. Homeowners who want to construct a larger house on their property can request a variance and will be subject to zoning ordinances. Asking for a variance may give you permission to build a larger home or a room addition that goes against setback guidelines. In relation to the permit office, officials there may have to confer with neighbors when a variance is requested. It’s up to the approval of neighbors as to whether the variance is granted.
You’ve seen stock blueprints for houses and other structures all over the internet and elsewhere. What you probably don’t know is that those ready made plans may not be approved by your local building permit office. Even though the plans were put together by an architect, they are still subject to the approval of the permitting office. You may have to deal with an architect licensed in your state in order for your plans to be approved.
Conditions, Covenants, and Restrictions (CCRs)
Planned communities usually have conditions, covenants and restrictions within these developments that act as their own zoning ordinances. These restrictions are part of the communities they govern, as are other city ordinances. If any building changes are going to happen to housing within these communities, both the homeowners association and the city must be given notice of those proposed changes.
An inspection is part of the permit process and should not be ignored by you or your contractor. There may be a pre-inspection as well as a final inspection. There is nothing to worry about with either. The inspector is there to make sure the work has been done efficiently and safely. If an inspector is familiar with a contractor’s work, the visit is often short. With a homeowner, an inspector will be more precise but it’s still just a routine process.
Failing an Inspection
There is no reason to not apply for building permit because you fear the inspection and possible failure. The inspector will give you a number of chances to correct any problems with your house and will return as often as is necessary. An inspector will sign off on the permit after the work has been approved.
Ignoring the Permit Process
Following the guidelines in the permit process is important and attempting to hide work, especially within your home, is the simple way out. You may obscure your work, but it will probably catch up with you. Not getting a permit will cost you in the long run. If work you have done is made public, it could force you to apply for a permit at a much higher rate. You might even have to tear down what’s already been done in order for an inspection to occur and if mistakes have been made, you may be forced to do the job over. In addition, if the work was done without a building permit, your homeowner’s insurance could be affected and your coverage denied.
Getting a building permit and having inspections are important processes. There is nothing to fear, but it is important for your sake and your contractor’s that it’s done in the right way and not ignored. If you are still unsure of the process, complete the online contact form and a representative will get back to you with answers to your questions.