Home additions or major projects (like a kitchen remodel, addition of a fireplace, etc.) merit further investigation. You will want to check with local government ("Town Hall") to make sure the proper permits were applied for before construction started and that the project was completed and approved (often called a "certificate of occupancy" or "CO"). There should be a record on file at Town Hall listing the correct square footage of the home, number of rooms, etc. If this information on file does not match the actual house footprint it is a good sign that work was done without permits.
Buying a home where space was added or revised without getting the proper paperwork and in-progress inspections could lead to problems in the future. Construction may have been done by the home owner or an unlicensed contractor without adhering to code or standard building practices. Components (like electrical work) may be unsafe and now hidden behind walls and not visible for evaluation. Missing permits could also affect the sale of the home in the future when you are ready to sell it. Buyers may balk at purchasing a 2500 square foot house listed on official records as a 1200 square foot home.
Things to watch out for while home shopping that may point to lack of proper or missing permits:
- No ground fault circuit interupt electrical outlets in newer-looking bathrooms and kitchens.
- Odd transition heights between floor levels (like a step or two up or down to get from the kitchen to a family room).
- Low ceilings.
- Low windows (less than 18" above floors).
- Stairs without hand rails.
- An exterior that does not mesh or is not unified (differing roof planes, different window shapes on one part of a home, two front doors or different parts of the exterior, etc.).
- Different shades of roofing shingles on different parts of the home.
- Mis-matched styles of construction and building materials.
- Loose wires protruding from walls and ceilings.
- Missing light fixtures.
Ask your lawyer for guidance, in most cases you can call or visit Town Hall to get the information you need. Make sure the work was done correctly and that the correct paperwork is on file and is a true reflection of the home and its value.