How the Local Government Might Delay Your Home Sale
When it’s time to sell your home, there’s one important task many people don’t think about it: Checking with their local government, to be sure it has accurate information about the home. Here’s how the local government might delay your home sale—and what you can do about it.
Check with the building department
The town keeps records of every building constructed and every permit issued. It’s the job of the lead building inspector to be sure that any changes made to a home meet current codes, and that licensed contractors have done the work.
Home health and safety issues are the primary concerns of the building department. Whenever someone applies for a permit, an inspector must be physically called out to approve and sign off on the work of the contractor, plumber or electrician.
When you make a deal with a buyer, they’ll go to the building department to do their due diligence. If there’s an open permit (meaning the permit was applied for, but the contractor never had the inspector sign off on the work to close the permit) or, worse, if there’s no record of your finished basement or newly renovated kitchen, the buyer might not want to go ahead with the purchase.
Often, sellers find that somewhere along the line someone made a mistake, such as permits that weren’t closed out properly. These errors could have been the fault of a contractor, the previous owner, or even the building department directly.
In addition, a homeowner may assume the bathroom renovated by their Uncle Bob 15 years ago was up to code, but that may not be the case.
Both scenarios can pose a problem when selling. Once the home transfers, the new homeowner is on the hook for any illegal work, and no buyer wants to take on that liability.
Check your local assessor’s records, too
The town assessor keeps tabs on the local real estate market to be certain that its assessed value of your home (which affects property taxes) is in line with the market. When the market slows, the assessor won’t proactively lower your assessed value, and most assessors regularly scrape the building department permits. Why? Because if you’ve recently made a major improvement to your home, the assessor will want to raise your assessed value, which means higher taxes.
It’s also possible your home is over- or under-assessed. If it’s the former, you want to attempt to protest your assessment by providing the assessor recent sale statistics and making sure their records are accurate. Every municipality has a grievance process for homeowners.
Get ahead of any issues
Before listing, go to the town hall and check your property records. Most of the time, remedying issues like open permits or misinformation on a property is a quick fix. It’s better to get ahead of it than to have to react to a buyer’s concerns and jeopardize your deal.