If you did any work on your house without a permit, it’s still possible to sell it.
However, the sales process can get complicated if the unpermitted work poses a safety issue or detracts buyers from your home. For example, a home with faulty electrical work might appear on a buyer’s home inspection and delay (or even derail) a deal.
Our guide discusses how to find out if your home has unpermitted work from its previous owner and your best selling options.
- You can sell a house with unpermitted work, even if it poses a major safety issue.
- You can either get the proper permits and then sell, or sell your home as-is and disclose the unpermitted work to buyers.
- Permitting rules vary widely by state and city, so consult a local real estate attorney or licensed contractor for more specific advice.
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What is unpermitted work?
Most remodeling, even for seemingly minor repairs or home improvement projects, requires permits from local government agencies. Unpermitted work is when a homeowner or contractor completes certain repairs and improvements without obtaining the necessary permits.
Examples of unpermitted work:
- Adding a room without adding it to the home’s blueprint
- Converting a garage or attic into living space
- Installing a new power outlet
- Building a new garage or sunroom
- Replacing windows
Permits ensure that any changes to the house comply with local building codes and zoning laws. Cities and counties issue permits and permitting requirements differ according to where you live.
How to find out if your home has unpermitted work
What if you plan to sell your home but suspect the previous owners didn’t follow the permitting process when completing certain renovations or repairs?
Check the home’s blueprints
The blueprints may show if something in your home exists now that didn’t exist in the original drawings. You should be able to find a copy of the blueprints for your home’s construction and additions at your local county clerk’s office. The developer that built the house or the architect who designed it may also have copies.
Contact your local city or county office
You can also try contacting these offices for permit records. The records may show any additions made to the property since its construction and if the work was permitted.
Best options for selling a house with unpermitted work
If your house does have unpermitted work, you have a few options for selling it. The best route depends on how fast you need to sell, your cost–benefit needs, and whether you can get the missing permits.
1. Sell as-is to a cash buyer
Your fastest and easiest option is to sell the house to an investor in as-is condition. Cash buyer companies will buy homes in any condition or situation, including homes with missing permits. You’ll usually get an all-cash offer in a couple of days, and in most cases, you can close in under a month.
House flippers and rental property owners are the main types of investors that might be interested in buying your home. Investors look to make a profit and typically pay 50–70% of what you could get on the open market for your property.
2. List your home as-is with a realtor
Selling as-is with a realtor means listing your home on the open market without making any repairs or trying to legalize the unpermitted work.
But it’s not a good idea to sell your house without informing the buyer about unpermitted work. Most states require you to disclose any known issues with your house. As part of the negotiations with buyers, you might have to legalize or redo the unpermitted work — or else risk getting sued by the buyer after closing.
Consider providing the buyer with an estimate of the cost of repairs, renovations, or permits ahead of time. You can offer a repair credit or price discount to account for those costs — a good way to build trust with buyers and help the transaction go smoothly.
Your house may fetch tens of thousands of dollars more if you sell it on the open market, so you’ll likely net more money that way, even after paying realtor commission.
3. Get the proper permits and then list your home
Obtaining the proper permits for the unpermitted work and then listing your home is the best choice for maximizing your home’s sale price — but only if you have the time and money to see the process through.
Getting retroactive permits can be costly and time-consuming. The first step is to call the local building permit office of your city or county to see if you can obtain the permits yourself.
The building department may send an inspector, who might require you to open up parts of the construction to show the work is up to the current building code.
If the work isn’t up to code, you may either:
- “Grandfather it” — that is, get a legal exemption that allows the work to remain in place, or
- Demolish the unpermitted work, restoring the house to its previous condition
Tips for selling a house with unpermitted work
If you decide to sell your house as-is, disclose any unpermitted work and be prepared to sell the house at a lower price.
Market your home to investors
- Contact a cash home-buying company.
- List your home on real estate websites like BiggerPockets or Craigslist.
- Work with an auctioneer.
- Use our free, no-obligation cash offer service. A top local agent can present you with fair cash offers from real estate investors.
Disclose all unpermitted work you’re aware of
Even in a “buyer beware” state, you must answer truthfully if the buyer asks you whether there’s unpermitted work. Failure to disclose known issues could get you in legal trouble if the buyer discovers problems after the sale.
The standard seller’s disclosure form for your state may specifically ask about completed renovations and if you or the home’s previous owner obtained a permit. If you don’t see these questions, there should be a place on the form where you can point out any unpermitted work.
You should also reveal any unpermitted work (along with other defects of the property) if you list your home on the MLS or a site like Zillow. It’s best to identify any rooms with unpermitted work to potential buyers.
Contact a local realtor for expert advice
Choosing whether to sell your home as-is or get the work permitted first can be a complex decision with financial and legal risks. It’s a good idea to seek a real estate agent’s opinion before making a decision that could cost you thousands of dollars or more.
How a good, experienced real estate agent can help:
- They’ve dealt with sellers in your situation before and can identify which strategy makes the most sense for you.
- They know how to deal with buyers who may try to take advantage of the situation by giving you a lowball offer.
- Working with a pro mitigates the risk of leaving money on the table when you sell or spending too much money on repairs.
We can quickly match you to top local agents who have experience selling homes with unpermitted work.
Can you sell a house with unpermitted work?
Yes, you can sell a house with unpermitted work. But you’ll need to disclose any unpermitted work to potential buyers, and selling a house with unpermitted work could result in a lower sales price. Your best selling options include selling the house as-is to an investor or listing it with a realtor.
How do I legalize unpermitted work?
Legalizing the unpermitted work could be as easy as applying for and receiving a permit from your local building department. The first step is to call your city or county to see if you can obtain the permits. The building department may send an inspector to determine if the work was done correctly. If the work isn’t up to code, you may be able to grandfather it (get a legal exemption that allows the work to remain in place). Otherwise, you may need to demolish or redo the work.
Do I have to disclose unpermitted work to a home buyer?
Yes, you likely need to disclose unpermitted work to a home buyer. It’s probably not a good idea to sell a house without informing the buyer about the missing permits. If the buyer finds out, you could get sued, costing you thousands of dollars in legal fees. Even in a “buyer beware” state, you are legally required to answer truthfully if the buyer asks you whether there's unpermitted work. However, permitting rules vary widely by location, so it's best to consult with a local realtor or attorney for more specific advice.