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Got Permit? Building Permit That Is.

Jeni DiVirgilio  908-477-4907  
Credits: Philip Martin

SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- Unfortunately, every real estate agent has a story about a sale that was affected by improperly permitted work. Don’t be the seller who has to delay the closing or reduce their home’s price because of permits that were not obtained or closed.

When a home’s improvements do not match what’s recorded with the town, it’s a red flag that can negate a home sale. You might be required to obtain a permit for work retroactively, which can be a costly endeavor. Fines, lawsuits and other legal troubles are all possible outcomes of completing work without the required permit.

The homeowner might not have known that they needed a permit. were misled by contractors, inherited illegal home improvements made by previous owners or feared that getting a permit would cause their taxes to be raised.

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Inspectors can no longer perform "destructive inspections," meaning they can't tear down walls. (However, state rules allow such inspections when there is reason to believe the work poses a substantial danger or risk.) Even though they can't see behind the walls, there are certain certifications that they'll be able to get and say, "Yes, the work was done properly," and then they final it out and are done with it.

BUYERS: It’s a good idea to check the building permit record on a home you’re planning to buy before you remove your inspection contingency. Although buyers are advised to take this important step, many don’t. This can result in unpleasant consequences.

BUYERS AND SELLERS TIP: Not only is it a good idea for buyers to check the permit history on a home before they buy, but sellers are wise to check the permit history on their homes before putting them on the market. This way, they can correct any permit issues before the listing goes public.

When is a permit not required? A permit would not be needed for ordinary repairs, the kind of things that maybe a homeowner does on the weekend, interior cosmetic changes like new carpet, flooring, paint, trim, putting in a cabinet or replacing a kitchen faucet. Exterior work on your home, like repairing siding and repainting, may or may not require a permit and can only be determined in context with the rules of your community.

When a permit might be required.  Any major work that involves a structural change, like knocking down a wall, finishing a basement or adding a bathroom would require getting a permit and having it inspected.

Exterior work such as adding a deck, cutting down trees and building new fences or retaining walls are all elements that may or may not require a permit depending on design, location and the extent of the work. There are certain state guidelines that inspectors in all towns rely on. They have big fat code books that they follow, and those code books change from time to time.

A final note, some homeowner’s insurance policies have exclusions on major work done without a permit. If there is and incident that involves un-permitted work, your claim may be denied. The bottom line is that probably none of this will ever happen but it’s just not worth the risk. Plan ahead and make inquires with your local Building Inspector well before you intend on starting work.

For Real Estate assistance in Union County, Middlesex County and Somerset County on buying, selling, investing, renting or becoming a Realtor, contact Jeni DiVirgilio on (908) 477-4907, email or visit

Editor's Note: Jeni DiVirgilio is an advertiser of

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