What do you do if you put your home on the market and you want to boost your sale price? Many homeowners go that extra mile when they decide to sell their properties to raise the value by taking on some renovations and remodeling projects. After all, a home with a sunroom will probably fetch a better price than a home without one. And there's a very good chance that new buyers will be enthralled by a chef's kitchen rather than the dingy galley kitchen you've been using to cooking the meals in for your family. But if you've ever done any extensive renovations in your home, you know that obtaining building permits is a necessary evil that's not only required, but it's also expensive, time-consuming, and often frustrating. This article looks at the basics of the permitting process and outlining some of the major projects that require a permit.

Key Takeaways

  • Permits can be obtained through the appropriate municipal office.
  • Making any major changes that alter the footprint of your home requires a permit including additions, decks, certain fences, certain plumbing and electrical work, as well as siding projects.
  • Failure to obtain permits—even if you hire a contractor—can stall your project or complicate the sale of your home.
  • Some renovations such as painting, installing flooring and countertops, and replacing faucets don't require a permit.

The Permitting Process

Local municipalities issue permits based on city ordinances. Since there are no federal or state standards, building codes vary from city to city. The only way to know if your city requires a permit for a remodeling job is to go to its website or call. If you hire a licensed contractor, they know whether the job requires a permit. As the homeowner, it's your responsibility to ensure that all remodeling is completed lawfully. Don't assume the permits were handled by the contractor.

It is your responsibility as a homeowner to ensure all the proper permits are pulled for your project(s)—even if you hire a contractor to do the job.

Some municipalities charge 1% of the total construction costs to issue the permit and it may take up to six weeks to complete the required inspections. That's time and money that many homeowners don't have and just aren't willing to sacrifice. As a result, many homeowners end up sidestepping the permit process. But doing that may be costly.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), failing to obtain the proper permits may stop or stall the renovations you have planned, or complicate or cancel the sale of your home. You have to prove that you pulled the proper permits if you have a home inspection or appraisal done. If you put your house up for sale, there's a very good chance that the lending bank won't advance the loan if it learns that remodeling work was done without securing permits. There's also the added hassle of having to pay fines or—even worse—having to tear down and redo the work.

Renovations that Likely Need a Permit

Building permits are often divided into several categories including those allotted for electrical, mechanical, and structural changes or new construction work. Before you apply for these, you should have plans drawn up that comply with local codes and ordinances. That's because certain renovations will alter the structure of your property as a whole. Municipal authorities want to make sure that your property will be able to support the work you plan to do.

There's a very good likelihood that you need a permit if you plan on making major changes to the footprint of your home. This includes things like bedrooms, room additions, most decks, garages, and some sheds. Any project that changes the existing support system of your home—changes to load-bearing walls, decks, balconies, and porches—also requires a permit. Here are a few other cases where you'll probably need a permit:

  • Fences: Not all fences require a permit, but municipalities often place height restrictions on non-permitted fences. The city of Chicago, for example, requires a permit on a fence five feet or higher, while other cities allow for higher structures.
  • New windows: Replacing an existing window doesn't require a permit, but cutting a hole for a new window generally does. This includes skylights and new doors.
  • Plumbing and electrical: If you're installing new or removing existing plumbing, a permit is probably required. Any job that includes installing a new electrical service to your home also requires a permit. Even something as simple as moving an outlet requires a permit.
  • Siding: Most municipalities require a permit for siding projects.
  • Water heater: You need a permit if you want to replace your water heater. You may also need a permit for ventilation system changes.
  • Total cost: Some municipalities require a permit if renovations or construction projects cost more than a certain amount— usually $5,000 or more.

How Do I Get a Permit?

Apply for the permit through your local municipal government office. Depending on the complexity of the project, some permits are issued immediately, while others may require inspection of the plans.

During the renovation process, inspections of the work will likely be required. For projects involving home additions, multiple inspections may be required. Once the work is complete, a final inspection takes place and the permit is issued.

Renovations That Do Not Require a Permit

There are some things you can do to your home without going through the process of getting a permit. The majority of them are fairly minor—most of which you can do yourself without having to hire and pay for a contractor. Here are a few of the projects that may not require a permit:

  • Painting or wallpapering
  • Installing hardwood floors or carpeting
  • Minor electrical repairs that don't involve adding new or moving existing service
  • Installing new countertops
  • Replacing a faucet

The Bottom Line

Most large projects that involve major changes to the structure of your home require a permit. Because each municipality has different rules, it's important to check your city's website or call for clarification. Regardless of who does the work, it is the homeowner's responsibility to ensure that the project holds the proper permits.