Remodeling a Kitchen or Bathroom Q&A

QUESTION

“We plan on moving in about six months and want to fix up our house for sale. My husband wants to re-do the kitchen and the bathroom and wants to do the work himself. Does he need to get permits? My brother who works for a contractor will be helping him.” – E. Anderson

ANSWER

Remodeling a kitchen or bathroom usually does require a permit particularly if you change any of the plumbing or electrical, or make a structural modification. However, your question raises two concerns that I think you might not be aware of.

The first concern is that when you sell your house you are required to provide extensive disclosure information regarding any modifications to the property. There are two specific questions on the Seller’s Transfer Disclosure Form that ask whether modifications done to the house have been done with a permit, and whether the work was done to code. Both of these questions have to be answered truthfully and you must sign this document to verify it’s accuracy.

If un-permitted, or non code complying work was done to the property, and not disclosed, the seller may be liable for damages. So from this point of view, I would encourage everyone to obtain a permit whenever it is necessary, and to do the work in a code complying manner.

The second concern is that there is a little known law in California’s Business and Professions Code that states that a home owner cannot obtain a permit for work done to prepare a house for sale. This can include any work that is done within the twelve months prior to the sale.

I spoke with Steve Pierce, a broker associate at Contemp. Realty in Fremont, and a licensed California attorney. He said, “Sellers can perform some repairs themselves, but if a permit is required, only a licensed contractor can do the work”. The reason for this is to provide protection for the buyer.

Under the Contractor’s License Law, municipalities that require permits for the construction, alteration or repair of a building, must also require that the permit be only given to licensed contractors. There is however, an exception to this. Home owners can obtain a permit if they perform the work themselves or with their employees, and do not intend to sell the house within 12 months. When home owners do apply for a permit, they must sign a statement stating that this is so.

There is an important reason for restricting sellers from doing their own work. Contractors, by law, have to obtain permits for basically any work that they do. When contractors do perform work, they have to guarantee it for at least one year. These rules do not apply to home owners. So if a home owner does some work on his house and then sells it within a year, the buyer has no specific recourse if the work turns out to be faulty.

This was a real problem in the late 1970’s when the real estate market was booming. Investors were buying up houses, fixing them up and then selling them. Often there was little regard to doing the work in a safe and code complying manner. All they had to do was to make the house look good enough to re-sell. This left many buyers stuck with problems that they then had to correct. In turn, this led to an increase in litigation between buyers and sellers.

Today, most homes that are for sale, have inspections that are ordered by the buyer. Home inspectors routinely find problems with unpermitted work that has been done on homes. And because these problems were not previously disclosed, the buyer is often in a position to legally have the seller make the necessary corrections.

This puts the seller at a tremendous disadvantage. Once in contract, the seller usually does not have the options of correcting the condition that he or she would have had otherwise. Usually there is a very short time frame within which all repairs have to be preformed, and often the repairs can cost more than the original job.

I would strongly recommend that you consider using licensed contractors for the work and insist that they obtain permits for all work that is being done. Also make sure that your contractor calls for the rough and final inspections from the city to ensure that the work is done in a code complying manner. Believe me, it is easier to do this at your convenience rather than under the pressure of contractual agreements. Good luck on your job.

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