What You Need to Know About Building Permits Before You Begin Your Home Improvement Project

Almost every county, township, or municipality has a local department that is dedicated to reviewing residential house plans and issuing permits for home improvement projects. If you are hiring a home improvement contractor to renovate your home, he or she should be intimately familiar with the local building codes and procedures for permits.

Even if you are hiring a contractor, remember that the house will still be yours. Stay involved with the planning and permitting process.

The building departments around the country all go by slightly different names, such as The Office of Code Compliance, The County Plans Examiner Office, The Office of Building Permits, etc. The name isn’t really important, but the function is.

The purpose of these local building departments is to protect residents from building homes that are structurally unsound, including home renovations or home improvement projects. And, in doing so, they protect future homeowners from buying a house that was built improperly. Thus, they are protecting the value of all of the homes in the county.

Consider a county in which homes have been poorly built or renovated. Think of how that will affect the value of the rest of the homes in the area.

No one wants to buy in an area where the quality of the homes cannot be trusted. So, when you are jumping through hoops to get your building permits, try not to get too frustrated. The county office is actually trying to protect you, your safety, and the value of your home. Quality home improvement projects in a local area will do wonders for the overall values of everyone’s properties.

Every county (or town, etc.) is different, though. Some counties only require a couple of sets of stock blueprints. Other counties, require the full nine yards, from engineered prints to soil tests to site plans to engineered sub-flooring and trusses.

Depending on the scope of your home improvement project, you may not even need any building permits. Or, you may need something called a variance – permission to alter the existing property. In general, though, if your home improvement project is going to alter the footprint or structure of the home, then you should expect to need either a variance or a full building permit.

For any home improvement, you should visit the building department as soon as you have determined that you want to renovate. By going in person, you can pick up important documents that the county may provide. And, you will have better access to the people who can answer your questions.

10 Questions You Should Ask the Local Building Department about Your Home Improvement:

1. Are you allowed to apply for permits before the house is officially deeded in your name? If not, and you are doing a home improvement loan that incorporates the purchase of the house, talk to your loan officer about what you will need to do to close on the loan.

2. Ask about all the permit fees involved in a home improvement project and find out when you have to pay them. Some counties allow you to pay after the permits are approved and ready for pickup. Other counties force you to pay upfront.

3. Ask about any other fees involved with renovating. For instance, are there impact fees and highway taxes and school fees, etc? In some areas, extra impact fees can cost thousands of dollars.

4. Ask about the timeline involved. How long does it take to issue permits for a home improvement? Owners often underestimate the amount of time required to get fully approved permits.

5. Ask about the most common mistakes and delays that people make, including contractors and other home improvement project owners.

6. Ask if they are familiar with the architect or blueprint source that is providing your plans.

7. Ask if you can get an initial plan review and foundation permits issued prior to the full set of building permits. If the county takes a long time to issue permits, sometimes you can speed up the process by getting the foundation permits issued to allow construction of the foundation and sub-flooring while the county reviews the rest of the plans. This could save you precious months, depending on your county.

8. What is the way to track permitting progress? Do they tell you how many plans are in front of you? Is there an online tracker?

9. Ask about the building codes that are used by the county. Are there additional code requirements on top of the standard building code, such as snow load requirements or high wind requirements if your home improvement involves roofing or wall structures? Many counties follow building codes that are stricter than the standard code. This may mean that the plan you bought online will need additional, local engineering.

10. What about the code inspections during renovation? Get a list of all of the stages that will require an inspection by the code compliance inspector. Being familiar with this list will help anyone plan their work management strategy and home improvement timeline.

All of these questions are important. But, pay special attention to the first question if you are buying and renovating a home as part of a home improvement loan. Your failure to know when you can apply for permits could stop your loan process in its tracks. The smart homeowner will stay ahead of the game by immediately contacting the local building department as soon as a home improvement project is chosen.

By knowing the rules early, the majority of mistakes and delays can be avoided. This will make your entire home improvement more enjoyable.

Chris Esposito specializes in home improvement loans with CM Direct, Inc. They provide home improvement financing across the country, including the FHA 203(k) home rehab loan program. To learn more, visit www.DirectRehabLoans.com , or call (877) 876-3688.