Never purchase a home without doing your research. Buying a new home can be exciting and it is easy to overlook problems. Sure the house has granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, and sure it has a hot tub, but was every room built legally?
I have been a construction manager for the past 19 years. I work on projects funded by the Federal Government and I assist homeowners and cities. I have found a lot of families living in homes with illegal conditions.
An Illegal condition can be as small as a water heater with no earthquake straps to a room built illegally.
Two major issues arise from buying a home with an existing illegal condition:
You now own the illegal condition. Your family may not be safe. Using the explanation that it was there when you bought it does not mean that it is not your problem.
Once purchased you now own the home with all the advantages and disadvantages of that home.
It may be possible to sue, but you must prove that the seller knew the condition was illegal when they sold it to you. It would be much easier to deal with it during the negotiation stage. Maybe you can even buy it for less.
Should You Rely On Others?
This will be your home and you need to own the decision you make if you choose to make a purchase. Your realtor may sit next to you in church each week and may know every hymn in the book, but they may not know how to look for illegal conditions. Your Home Inspector looks at all the things that can be seen but doesn’t check permits and they cannot see if the framing is correct.
Checking permits is easy and you should do it yourself. At the Building Department in the City Hall of the city where the home is located, you can ask for all the records on this property (If your city is new you may need to check the County Building Department). Look through all the records.
If the records show a two-bedroom, one-bath, 1,100 square foot house but the house currently has three bedrooms, two baths, and 1,500 square feet you need to proceed with caution. If the illegal area does not have a footing you should not purchase this house; it will be costly to repair and is potentially very unsafe (especially in areas known for earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes).
Can’t Live Without This House?
If you can’t live without this house you should talk to the Planning Department and the Building Department to ask if permitting the illegal conditions is possible; it may not be possible. Talk to a contractor about the potential costs.
If you move forward with this purchase make it legal as soon as possible for the safety of your family and future resale value.