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Permit or No Permit? Know the Rules Before Home Renovation

Posted at 12/28/2020 01:43 PM by Pat O'Connor

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During the pandemic, our homes have become more than just somewhere to hang your hat. Rooms have doubled up as yoga studios, offices, study areas and zoom arenas, and for many, this multi-faceted approach to home life has tested our nerves.

For some, the transformation of home to an all-purpose structure has worked out just fine; for others, the impacted areas under our roofs have been strained, leading many homeowners to plan additions and renovations. With millions of Americans staying home in 2020, many are re-evaluating what is important in a home and have opted to change up their living space. 

Spending more hours at home has convinced many homeowners they flat-out need more elbow room. For some it means a new house in the suburbs; for others, a home addition is the answer.

Pandemic Projects Expected to Continue Into 2021

According to a recent article in Remodeling, a survey by Bank of America polled 1,054 Americans about their attitudes and shopping habits during the coronavirus and found that 70% have decided to undergo home improvement projects, with more projects planned for 2021. In particular, the findings revealed that millennials' desire to remodel may kick off "a wave of renovation activity by a generation that has been relatively slow to enter the house market," according to Bank of America. 

The Remodeling article goes on to point out another survey conducted by Realtor.com, which found that upgraded kitchens, more space, and home gyms are among the top desires of homeowners sheltering-in-place. 

Furthermore, an article in domino.com claims that many people are re-thinking how their homes are functioning and are making plans to make their space multi-dimensional to accommodate work, school, entertainment and relaxation pursuits. Allison Petty of the New York based Hyphen & Co. states, “Our houses are becoming our new offices, classrooms, restaurants, and bars, and our remodels are reflecting that.”

Whether you’re opting to make home improvements to augment your lifestyle or reason that the changes will help sell your home for top price, it’s critical to know what permits, if any, will be required to accomplish your goals. Make sure you communicate with your contractor, architect, handyman or technicians to determine whether permits are necessary. 

Permit vs. No Permit

If you are considering a simple remodel or full-on home addition, it’s important to understand upfront what (if any) permits are required for the job. Architect Katie Donahue of K-Works Studio Architecture explains that not all remodels are created equal.

“Sometimes, homeowners just need a quick refresh to strip away old and outdated finishes,” she said. “These types of projects often can be done simply without a building permit.”

For example, there are simple renovations that can be a DIY project or at the very least, a task that can be completed by a handyman or tradesman. New paint, carpet or tile, updating interior doors and countertops, like appliances, light fixtures that will use existing wiring, and refinishing hardwood floors are just a few examples of upgrades that don’t generally require any building permits. Before embarking on a project it is wise to double check what needs a permit and what does not, since it is at the discretion of the building officials.

On the other hand, if your dream home needs a major facelift, be aware that permits will be necessary anytime you’re considering moving or eliminating walls, layout changes, structural alterations, moving an electrical fixture, introducing new electrical or plumbing fixtures, and adding windows or doors outside the existing envelope. Also, if you will be creating a new addition or structure on your property, permits will be required. This includes she-sheds, man caves and other “escape” buildings.

Permits will be necessary anytime you’re considering moving or eliminating walls, layout changes, structural alterations, moving an electrical fixture, introducing new electrical or plumbing fixtures, and adding windows or doors outside the existing envelope.

The Fixer Upper Angle

These guidelines are especially helpful if you’re considering buying a fixer upper. With Denver’s hot housing market, many first time home buyers have to resort to buying less-than-perfect houses that need some work. These home buyers should be aware of the costs and permits that will be required and whether it will be worth the effort in the end.

“Fixer uppers are properties that require repair, and the buyer wishes to raise the property’s potential value,” said Donahue. “Whether the property is being purchased as an investment or as a primary home, fixer uppers typically need extensive layout adjustments -- plumbing, electrical work, new finishes, and structural changes.”

Buyers that choose fixer uppers are usually interested in customizing the space in order to personalize it and make it their own. Many first time home buyers cannot afford move-in ready homes that are in pristine condition. Instead, in order to fit their budget, they buy a property that requires some work.

Real estate investors will also often buy fixer uppers or home selling “as is.” They typically will quickly renovate, add improvements and sell quickly to maximize their ability to get a significant return on their investment. 

Do Your Research Before You Ink the Deal

Be aware of how much you’ll have to invest in a property when buying an “as-is” home or one that requires significant updating and repairs. If your budget doesn’t allow you to make the necessary improvements, it’s best to move on to a property that is better suited to your needs. Ask your Usaj Realty broker for suggestions on contractors and tradesmen who can give you bids on the work that will be involved.

“It’s beneficial to know what can be done on a property for the sake of a buyer – will they be able to pop the top? Can they expand out into the backyard? Is altering a parking area OK? How about adding a fence or a patio?” said Donahue. “On the other side, if a home seller is getting ready to do some renovations to either help sell it fast or to get an added return on investment, many savvy buyers will check to make sure the work was permitted. Any permitted work will be documented in local city filings. It’s important for home sellers to know that many buyers will want documentation to make sure that the new kitchen or even those small lighting upgrades went through the permit and inspection process.”

Contact Usaj Realty

Posted by Pat O'Connor

Pat O’Connor has dual citizenship in both Wisconsin and Colorado, having been born and raised in Wisconsin Dells, but later adopted by the Centennial State. A graduate of the University of Colorado (B.S. Journalism, 1980), O’Connor began her career as a sportswriter at the Boulder Daily Camera under the tutelage of the venerable Dan Creedon. Her experience also includes stints in public relations at Aspen Highlands Ski Area, the Colorado Trial Lawyers and the Colorado Division of Wildlife. When she isn’t piecing together sentences, the self-proclaimed “Cheesehead” enjoys hanging out with her three kids and assortment of family pets, running, playing golf, hiking 14ers, horseback riding and skiing. As a mother to two (at one time three) competitive swimmers, her favorite fragrance is eau de chlorine. During football season, she can be found cheering for the Buffs on Saturdays and screaming when the Packers score on Sundays. She loves talking sports and giving recommendations on cheese curds.

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