Spaces Blog

The Beginner's Guide to Building Permits

In the world of real estate, remodeling and construction play frequent roles. One common question that comes up again and again from homeowners who are embarking on home improvement projects is “Should I have this job permitted?”

So what are building permits all about? How much do they cost? And what are the pros and cons to having the permitting completed with the city on your next construction job? Read on for answers.


What are building permits?

Local permitting and building departments oversee construction projects in their jurisdiction to ensure that homes and commercial buildings are safe for people to inhabit and that these structures are built to the standard of the current building code.

Building departments want to make sure that mechanical systems of homes and businesses are safe, damage from things like fires and other natural disasters is minimized, and that construction is happening according to local planning requirements.


What construction projects require a permit?

Not all home construction projects require a building permit. Many times, homeowners or licensed contractors can do smaller, cosmetic projects without having the work permitted. However, if a project involves any structural components or any of the mechanical systems of the home, it is likely a permit will be required.


Construction Papers Hardhat


How is a permit “pulled” for a project?

In order to obtain a permit, you’ll need to fill out an application with your local building department. Most contractors will take care of this for you, but if you are doing the job yourself, then you’ll need to contact your local building department to find out what you need to provide them. They’ll also let you know what the cost of the permit will be. The cost of the permit is usually based on the scope and cost of the job that you are having done. The cost can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Once the application process is complete, you can start your job. Some projects will require additional visits from the municipality to inspect the work along the way. At the very least, there will almost always be a final inspection from the city to approve the work. Wait time on these final inspections can sometimes take weeks, so planning ahead with scheduling those inspections is recommended.


So, this all sounds like a pain. Do I really need to go through this process?

Unfortunately, the answer is probably yes. It is common for homeowners and contractors to want to skip the building department bureaucracy, forgo paying the permitting fee, and avoid having to wait through the process of having the building inspections done.

Wanting to dodge the headache is understandable. But homeowners should know they may be trading one headache for another when they go to sell.

In our experience, unpermitted work is a big red flag for home buyers considering a purchase. No matter who had the construction completed, if there is unpermitted work in a home, it becomes the responsibility of the new homeowner.

Owners of homes with unpermitted work may be subject to fines and may have to have the work retro-actively permitted if required by the municipality. Without a permit, there is no record of who completed the work or if it was up to code at the time of construction — all of which makes buyers uneasy in the context of a home sale. My advice is to permit the work now to save yourself from bigger problems later. And you can rest easy, knowing that you’re maximizing the return on improvements to your home.

As always, if you have more questions, don’t hesitate to reach out! Until next time!