Garage conversion draws red flag

Reversing illegal alteration could cost thousands

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 16, 2010

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Reversing illegal alteration could cost thousands

Barry Stone
Inman News

DEAR BARRY: The home we're buying has a garage that was converted to a bedroom, bathroom and laundry room. The sellers disclosed that this was done without a building permit. We're worried about what the building department might do if they discover this nonpermitted conversion. What do you recommend? --Mike

DEAR MIKE: Consult the local building department to learn their official position regarding unpermitted garage conversions. Municipal agencies have different policies in this regard. Some building departments are busy and tend to look the other way; some are very strict and actively enforce violations; some take action only when they receive a complaint from an unhappy neighbor; some allow garages to be converted with a permit; and others do not allow garage conversions under any circumstances.

Above all, you don't want the city ordering you to restore the garage after you've taken possession of the property. Undoing a conversion of that kind could cost thousands of dollars. Before proceeding with the purchase, find out where you stand with the authorities.

DEAR BARRY: I am a Realtor with 10 years under my belt. I've attended hundreds of home inspections and have worked with dozens of home inspectors who are thorough, professional and reliable, and who provide accurate disclosure, without white-washing the truth or going overboard with negative comments. But last week, I watched a home inspector literally overwhelm the buyers with a multitude of things that "could go wrong in the future."

Besides this, comments in his report turned out to be inaccurate.

For example, he said the roof rafters were not reinforced with collar ties. This turned out to be untrue. And he said there was mold on the roof rafters. This, in fact, was lumberyard mildew, commonly found on new wood framing. I don't mind a deal falling through because of genuine defects, but this was entirely unjustified. Could you please share your thoughts about this? --Lisa

DEAR LISA: It is always disappointing to hear of home inspectors who perform their work in ways that are inappropriate and unprofessional. Excessive examples such as this are unusual, but they do exist. They cause financial damage to individuals, and they damage the public perception of the home inspection profession.

If this inspector is an affiliate member of your Realtor board, perhaps there is a complaint process whereby he would be obliged to appear and to answer specific questions regarding the alleged errors in his recent inspection and report.

If he is a member of an established home inspection association, such as the American Society of Home Inspectors, the National Association of Home Inspectors or a recognized state association, it may be possible to file a complaint in that venue.

Another thing you can do is to send the inspector a letter, specifically listing the details of your complaint, with signatures from both agents and both brokers in the transaction. If he realizes that he has incurred the displeasure of two local real estate offices, he might reconsider the ways that he conducts his business.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

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