Lack of Permits Can Create Future Problems

by Dan Krell
Google+

If you have ever tried to make improvements to your home, you may know about the permitting process. Unfortunately, do-it-yourselfers and some contractors often feel that it is unnecessary to obtain the necessary permits (including but not limited to building, mechanical, and electrical permits). Excuses given for not obtaining the proper permits range from the silly to the paranoid.

The purpose for the permitting process is to assure that buildings, land and home improvements adhere to the building and zoning codes within the county. The purpose for building and zoning codes are to ensure that our houses are safe, structurally sound, and help maintain health standards.

Although you may perceive that you can save time and money by not going through the permitting process, however, you may find that the shortcut will cost more time and money in the long term. It is not uncommon for improvements that did not go through the permitting process to be required to meet current building and zoning codes, or even be demolished. Decks, fences, and outbuildings are common violations because they can encroach on a neighbor’s property as well as being easily seen because they are not concealed indoors.

If the permitting process is not followed correctly, or (worse yet) if there were no permits for your improvements- there may be future consequences to you, the home owner.

First, it is not uncommon for insurance companies to deny claims related to home improvements that were not completed to meet local building code requirements. Having the necessary permits for home improvements as well as communicating with your insurance agent about them will save you heartache if there is a future claim related to those improvements. For example, if your new deck collapses and injures a guest, your insurance company may deny any claims if it is found that the deck was not built up to building code standards.

A second consideration is that you may run into an obstacle or two when you plan to sell your home. Having improvements that were not permitted by the Department of Permitting Services and passed by the building inspectors could have serious repercussions on your sale. For example, one home seller had the appraised value of his home reduced by the home buyer’s lender because the owner never obtained a permit to construct the large addition he added the year before. Additionally, a home buyer may require a seller to have such improvements be inspected by the county.

If you did not go through the permitting process for your home improvements and you decide to “come clean” (either voluntarily or because someone required you to do so), the county will have your improvements examined by an inspector. If you are lucky, you could get away with paying local and state fines. However, to meet building code, the inspector could require you to make minor repairs; sometimes, the improvements are ordered to be demolished.

As a home buyer, you should be concerned about a home’s permit history for the reasons stated above. You can check a home’s permit history by contacting the Department of Permitting Services (permittingservices.montgomerycountymd.gov).

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of May 19, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Dan Krell.

Renewable Energy at Home

by Dan Krell
Google+

The debate over the use of renewable and green energies in the home has been fought for many years. However, recent spikes in energy costs combined with the imminent sharp increases from local power companies have made a case for the use of renewable energies such as solar power. Many real estate analysts agree that as solar photovoltaic technology advances and becomes more affordable, solar energy sources in the home will not only become accepted – but expected from home buyers.

Today, many people are ill informed about solar energy and its uses in the home; when asked, they might describe solar energy as using a large bulky panel sprouting from the roof to heat hot water. Solar collectors from thirty years ago were limited in the amount of energy they could convert, as well as being cost prohibitive for the majority of home owners. However, solar photovoltaic technology and engineering have come a long way since then such that the materials used are more efficient in converting light into electricity as well as being more affordable.

Technological improvements, lower costs and government incentives have prompted worried home owners to take another look at solar energy. Advancements in new materials (such as thin film) have created solar collectors that are smaller, more reliable, and more efficient than their counter parts of thirty years ago. The new technology has allowed new Building Incorporated Photovoltaic systems to incorporate the use of solar collectors in wall and roof components such as shingles, tiles and other building materials, which not only makes the use of solar collectors more feasible but aesthetically pleasing as well.

The cost (usually measured in Watts) to install solar photovoltaic cells is still not cheap. Depending on the type of system installed and the contractor used, the cost for a residential installation can be as little as $5,500 and cost as much as $22,500 (SouthFace.org). However, with Federal, state and local incentives, combined with the long term benefit of reduced energy costs, the cost does become more acceptable. Federal tax credits can be up to $2,000 on the installation of an acceptable and approved solar energy system (EnergyStar.gov). Montgomery County offers the Clean Energy Rewards program; the program pays consumers one cent per kilowatt-hour for eligible energy consumed (www.montgomerycountymd.gov). Additionally if your system is connected to the local energy grid, you can sell any excess energy to your local power company!

If you live in a homeowners association, however, you may have opposition to your solar panel installation. Many homeowners associations prohibit the installation of solar panels because of their appearance and the concern over lack of uniformity within the neighborhood. However, to encourage the use of solar panels as a green energy source, some states have already fought back by disallowing HOA bans on solar panels.

Installation of solar photovoltaic systems in your home is an exact task because of the engineering considerations and electrical components used. When choosing a contractor to install your system, make sure they are locally licensed as well as certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP.org). The NABCEP provides certification to those who specialize in solar photovoltaic installation.

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of May 12, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Dan Krell.

Remodel instead of Move?

Moving up has been a right of passage for families for years. Families have been moving up for one reason or another, usually because of the need for space or just to move to a new neighborhood. However, spiraling home prices made many to rethink the usual move up, and instead make improvements on their homes. Rather than buying the four bedroom colonial they need due to a growing family, homeowners are adding rooms and enlarging the spaces they already inhabit. They’re thinking remodel instead of moving.

If you are unsure of making improvements or selling your home, there are some factors to consider. RemodelorMove.com (www.remodelormove.com) lists the top reasons for remodeling instead of moving includes: you like remodeling; you like your home floor plan; you like your neighbors; you like your yard; you have a great location; you will get exactly what you want; and you feel that it can enhance the value of your home. If you’re trying to decide whether remodel or move, you may find some of the reasons to remodel resonate.

If you decide to remodel rather than move, there are some considerations. According to RemodelorMove.com you should consider how long you are going to be in your home, the costs involved, and the timing of the remodeling before you move.

If you are planning to stay in your home less than a year, you should consider the actual cost of the improvements against the return you may get on your upcoming sale. However, if you plan to be in your home for a few more years or longer consider the factors of personal pleasure and comfort.

If you are concerned with cost vs. value, a great resource that every turns to for their annual report is Remodeling Magazine (remodeling.hw.net). According to Remodeling Magazine, return on investment depends on the value of the house itself, the value of similar homes in the immediate area, and the rate property values are changing in the surrounding neighborhoods. Some projects will recoup more than 100% of the original investment, however overall in 2004 the return of investment was 80.3%.

The following are the top improvements listed listed in this year’s Remodeling Magazine annual report in order of return on investment: minor kitchen remodeling -92.9%; siding replacement-92.8%; midrange bathroom remodeling- 90.1%; deck addition- 86.7%; upscale bathroom remodeling- 85.6%; and window replacement- 84.5%. You can view the rest of the 2004 report on the website.

Both selling and remodeling can be large propositions that can bring a lot of joy. There are many resources available to help make your decision. But you should verify the information you get, especially from the internet. Additionally, you should consult a local contractor and a Realtor to assist with costs of improvements and neighborhood home values.

By Dan Krell © 2005.