I'll be taking a listing in a couple of weeks on a home that's been on the Hudson Valley, NY real estate market for three years. I'm pretty confident it will sell. Why this hubris on my part? Because I saw why it wasn't selling.
The home has been lived in by the same family for thirty years. It started as a small, two bedroom split level, but being handy, the owner made significant improvements himself for his growing family, hoping to create some sweat equity at the same time. He built an addition which added a bedroom. Then he transformed the basement into a fourth bedroom. A swimming pool was put in not long ago, and the porch was enlarged. So why wasn't this home, with all its improvements, sold by three different Hudson Valley real estate agents?
Because the home is illegal.
When I first viewed the property I started noticing little things that didn't add up. The basement had no windows, just concrete block walls sheathed in drywall. With no egress, or means of escape in the event of a fire or gas leak, it would never pass a building inspection as a bedroom. This basement was a death trap waiting for disaster. Strike one.
I noticed a bathroom the owner had added. It was adequate, but it didn't look like a professional job. I wondered that, if the basement had never been seen by a building inspector, had this bathroom had a plumbing inspection? I doubted it. Strike two.
Outside, the porch had floor to ceiling screens, but no railing. Easy enough for a child to push through the screen and fall to the ground several feet down. Definitely not up to code.
The pool had been professionally installed, but the owner built the surrounding patio. I noticed it wasn't properly fenced. It didn't have a latching gate, a New York state building regulations requirement for swimming pools. A child or impaired adult could have easily fallen in and drowned. Strike three.
When I asked the owner if the property had a certificate of occupancy by the building department, he had no idea what I was talking about. I explained that any significant improvement to a property must be inspected and approved by the town building inspector. The certificate of occupancy is his confirmation that the improvements were done according to the local and state building codes.
The owner explained that years ago when they built the addition, a local building inspector looked it over but never issued a certificate. Whether this was sloppy work on the part of the inspector, or a made up excuse on the part of the home owner, I don't know. But the fact is, even if this house had gotten a buyer, it never would have sold without a certificate of occupancy. No bank would ever approve a mortgage without one. Even a cash offer would die at closing, because a certificate is required by New York state law in any real estate transaction where a building is involved. This was truly a house that couldn't be sold.
I was pretty sure that these so-called "improvements" were a big part of why the home hadn't had an offer in three years. The basement bedroom alone would put off most buyers in a heartbeat. The plan now it to get the property ready for a visit by the building inspector. The homeowners are already digging access for a basement window (yes, they're doing it themselves.) They have someone coming to look at the toilet, and are making plans to fix the porch and patio fencing. If all goes well, we should have the repairs done in a few weeks, and hopefully a certificate of occupancy in hand. Then it goes to market.
Building codes exist for good reason, and though they may be demanding, and building inspectors overly picky sometimes, they really need to be adhered to. Don't let your home grow without following the rules.