The Little house that couldn't be sold (part two)

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Global Property Systems Real Estate DOS NYS #10491202606

Late last year I wrote a blog which received a lot of attention on Active Rain, a social networking site for Realtors. It was about a listing I was taking on a home which had  been on the Hudson Valley, NY real estate market for three years. I was pretty confident it would sell, so why this hubris on my part?

Because I saw why it wasn't selling.

The home in question 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 hadn't this home, with all its improvements, sold when listed by no less than six different Hudson Valley real estate agents?

Because the home was illegal.

When I first viewed the property I noticed several things that didn't add up. The basement had no windows, just concrete block walls sheathed in drywall. That meant there was  no egress, or means of escape in the event of a fire or gas leak. I knew 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. Certainly it would be impossible to get a mortgage. So once I had the homeowners'  convinced that this was the problem, they set about making the property ready for a visit by the building inspector. They dug access for a basement window (yes, they did it themselves.) They had a plumber fix the toilet and associated plumbing, and fixed the porch and patio fencing. The repairs were done in a few weeks, and finally the all important Certificate of Occupancy's were in place. 

We are happy to say that this home is now Under Contract and just weeks away from closing!

The moral of the story is that 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.

It's a part of our job as REALTORS to educate clients as to the facts however unpleasant, and not just gloss over the flaws to get a listing and use it to bag buyers.


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Fred Griffin Tallahassee Real Estate
Fred Griffin Real Estate - Tallahassee, FL
Licensed Florida Real Estate Broker

Good for you (and the Seller).  So many DIY'ers don't understand that their house will become un-sellable, and probably un-insurable. 

Apr 10, 2015 12:28 PM #1
Kristin Hamilton CA Realtor
Sun Lakes Realty - Banning, CA
(909) 557-6966- Specialize 55+ Communties Banning

Hi Vanessa Saunders MBA MIMC CIPS FIABCI 

You did a terrific job helping your sellers to get their home sold. In CA we don't have those problems if it is a cash transaction. Unfortunately many owners do not get permits and hire licensed contractors due to building inspection fees and tax increases on the annual bill. 

Apr 10, 2015 12:39 PM #2
Jerry Newman
Brown Realty, 210-789-4216, - San Antonio, TX
Texas REALTOR, San Antonio Military Relocation

Hi Vanessa. I commend you and your team for an outstanding job on helping your seller to get their home under contact and sold. Adhering to those building codes and city inspections are very important.

Apr 11, 2015 12:19 AM #3
Belinda Spillman
Aspen Lane Real Estate Colorful Colorado - Aurora, CO
Colorado Living!

Some people just don't understand how important it is to get permits and get improvements inspected to make sure they are up to code.  Glad things worked out.

Apr 11, 2015 01:31 AM #4
Patricia Kennedy
RLAH Real Estate - Washington, DC
Home in the Capital

Vanessa, now that's a really long road to the settlement table.  Here in DC, people were totally casual about getting permits - or not.  They've recently tightened up on permits for new work, but there were entire renovations done without them.

Apr 11, 2015 01:52 PM #5
Silvia Dukes PA, Broker Associate, CRS, CIPS, SRES
Tropic Shores Realty - Ich spreche Deutsch! - Spring Hill, FL
Florida Waterfront and Country Club Living

Vanessa, good job in identifying the problems and helping the home owner to solve them! 

Apr 13, 2015 11:53 AM #6
Donald Reich
Prudential Centennial - New Rochelle, NY

In the old days municipal building instructors were pretty lax. Often the departments were disorganized. Now home owners are  paying the price.


Oct 28, 2015 10:52 PM #7
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Vanessa Saunders

From Manhattan to the Catskills of New York
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