Real estate isn’t always black and white. What I mean is it’s rare to have one short standard answer to fully satisfy a question. The truth is an answer can vary depending on the property, location, or who you ask. Enter a lack of permits. How do appraisers handle it when there are no permits for an addition? Is it possible for a non-permitted area to be included as living space in the appraisal?
I get asked this question almost every single week, and I’ve broken down my answer into four major parts. I hope this helps.
- Difference among Appraisers: First off, there is a spectrum for how appraisers respond to a lack of permits. Some appraisers take a hard-lined stance to say, “If there is no permit, there will be no value given to the area because it is illegal.” But other appraisers might take a different approach to discover how the market responds to the lack of permits. In the latter scenario, the appraiser is asking: Are buyers willing to pay more or less for the home because of the addition? In this case the best way to support an adjustment for the addition would be to find comps with a lack of permits. Of course there is a fat chance of actually finding comps, so an appraiser has to really exercise caution about counting the area as square footage. Ultimately a lack of permits does tend to carry a stigma for buyers, which causes many buyers to avoid the property. However, at the same time buyers are often still realistically willing to pay something extra for the addition. This is one reason why some appraisers might give a non-permitted area some value in the report (but the area may be considered as storage instead of living space).
- Quality: The quality of the addition is going to be a huge factor in whether buyers pay more or less for an addition without permits. Does it feel like the rest of the house? Does it have a real use? Does it have a permanent heat source? Is it something buyers actually want in the neighborhood market? Is the workmanship decent or shoddy? Buyers may also consider how much it would cost to get the area permitted.
- Depends on the Issue: If there is something minor that was added without permits (like a covered patio), it’s probably not cause for appraisers to start waving the red warning flag. But if there is something very significant that was done without permits, that’s a different story because it can deter buyers from wanting the house. For instance, I recently did some consulting for an agent for a property that had a non-permitted addition that increased the size of the house by 60%. After research it was my sense that the market would pay something more for the addition, but I still was not willing to say the area should be counted as square footage. In this case the addition was simply too much of a change, and it was bound to be a major marketability issue for a buyer obtaining a loan (see point #4).
- Loan Problems: Some lenders will not loan on non-permitted areas, and they ask appraisers to not include any non-permitted area as square footage. Other lenders will loan when there is a non-permitted addition, but they ask appraisers to consider how a lack of permits impacts value. Usually in the latter case the lender wants the appraiser to say something to the effect that the addition was done in a professional workmanlike manner – despite a lack of permits. An appraiser really isn’t licensed to say something like that, but lenders still try to get a definitive statement out of the appraiser nonetheless.
- Other: What else would you add? I’d love to hear any stories, points, and comments below.
Loan Officer James Clark with New Penn Financial says the following:
Unpermitted Additions are a big grey area when it comes to financing. There are so many different factors and people that come into play that make them difficult. Because of this many lenders will just say no. I have seen unpermitted additions obtain financing, but only if the appraiser is well qualified and writes a good report as to why. The appraiser will have to sell the reason to include it, and most of the time you will never get the full square footage value for the addition. Questions to ask when you have a property with an unpermitted addition: Does it make sense? Does it conform to the area? Does the addition actually add value to the property? Does it look like the rest of the house, or can you tell it was an addition? So be nice to the appraisers. I can say if you want the unpermitted addition to count for value or qualify for financing, it will come down to what they say in the report.
Five things to consider when there are no permits:
- Get the area permitted before listing it on the market. Then be sure the appraiser sees a copy of the permit (that has been signed off). A permit ensures the work was done to minimum building standards, and everything was done correctly.
- Just because there are permits doesn’t mean the market is going to pay big bucks for the area. For example, a garage conversion could technically add 400 extra square feet to the house, but taking away the garage is often a negative for value. A property with a conversion is not necessarily instantly more comparable to a house with 400 additional square feet. It’s probably better compared with other similar-sized homes that also have conversions.
- Just because an addition was added with permits does not make it living space. For example, an enclosed patio might be fully permitted, but it’s probably not going to be counted in the square footage if it doesn’t feel like the rest of the house, have the same quality as the rest of the house, and doesn’t have a permanent heat source.
- If you know an area is not permitted, try to provide the best possible information to the appraiser about when the area was added, who built the area, how potential buyers responded to the extra space when the property was listed, and even how much it would cost to permit the area (if you have that research).
- If you’re considering doing work without permits, realize you are signing up for some appraisal and loan headaches. A lack of permits is a good way to potentially kill a deal and/or harm your property’s marketability.
As you can see, there is much to consider when a property has a non-permitted addition. Not every appraiser will view the issue the same either.
Question: What else would you add? I’d love to hear your take and any stories.