In the spring of 2013, ePlace agent Jen Keenan helped a couple, first time home buyers from Maine, purchase a single family home in Malden. The farmhouse-style home — which was likely built in the mid-1800s — had loads of charm, a new kitchen, 3 beds, 1.5 baths, and views of the Boston skyline from the second floor. In fact, picture of the home was highlighted in a book on Malden history that the sellers shared with the couple during their home tour. The buyers liked the location: a leafy neighborhood on the edge of Maplewood (it was almost equidistant between her job in Burlington and his job in Boston) and the price point was in their sweet spot. They didn’t waste any time in writing up an offer.
Yet the home inspection raised some cause for concern: some of the plumbing in the basement looked “funky” and a retaining wall at the back of the drive made the buyer unsure about the exact location of the rear lot line.
Jen visited the Malden zoning office to discern the lot line. Though no plot plan existed, the person at zoning estimated the lot line using old maps so Jen could give her clients a sense of the rough location of the edge of the property. (To obtain a professional lot survey with “stakes” at the corners of your lot costs about $1,000).
Next, Jen went to the building department to see what she could learn about the plumbing situation. She saw that while permits had been pulled for both plumbing and electrical work, the completed work had never been formally inspected by the city inspectors nor had the permits been closed out. In addition, the folder contained documentation that the roof had been replaced in 1987 and had a 20 year warranty — this was useful information that they hadn’t obtained from either the sellers or the home inspection.
Jen consulted with her buyers who decided that they were willing to deal with some of the challenges that come with an older home but didn’t want to have to deal with potentially costly plumbing and electrical work. Jen went back to the sellers with the building department information and requested that the plumbing and electrical work be signed off on before closing. The sellers agreed to get permit sign-offs prior to closing, incurring about $4,000 of expenses. The couple are now enjoying their new home and are working on customizing it for their growing family (they’ve recently rescued a puppy!).
Editor’s Note: Jen’s visits to the zoning & building departments saved her buyers at minimum $5000 and potentially more. In my mind, a visit to the building department is a “must do” for any purchase (prior to signing the purchase and sale agreement, and ideally prior to the home inspection). At the building department, you can pull the “binder”/folder on the property and review any permits that have been pulled and their status. It’s not uncommon to learn of work done to the property of which you were not aware (in one case, a permit pulled for damage after an electrical fire!), and you can check, as Jen did, to make sure that any recent work was done with permits and that those permits were signed off on. Though it’s not all that uncommon for work to be done without permits, this is something you’ll want to know. Believe it or not the local building departments are generally very helpful and easy to deal with and are often open late one night a week to increase accessibility. Just call ahead to confirm hours.