Building Permit Issues when Purchasing a House in Chatham County

Chatham County Real Estate Broker Eric Andrews discusses building permits in this video. Buyers and buyers agents from Orange and Wake County are often shocked when they hear that no building permit is available to them for additions, decks, finished attics, sheds, barns and other structures. Chatham County only keeps building permits on record for six years. But can homeowners skip obtaining a permit? If you’re buying a house, how can you be certain the construction is up to code or sound.

Speaker 1:           What’s the deal with building permits in Chatham County?

Speaker 2:           Well, first of all, nobody gets them in Chatham County, okay. This is a libertarian county and nobody thinks that they have to bother with getting a building permit. But there are certain things, a lot of homes at Bobcat Point have a third floor walkup attic, and they’re, “Oh, I’m going to put wires in that and dry wall it and get a heating system up there and a cooling system and put a…” Well, you have to get a building permit for that, and a lot of people don’t. And so then you try to sell your house a few years and these Cary agents are always going to ask, “Where’s the building permit?”

Where this gets really complicated is Chatham County doesn’t keep building permits for more than six years. They expunge them. Wake County keeps them forever, Orange County keeps them forever, but Chatham County throws them out after six years. You tell that Cary agent, “Yes, the third floor walkup attic was re-permitted,” or, “The deck was permitted,” and they’re, “Okay, show me the permit.” And you go, “Well, I can’t, it was done seven, eight years ago. And they go nuts, they have to have the permit. You just can’t get them, they don’t exist.

But there are little clues that do exist. The permit application is kept by Chatham County so you can at least see if they applied for it, if they didn’t apply for it. But it could have been in the 70s. They don’t have any records if it happened in the 70s. It’s very difficult for Wake County agents to understand that we don’t have the records retention that they have in their area.

I don’t even understand. Are you kidding, scan it and stick it in Google Drive.

Speaker 1:           Couldn’t the county do that?

Speaker 2:           Yeah.

Speaker 1:           Yeah, but you know what? They don’t want to babysit it and everything. And there’s also a theory that if you built a deck six years ago and it’s performing its intended function right now, it was probably built pretty well. Not everybody agrees with that. There’s certain safety provisions and whatnot, but the county’s, “Well, you got away with one.” Now, if they catch you or if they have to go out there and reinspect, they can make you rip out all the drywall, they can make you rip out all the wiring, they can be really, really mean. And I’m not suggesting that anybody in Chatham County should avoid trying to get a permit. If it requires a permit, get a permit.

But there are certain things like out buildings or barns or something, those don’t require permits, but sure enough, the Cary agent will ask us, “Hey, where’s your permit on that barn?” We’re, “We don’t have one,” and as soon as you say, “We don’t have one,” they’re, “Oh, you built it back…” Some of these guys out in Bear Creek, Goldston, Bonlee, Bennett, they build a damn good barn, there’s nothing wrong with these things, they’re structurally sounding everything, but they will have an extension cord for the electricity out to them and that’s not safe, not everybody likes that.

You just have to use common sense. If the third floor looks like it’s been done in a good manner, and then you hire a home inspector and everything checks out, the county’s not the be all end all of whether or not there’s a permit. And I know I’m going to sound like a schmuck for saying you don’t need a permit, but at that point, if it’s good quality construction, and it’s been checked out by a home inspector, you don’t need a permit. You don’t.