Remodeling? You May Have to Ask 'Please'

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When you own a home, it’s your house, and you can do what you want, whether it’s remodeling a kitchen or putting on a deck, right?

Not always. Homeowners do not have to contend with a landlord but they may have to get the nod from local officials before proceeding on certain projects.

And, according to a recent survey of 150 firms, by Remodeling, a trade magazine, it’s not always easy—or possible—to secure a building permit.

Exploring whether a project is permissible is a crucial first step, and the process can even help homeowners select a contractor, says David Pekel, interim CEO of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

Here’s a permit primer:

Securing a permit is usually the remodeling firm’s responsibility.

Only about five percent of remodelers surveyed said they rely on homeowners or to get the permit.

“Sometimes a licensed contractor is building according to specs that the owner has,” says Pekel, and the owner would seek the permit.

Otherwise, Pekel says, it “could be a red flag” for a contractor to ask the owner, because it could mean that the firm doesn’t have the right credentialing to pull a permit in your municipality.

Working knowledge of local zoning boosts chances of approval.

The approval process isn’t always black and white. An addition to the exterior of a home, for example, might require an aesthetic review in order to gain approval. A remodeling firm that possesses knowledge of a local authority‘s prior rulings will have an edge on what designs pass muster.

And, with experience with local rules, a remodeler can help homeowners craft realistic plans in line with expectations.

How you ask matters.

Permit applications should include all the required elements, and owners with good neighborly relations should consider seeking their help to steer plans for approval. In some cases, those neighbors may be asked to sign off on variations from the rules.

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