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Monday, November 14, 2011

Um, did you get a permit for that?

Description: http://www.signsnowmillcreek.com/vsites/millcreek/user_files/image/handicap-signs/permit-required-blue-sign.jpg

There probably isn't an existing house in the land that hasn't had work done to it — if not a major remodeling, then perhaps some plumbing or electrical work. Either way, how do would-be buyers know if the job was done properly? Or if it was cleared by a local building inspector?

Many jurisdictions require homeowners to obtain building permits to do just about anything. But this is one of the most overlooked aspects of the process.

Owners often leave it up to the contractor to secure the permit. But some contractors cut corners, telling the unknowing client that a permit isn't really necessary for that kind of job or for something so "minimal." Sometimes the do-it-yourself owner knows a permit is necessary but forgets to get one or simply decides not to.

But without a permit, the work won't be examined by a building inspector. There's no way of knowing for sure whether the work meets minimally acceptable construction standards, which are key not just to quality but also to safety.

Enter BuildFax, the construction industry's version of a Carfax vehicle history report. The site collects and organizes the construction records of millions of properties to create what amounts to a background check on the properties buyers might be considering as their new homes.

BuildFax's proprietary property intelligence engine contains building and permitting information from more than 4,000 cities and counties, covering about 63 percent of the country. The database includes more than 72 million residential and commercial properties. Information from urban areas, or places where there is a lot of construction, is updated monthly, other places less frequently.

The service can tell you, among other things, if the remodeled kitchen meets code, when the roof was replaced and who did the work. It can tell you whether the electrical upgrade was done by a licensed electrician or by someone's uncle. And if the furnace should go on the fritz after you move in, it can tell you who installed it so you'll know whom to call to find out if it is still under warranty.

Right now, lenders, insurance companies, home inspectors and appraisers are BuildFax's principal customers. But President Holly Tachovsky said the goal is to provide consumers with the property's "life story" so buyers can use it as a bargaining chip.

"Ultimately, we want to be the source of factual information that helps homebuyers make more informed decisions," she said. "If the seller says he put on a new roof two years ago, you can find out if that's true or not."

The price for all this is $89.95 for three months of unlimited use.

clear skies,
Doug Reynolds

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