Most savvy real estate buyers would never skip a home inspection. It's one of the most crucial pieces of due diligence. As important as they are, inspectors aren't going to find every issue with a property, leaving the buyer at great risk for liability.
If a private, general home inspector happens across work that doesn't meet current municipal standards, they'll be sure to note this in their findings, but they're not actively looking for those issues.
This means there could be a building code issue lurking that an inspection overlooks. If any significant issues are missed a new owner could get slapped with a building code violation down the line. They may also be forced to pay for unexpected work to bring the property up to code, which may strain a renovation budget.
Fortunately, a building code violation will not always result in a fine or a requirement to update work, however, this depends on the municipality and whether or not the violation presents a danger to the occupants or a nuisance to the neighbors.
The question is: How can you make sure that the home you want to buy does not have any unseen building code issues or safety concerns?
How to avoid building code issues when buying a property
1. Check your municipality’s building code standards and guidelines. Some municipalities list this information online.
Every city and county is different. Some states, like Wisconsin, have passed laws that prohibit municipalities from requiring a home to pass a building code inspection prior to sale while others allow local municipalities to inspect at their discretion.
2. Request a home inspection that includes checking current building code violations.
Regardless of local laws, as a home buyer you have a right to hire a home inspector to look out for your best interests. There may be an additional cost to do this more intensive search, but it may be worth it, especially if you are buying an older home that you plan to remodel.
3. Request a building code violation search from the municipality if it's an option.
In the City of Miramar in Broward County, Florida, they will inspect the current state of the home to ensure all work is up to date. Unfortunately, not all municipalities do this kind of search.
4. Request a permit history search and compare this information to the home inspection results.
For municipalities that don't conduct an official building inspection prior to sale, they'll only provide a permit history report or an open and/or expired permit report. It would be beneficial to request this information before the home inspector begins their work so any reported expired or open permits reflected on the municipality’s report can be compared with the current state of the home. For instance, if a back yard deck is present with no history of such a permit being pulled, you may be cited for a building code violation in the future.
If you are still not sure where to begin, talk to your real estate agent and request that a permit search be done in addition to an unrecored municipal lien search before the home inspection is scheduled. With that information in hand, your building inspector will be able to look out for any issues that might otherwise go unnoticed and unresolved before closing.