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San Carlos Real Estate August 3, 2010

Where to Find Permit Information on San Carlos Homes.

by Chuck Gillooley

Need Permit History?

If you’re buying a home in San Carlos, it’s sage advice to spend a little time researching the permit history on the place before you get too far down the road with your purchase.  Why?  Since much of San Carlos was developed in the 1940’s through the 1960’s, there’s a very good chance that some level of work has been done on the home — anything from simply replacing the roof, to remodeling a kitchen, and all the way to adding significant square footage.  It’s good to know whether this work was done with the blessing of the City Building Department, or whether it was done without their consent or knowledge.

A big reason why the City requires permits for home projects is that they want to ensure that the work is being done correctly.   If you look at a typical permit card, you’ll see that there are various sign-off points by the City’s building inspector that shows they have been monitoring the project from the beginning.  So a fully-permitted project will likely adhere to the building code that was in place when the job was completed, and minimizes short-cuts that the contractor might have been tempted to take.

Another entity that has an interest in permit status is the insurance industry.   Insurance companies are getting more savvy when it comes to granting payments on home insurance claims — if an adjuster finds that damage was caused by un-permitted work, they have been known to deny claims for just this reason.

Here’s Where You Find It

What you do with the permit status information really varies depending on the risk aversion of the buyer.  Some people don’t care whether work that was done on the home was permitted;  to others, it may be mandatory that all of the major work on the home has a clean permit trail.  But if you decide you want to find out what permits were issued (or not) for a property in San Carlos, here’s where you look:

  1. Online.   The City has online permit history from present dating back to February 1999 via the City’s website.  Simply click on this site:  San Carlos Online Permits.   Click the first tab titled “Status of Building Permits”  and enter the address of the property in question.
  2. Cards:  If you want to look for history prior to February of 1999, the City has old 5 x 7 permit cards that begin around the mid-1960’s through February 1999.
  3. San Mateo County Assessor (650-363-4500).  The County has permit history that somewhat dovetails with the City’s earlier records, but may also contain permit history that the City doesn’t have.   So it’s worth checking both the City and County records for history.

The County Assessor has a permit history sheet that they’ll print out for people when they request permit history.  The sheet may reference an actual permit number, or there may be a notation from the Assessor that states something like, “Found: Family Room Addition” with no permit number referenced.  This should be a red-flag for you and when that statement is noted on the Assessor’s description of an area of the residence.

Why Won’t My Realtor Pull This Info?

It used to be common for the listing agent or the buyer’s agent to run down to City Hall and round up all the permit history for their busy clients.  But lately, brokerages are discouraging or outright prohibiting their agents from getting into this path.  Why?  Liability.  You can bet that some poor agent somewhere was sued because they perhaps didn’t locate ALL of the permits for a certain home.  You’ll likely find that today your agent will direct you to the location of the permits, but you’ll need to do the detective work yourself.

Questions?

If you have more questions about building permits, or need help interpreting the permits that you have received, contact Chris Valley at the Building Department at the City of San Carlos at 650-802-4261.  Chris was instrumental in providing me with the background info for this post, and his team is sharp and very helpful.
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Comments 5
  • Sometimes, getting a permit through the San Carlos City Building Department opens a can of worms that inevitably costs the homeowner. In one particular job on a retaining wall (legal height, no permits needed), the inspector pulled out an obscure rule that doesn’t even exist in Belmont, San Mateo or Redwood City. I’d get more specific but i don’t want to jog Chris Valley’s memory. The poor homeowner had to cough an extra $5k for nothing. I could go on and on about how these guys make life difficult and not neccesarily safer. Ever had an inspector visit to sign off on window installation and instead you see him wander around the house unrelated to the work being performed? I can’t blame homeowners In San Carlos for doing unpermitted work as long as they can trust the honesty and competency of their contractor.

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  • I have worked with the San Carlos building dept on 3 sizeable remodels (kitchen, bath, basement) and have been impressed with their professionalism. I never got the feeling that they were out to get me, and they certainly didn’t seem to have extra time to wander around checking things not required by the permit at hand.

    Other than the valuable piece of permit paper for future resale, the inspectors actually caught a couple of minor things. That second pair of eyes was worth it, in my opinion. It also makes the contractors more conscientious knowing someone else is looking over their shoulder.

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    • Hi,

      I am estimating a kitchen and bath remodeling project in San Carlos. My contractor seems reasonable about most things. However, he wants me to deal with permits and city hall. Where do I start. Is this something a novice can do. How do I provide drawings for remodeling.

      Thank you for your response.

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      • First of all, you need to find out what you need permits for and what you don’t. You can find that out by stopping by the Building Department at 600 Elm Street and talking to someone at the desk. From there, they can tell you what kind of drawings and documentation will be required to get the project permitted and approved. If you want to email them, a good starting point would be Gavin Moynahan .

        Good luck with your project.

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  • There is an interesting article in the Almanac this week regarding the Atherton Building Department. Apparently the homeowner is claiming that the building inspector signed off on a multimillion dollar house which the owners have discovered is structurally unsound and now must pour in millions more to repair all the problems. The inspector in question has now announced his retirement.
    As Transient mentioned above, the second pair of eyes are worth it as long as they are well trained and can actually identify problems. In San Carlos for a tear down and rebuild all the permits are about 15k and then the Sequoia Union high school district will also cost thousands of dollars in fees. This is a lot of money for permits so one hopes the cost is worth it.

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