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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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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