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Home Improvement Guide 2007
Get ready
Before starting any home improvement project, research and planning is the key to successful results.
Building-permit basics
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"If a contractor asks that you pull your own permit, that's a buyer beware," says Jan Burchett, executive director of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. "Walk away from that because typically the person who pulls the permit is also the person liable for whether they followed code. In most jurisdictions, the person obtaining the permit is considered to be the contractor and is therefore liable if the work does not comply with local building codes."

Fisette adds several more reasons to have your contractor do the honors.

"If a builder pulls the permit, it makes them completely wed to the liability issue; they have accepted total responsibility for the job. If you as a homeowner pull the permit, it already starts to suggest that you're trying to be the GC (general contractor) and the GC is the one that ends up getting dumped on.

"The contractor might feel like you're usurping them and they might like it because in the end if any problems came up and you go to court, they can say, 'Hey, I was just being subcontracted by the homeowner.' I would strongly encourage homeowners to have the contractor be responsible for the whole job."

In reality, Fisette says most homeowners would find it difficult to pull the permit.

"It's just not an easy thing to do. It's complicated. In addition to all the submittals you have to give, the plans and specs and what's going to happen to the structure, you have to also prove that it's going to perform at a certain level of energy efficiency. It's well beyond most people's abilities."

But Bob Larson, a plumber in Tacoma, Wash., says many of his customers would rather save the money and do it themselves.

"I leave that up to the homeowner because if I have to go to town hall and spend three hours filling out paperwork, then I have to charge them for it, whereas I give them the option to do it so they don't have to pay me to do it," he says.

What if a contractor refuses to pull the permit or worse, suggests that you simply not pull one at all?

"Move along to the next contractor, absolutely," Fisette says. "If anyone is going to pretend to you that they're going to make life easy, the only person they're going to make life easy for is themselves."

In fact, it's a good idea for homeowners to stay out of the permitting process altogether. A good general contractor knows when and how to schedule the inspector to avoid costly downtime on your project.

"You might have three building inspectors for a community of 500,000 and they need a lot of planning," says Fisette. "It's as important to plan the building inspector as it is to plan the electrician to arrive on the right date. If you have the electrician scheduled for day 30 and you don't have the walls built, you're screwed. The same thing with the building inspector."

-- Posted: April 4, 2007
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