The No. 1 Sign You Shouldn't Buy That House, According to Realtors

Ignoring this in the house buying process will cause you a lot of trouble further down the line.

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Buying a house can be one of the most stressful experiences there is. Indeed, a survey from EstatesDirect.com found that the house buying process has notoriously been rated as more stressful than filing for bankruptcy or getting a divorce. And when you're under that level of stress, your decision-making skills can be affected, according to the Association for Psychological Science. So it's important to know the pitfalls that lie ahead when you're sizing up property. But in truth, the biggest red flag there is when buying a house isn't necessarily about the foundation, plumbing, or electrical work. The number one sign you shouldn't buy a house is if the seller or agent isn't being forthcoming about the property's permit history. Read on to learn more, and if you've got a fixer upper on your hands, here are 50 Easy DIY Home Hacks That Will Improve Your Life.

A permit history is like a property's report card, showing all the work that's been done to it. If it does not show permits for an addition, a new deck, or a remodeled kitchen, for example, that means the work may not have been done to code and therefore, may be unsafe. If the seller or agent claims permit history is not needed, they try to deter you from getting it from the town, or they show you an incomplete report missing major renovations to the house, then you shouldn't buy the house.

In response to a buyer's question about permits, realtor Ilene Crites of San Bruno, California, writes, "As buyers, you need to understand before you close the sale the status of the permits. This is an important disclosure the seller is required to make to you. Know that if he hasn't shown you he has permits, it was most likely done without benefit of permits."

She adds that buyers can go to the town or county planning department to check for permits themselves, but that if these cannot be furnished, she'd advise that you do not "proceed with the sale until you have this disclosed to you."

Simply put, Adam Aguilar, a realtor with Reliantra in West Toluca Lake, California, adds that anyone in this situation "should be worried."

couple having consultation with a real estate agent inside a new home
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Unpermitted work is "the source of endless anguish from buyers and agents alike," according to Million Acres. "People go through lawsuits, insurance nightmares, expensive repairs, penalties, and teardowns of an entire section of a house—all because a prior owner did unpermitted work on the home."

Not only is safety a concern, but without proof of permits, you may be denied a mortgage. "If the improvements are not recognized by the town, you won't be able to get a clear title," Dina Miller, of Florida appraisal firm Dina Miller Associates, told Million Acres. "For example, if you add an addition without proper permits, the property will not match the town records. The bank won't lend without consistency between the appraisal and town record."

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According to Business Insider, any signs of shadiness from the seller's side should signal that you need to bail out on a potential deal. "Whether it's paperwork from the seller or pressure from the agent, any off-putting actions should be a red flag," they write.

While much advice around home buying focuses on the physical, what you often forget when buying a house are the invisible issues, which don't necessarily have an agreeable solution. And none can cause more headaches than unpermitted work.

"There are absolutely homeowners who will sue if they uncover this type of discrepancy," Million Acres explains. "If the seller didn't disclose, and the agent's inspector didn't investigate the faulty [issue], the buyer might well have a case." And for more signs to be aware of about the health of a home, whether it's yours or one you're looking to buy, here are 40 Surprising Signs There's Something Wrong With Your House.

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John Quinn
John Quinn is a London-based writer and editor who specializes in lifestyle topics. Read more
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