By Anessa V. Cohen

 When a homeowner decides to sell, brokers can offer many tips as to different cost-efficient ways to prepare the property for presentation in order to realize the best market price possible.

But there’s an even more important checklist that a broker should review with each homeowner prior to placing the property on the market: is all the proper paperwork that’s needed to complete a sale of the property in order? This ensures that no unpleasant surprises pop up down the road; when a deal is made between a buyer and seller, and just when everyone is ready to close, neither party wants to deal with compliance issues that prevent the sale from closing.

Every house that is built begins with a permit. This permit, which the builder applies for, gives the builder permission to build according to the plans he submits, which are approved by the building department of the municipality.

After the builder completes the house construction, the builder has to arrange for inspectors from the building department to officially inspect it to ensure it was built according to the plans originally submitted when obtaining the permit.

When I mention building inspectors, these include plumbing inspectors, electrical inspectors, and other specialty-item inspectors in various building categories. The overall building inspector inspects the construction as a whole after the other inspectors complete their inspections.

Once this is complete, if everything is done to building code and according to the original permit approved, the building department will issue a Certificate of Occupancy (CO), which shows that everything was built to building-department code and was approved. A CO is required for all purchases and sales of property (except if the property is being sold as defective or non-compliant, in which case the properties are typically sold “as is” and at much lower than market value).

For those buyers taking out a mortgage to purchase a house, this is a deal-breaker, since lenders will not close and give mortgage money for properties that do not have a legitimate CO in place at time of sale.

There are homeowners who have the COs from when they themselves purchased their houses, so this would not seem to be an issue to worry about when they are ready to move on and sell their home. However, if they added improvements to their home over the years, those renovations may have required permits as well. Some improvements require that paperwork be filed with the building department showing that the work done was in compliance with building codes and regulations. The homeowners need to check that proper procedures were followed and all necessary building-department requirements are in place before trying to sell their property.

As an example, adding a deck in the front or back yard requires that the contractor submit plans and apply to get a permit from the building department giving him permission to do the requested improvement. Possibly a homeowner decided to convert the garage into finished living space as part of the house, or built an addition to the house, or maybe added bathrooms or a new kitchen in the house–all these improvements require a building permit.

Subsequently, when the work is done, the contractor must have a building inspector inspect the work in order to receive a Certificate of Completion (CC). This is issued by the building department to the homeowner as proof that this improvement was inspected and approved.

Sometimes, homeowners do not realize that this is required and may do renovations without filing for a permit or receiving a CC for the improvement. Now, when they are trying to sell, questions come up about the legality of the improvements they implemented in the home. Both sellers wanting to sell their homes and buyers looking to purchase a new home should be very vigilant in making sure any and all COs and CCs are in place before they actually go into a sales contract on a house. Otherwise, if prior to closing it comes up that one of these items is missing, the seller will be scrambling to get the problem legalized in time for closing.

Missing COs or CCs can really hurt an otherwise wonderful sale. It is important to take the time in advance to make sure that all compliance paperwork needed on a home is in place before making a deal.

Anessa Cohen lives in Cedarhurst and is a licensed real-estate broker and a licensed N.Y.S. mortgage broker with over 20 years of experience, offering full-service residential and commercial real-estate services (Anessa V Cohen Realty) and mortgaging services (FM Home Loans) in the Five Towns and throughout the tri-state area. She can be reached at 516-569-5007 or via her website, Readers are encouraged to send questions or comments to


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