Before Act 338, the statutorily-required Real Estate Condition Report asked sellers to either agree or disagree with the following statement:
I am aware either that remodeling affecting the property's structure or mechanical systems was done or that additions to to this property were made during my period of ownership without the required permits.
While most would agree on what qualifies as an "addition," "remodeling" seems rather vague and indefinite. Homeowners remodel their kitchens, bathrooms, and rec rooms in ways that affect a property's structure or electrical or plumbing systems. What about foundation repairs though? Such work arguably does not fall within the definition of "remodeling," but many buyers would want to know if such work was done without the required permits, especially since foundation repairs so clearly affect a property's structure.
The new Real Estate Condition Report now required by Wis. Stat. § 709.03 asks sellers the following question:
Are you aware of any remodeling, replacements, or repairs affecting the property's structure or mechanical
systems that were done or additions to to this property that were made during your period of ownership without the required permits?
This change should decrease seller confusion about what unpermitted work must be disclosed at the time of sale and help buyers become better informed about such work.
Trouble is, this change still depends upon sellers having awareness (i.e., knowing or being put on notice) of local permitting requirements, which vary greatly. A seller has not answered such a question improperly if he or she was in fact unaware that the local municipality requires permits for installing a patio or replacing a roof. Buyers should insist on receiving documentation from their sellers on all remodeling, replacements, repairs, and additions that were made during the sellers' ownership. Buyers should also make open records requests of the local building inspector for copies of all permits that were issued during the sellers' ownership. In Milwaukee, you can find some of this information online without having to make a formal request.
I draft language in offers protecting buyers from awful surprises like unpermitted repairs made by sellers or their unlicensed contractors. Please contact me at email@example.com if you want to be represented during your most important purchase.