Active & Expired Permits

, Mar 18, 2022 | 0 Comments

Many homes in Austin have “open permits” which means that they have permits that are labeled “Active” or “Expired” with the city. This can be a problem because the city will not allow you to have an expired permit before opening a new permit. So, if I have a property has an old expired permit, and the homeowner wants to build a pool, the city will require that the expired permit be reopened and closed before they will allow the homeowner to build the pool. If a permit is “Active” it will expire in the near future unless it’s closed, so “Active” permits are problematic at the point of sale.

History, Reason for Expired Permits, & Problems

The city of Austin permitting department has become more and more strict since the mid 2000s. Right now, it’s not an exaggeration to say that they’re a nightmare. There are many vendors – pool builders, plumbers, electricians, irrigation companies – who will open a permit, complete the work, and never call in the final inspection that closes out the job. When this happens, you have an open permit.

If a buyer purchases a property and hasn’t looked at the permit history, they can potentially discover a problem when they try to open a new permit. They can also discover the problem when they sell their home in the future if the new buyer runs a permit search. It is becoming more and more common that buyers search for open permits prior to closing a property.

Degrees of Difficulty to Solve Open Permits

There are widely varying degrees of difficulty to solving open permits. Here are a few examples:

  • Very Easy: A vendor opens a permit with the city. No inspections are ever called. The permit is still open or expires. You can withdraw the permit without any inspections.
  • Easy: A good vendor (who answers the phone) recently opened a permit, called in the initial inspection, and completed the work without calling in the final. The permit is still active/expired (open). The homeowner calls the vendor and they solve the problem.
  • Moderately Easy: A good vendor (who answers the phone) opened a permit 5+ years ago and never called in the final. The vendor isn’t highly motivated to solve this but grudgingly does so. The homeowner spends time pestering the vendor to solve the problem.
  • Moderately Difficult: A bad vendor (who won’t answer the phone or who won’t actually do anything) completed work without closing out the permit. Closing the permit calls for an easy inspection (outside the home.) The homeowner has to go to the city to open the permit, call the inspection, and close the permit.
  • Difficult: A bad vendor completed the work years ago without closing the permit. The work was not performed to today’s standards. The homeowner must go to the city, open the permit, call in an inspection, solve whatever problems the inspector finds, and call in more city inspections until the inspector finally passes them.
  • Extremely Difficult: A homeowner/builder illegally adds a structure over an easement and there are open permits. The addition must be demolished to solve the problem.

How Do I Search for Active/Expired Permits?

The city makes it very easy to search for a property’s permit history here:

Remember, you only care about Active & Expired permits

City of Austin vs ETJ (and others)

All properties with an Austin address aren’t governed by the city of Austin permitting department. If you’re in central Austin, it’s almost certain that the property is governed by COA. If you’re in Westlake, it could be city of Westlake, Rollingwood, Austin, or ETJ. Sunset Valley is governed by Sunset Valley. ETJ is a catch all for properties without a governing jurisdiction like Austin, Rollingwood, etc… You can search jurisdictions here:

If You’re Representing Buyers

It’s very important to discuss this with buyers before you start making offers on properties if they’re looking in central Austin. Before you make an offer on a property, make sure and run a permit search. Unless there are huge red flags, let your clients know that any open permits can likely be solved relatively easily. Do not ask for the permits to be solved in your offer to the sellers. If you do present offers with this written in, your buyers will use up their negotiating capital on this, rather than the sales price and other important terms. Get sanity checks from other agents in the office on how problematic you think the permits will be. Request that these permits be solved during the repairs negotiation.

If You’re Representing Sellers

Run a permit search before you go to the listing appointment. If you find open permits, discuss this with them before you go over the listing  agreement. Let them know that it’s part of your services to help guide them through getting these permits solved.

Here’s a helpful City of Austin Permit Withdrawal Form

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