Selling your home is a stressful, complicated process.

In fact, in numerous surveys, people rank selling a home as the number one, most stressful life event beating out having a baby, starting a new job or divorce. A successful home sale demands that many factors fall into place just some of which include attracting a qualified buyer, strategic market pricing, a successful home inspection, and an appraisal that aligns with expectations.

There’s a lesser known part of the home sale process that can disrupt a sale and unnerve buyers–open permits. Open permits exist when a building permit, or written project authorization from a town, for construction, enlargement, alteration or renovation to an existing property has not passed final inspection. Without the town’s final approval, the permit is considered “open.”

What’s an OPRA request?

The consequences of open permits uncovered during the home sale process are significant. It’s why an understanding of the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and requests that can be submitted under this Act are essential. An OPRA request facilitates public access to government records which includes any open permits for a property, and an experienced real estate agent will always submit an OPRA request for any listing or sale. In so doing, the realtor can identify any open permits and have the homeowner get the items addressed with immediacy.

While a prospective seller can list a home with open permits, it is wise to have the municipality close any outstanding permits beforehand. A Certificate of Occupancy (CO) or Certificate of Continuing Occupancy cannot be issued unless all permit applications have been closed. For a new homeowner to occupy the house, municipalities in New Jersey require a CO or Certificate of Continuing Occupancy in addition to a Certificate of Smoke Detector, Carbon Monoxide Detector and Fire Extinguisher. From the perspective of a home buyer, submitting an OPRA request for open and closed permits can establish an accurate history of alterations to the property including maintenance, renovations, and repairs.

How do you file an OPRA request?

Homeowners can sometimes run an online check of open permits and inspection results on their properties if the town participates in the Spatial Data Logic (SDL) portal. Many New Jersey municipalities partner with SDL, and the full list of towns that participate in the portal is on the SDL | Portal homepage. To check online:  

  1. Go to the SDL | Portal.
  2. Take a few minutes to sign up and fill in your basic information which includes name, email, and town.
  3. Once logged in, go to “Permits” to view any open permits. If you wish to schedule an inspection, the website has a convenient “Request a Building Inspection” button. Responses from the municipality usually come back within one week.

Regardless of the permit or inspection information to hand, experienced real estate agents will ensure that an OPRA request is submitted for any properties they are listing or selling. An OPRA request submission to a town by our real estate team will look something like the following:

Checking for any open and closed permits for [property address], block #, lot #.”

In short, the submission of Open Public Records Act requests is an essential step in the home sale process. It flags open permits which can derail the sale of a home and lead to costly work to correct any violations. When choosing a realtor to sell your home, make sure (s)he has the experience and knowledge to utilize the Open Public Records Act.

If you are interested in learning more about OPRA requests or the process of selling your home, contact Victoria Carter at (973) 220-3050 or email victoria@victoriacarter.com. Also, consider attending my upcoming Home Seller Workshop: The Ins and Outs of Selling Your Home on Tuesday, March 5th, 9 am to 10.30 am, at Cafe Monet in Millburn, NJ. There is no cost to attend, and you can register here.

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