If you are going to be flipping houses and are not experienced with the permitting process,  the first thing you should do is talk to a licensed contractor and confirm if the work you are looking to do requires a permit. In some cases a minor renovation project that only includes a cleanout, patching walls, painting, tiling, landscaping and changing cabinets will not require a permit. However, if the work you are looking to do does require a permit, here are two questions you need to ask your contractor.

  1. Does the work I am looking to do require a short form permit or long form permit?

  2. Do you have any experience pulling permits in the town or city where the project is located?

So let’s tackle question 1: What is the difference between a short form permit and a long form permit?  A short form permit is usually approved the same day or within 30 days at the most. This is for work that doesn’t require structural changes. A long form permit, is any work that requires structural changes or a change in occupancy (from 2 units to 3 units). You’ll also need to provide plans. Long form  permits are usually approved after a 2-3 months or more depending on the town or city.

In regards to question 2, while your contractor doesn’t have to be experienced working n a specific city or town in order to pull a permit there, it will certainly help if your contractor has a relationship with the local building inspectors. As contractors become familiar with building inspectors they build rapport and trust, especially if the inspector knows your contractor does high quality work. This can streamline the process and decrease the time it takes for your permit to be issued.  

Another factor that comes into play are town and city ordinances.  Many towns and cities have their own ordinances that are separate from the building code and require additional information or permitting. For example, the international building code and residential code do not require a permit to be pulled for a fence under 7 feet. However in in the City of Boston, a city ordinance  requires a permit to be pulled for fences under 7 feet due to a city ordinance. Again, this is not a building code requirement, but a City of Boston Requirement. If your contractor doesn’t know this, it can create issues and delays in getting your project completed.

When selecting your contractor you should definitely ensure they a reputable and do quality work. The best way to ensure this is by using a contractor that was referred to you by a trusted source. Once you feel confident you have a a contractor that you can trust. Ask them the above questions about permitting. It will allow you to better plan the job and work together if he/she is not experienced in the jurisdiction so that you can do your research on the town ordinances you both are not aware of. It will save you time and money in the process.

P.S. – If you’re going to be flipping homes for a living, it doesn’t hurt to consider getting your contractors license. You’ll be able to start pulling permits yourself so that you can become more familiar with the process and start to build a rapport with the local inspectors.  I am a licensed contractor and I only do my own work, but it saves me a ton of time and money by pulling my own permits and subbing all the work out. Just make sure your subcontractors are insured.

This content is not the product of the National Association of REALTORS®, and may not reflect NAR's viewpoint or position on these topics and NAR does not verify the accuracy of the content.