Home renovations are a great idea. They allow you to take a piece of real estate that is outdated and wouldn't be worth much on the market and make it new and desirable. Many simple renovations, such as installing flooring or building a deck, can be done without hiring professionals. If you're planning on doing some DIY renovations, perhaps with the help of a book, instructional video, or the skills you learned from a home reno class, be aware that the ability to actually do the work isn't the only thing you need.
Most people think renovating their home is as simple as drumming up the budget for the materials and the time to do the work, but actually many renovations require permits from the city. If you fail to get the necessary permits and then create a real estate listing for your house, you could end up with fines and legal fees from your unauthorized work. Therefore it's important to check with your city planning office before you do anything to your house.
The reason cities keep such a tight leash on residents who only want to upgrade their own property is that these upgrades must be done according to the city's building codes. Building codes exist for your safety and the safety of your guests and the people who eventually buy the house that you've renovated. Building contractors are required to be familiar with building codes and to work within them, but most homeowners don't have a clue how far down to dig deck posts or what gauge of wire to use to put in a plug.
A lot of interior renovations, such as putting down new floors or installing new light fixtures don't require any permits from the city. Almost all exterior renovations, including building decks, patios, and additions, do, as do major interior renovations that involve taking out walls that may be load bearing, doing any kind of rewiring, and working with connections to city utilities. If you're buying real estate, make sure any renos that the previous owner has done have the proper permits.
Permits will vary in cost depending on the amount of work you're doing and can range from under $50 to several hundred dollars. To find out what type of permit you need, take your building plans into the city's planning office. When you and your real estate agent go to sell the home later, these plans should still be on file with the office for the buyer to look at the permits so they know the renos were legitimate. If you have ever had a property inspection on a home that was completed or renovated without proper inspections, the failed results of the report will be make it obvious.