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Ask Adam: Why You Should Research Renovations Before Buying

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This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Adam Gallegos of Arlington-based real estate firm Arbour Realty, voted one of Arlington Magazine’s Best Realtors of 2013. Please submit follow-up questions in the comments section or via email.

Question: In Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax a large portion of the residential single-family home market is comprised of older homes that have been renovated. If one is interested in buying one of these homes, is there any way to check whether the work was approved by the local government? If the renovation work is listed in the tax assessment (ex. added bathroom) can it be assumed to be permitted? What are the risks of buying a home without knowing this information? Can the local government come after you once you own the home to obtain the necessary permits or are there grandfather clauses that can protect you?

Virginia is a caveat emptor state, so the buyer needs to take responsibility for researching a renovated home he or she is considering for purchase.

Zoning permits for a particular address may be found at or by calling Arlington County Inspection Services at 703-228-3800.

I’ve been told by a zoning official of Fairfax County (and I think you can safely assume the same for Arlington County) that the tax record is not always accurate when it comes to the actual number of legal bedrooms and bathrooms. It is a good idea to contact the zoning office in the county that the property resides.

The homeowner inherits and is responsible for any work that was done without a permit. However, the county does work with homeowners on resolving issues and obtaining permits that may arise from work that is not permitted.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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