Ask the Architect

Every problem has its own solution


Q. We’re buying a house with multiple issues, from a deck to a pool shed, and we think there are changes inside, like the garage was made into a family room. The owner is selling “as is,” and the real estate agents for both sides say it’s really not a big deal. Is it a big deal, and what should we look for? If the deal falls through, at least we need to know if there are issues we need to look for on the next one. Our attorney seemed to agree with the real estate people, by the way.

A. If you define “big deal” as having things to do, then, yes, there are things to do, and expenses to go along with each item. It will take months and several thousand dollars to rectify the permit and final inspections leading to certifications.
The people advising you each have a different intent than you do. Consider that the outside items each have issues that range from zoning to construction correctness in order to pass for permits and for final certifications. For example, the municipality has regulations on the size of a shed, the area of the lot that all sheds and decks can cover and how close the pool, shed or deck can be to a property line. In each municipality there are several zones designated for different kinds of uses and sizes of properties. There will be a difference between types of properties based on width and street front length, the allowable area you can cover and heights.
A zoning variance request, which is a request to “vary” from ordinances if the deck or shed is not compliant, adds considerably to the time it takes to get a permit, possibly several months. Building permits aren’t instantaneous, and can take one to two months in smaller villages and three to four months in larger towns — if the volume of applications coming into the building department is lower. In a bustling economy, it can take much longer, and the time in a building department should be added to the zoning variance time.
Many people make the mistake of lumping the two time frames together in the hope of convincing themselves that this is no big deal. The deck, pool shed and garage conversion to living space all have very specific requirements under state building code. The general public assumes that codes for construction are local ordinances, but they aren’t. Construction regulations are based on the International Building Code, used by the majority of states.
To get more specific, when I’m asked to look at conditions that may arise before a sale is complete, I see that about 90 percent of just the decks I look at do not comply with proper foundations or connectors from each wood part to the next, and beam spans are undersized for the allowable-size lumber, based on structural capability, even if they seem fine. I hope this helps with making things less of a big deal. Good luck!

© 2022 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.