If you’re in the market to buy a fixer-upper home in Saint Paul, there’s no need to be afraid of registered vacant buildings – at least not most of them. There are three categories of registered vacant buildings – Category 1, 2, and 3.
Category 1 properties are pretty simple; the new owner simply needs to register or re-register ownership, pay any outstanding fees, and comply with any outstanding orders for legal occupancy. You probably won’t be able to buy a category 3 property. These properties are the worst of the worst, and the City of Saint Paul is demolishing most of these. Category 2 properties are the focus of this blog.
Category 2 properties are condemned or have multiple housing violations. If you want to buy one of these properties, you’ll need to complete the same requirements for Category 1 properties, and obtain approval from the City. Here are the basic steps:
- Contact the City to start the approval process, and to be sure you are following the correct process for the particular property. Call 651-266-8989 and ask for a person to talk to about a vacant building purchase, a “Chapter 33 Review”, process. This review process is free at the moment, but there will be a $275 fee for Sale Review, effective 1/1/2010.
- Get a code compliance report. Before the property is purchased, a code compliance report must be obtained. The cost of a code compliance inspection is $426 for a single family home, and $533 for a duplex. The City of Saint Paul is currently running about a month out on getting these reports done.
- Provide proof the repairs will happen: Buyers need to provide proof that they’ll be able to perform the code compliance repairs after they buy the house. The buyer must submit a cost estimate for the repairs, a schedule of when the work will be completed, and must provide proof of financial ability to perform repairs. The City of Saint Paul will accept proof of financial capability on a case by case basis. The money for the repairs does not need to be escrowed.
- Complete the repairs: The repairs required by a code compliance inspection aren’t unreasonable. I’ve read a few of these reports and talked to the city inspector that does these, and the repairs are usually pretty basic things that any good home remodeler would take care of as part of the fixing-up process. A few of these things are replacing roofs that are shot, having proper grade around the house, correcting unsafe stairways, repairing or replacing damaged windows / siding / trim, correcting plumbing / electrical / HVAC defects, and correcting any structural issues.
Every good contractor I know fixes all these things when buying a house with the intention of fixing it up for resale or rent. I’m glad that the City of Saint Paul is requiring these repairs, because it prevents the stereotypical ‘fix-n-flipper’ from pulling their little trick (buying a run-down property, slapping some new paint on the walls, installing stainless steel appliances, and marketing the property as ‘recently remodeled’). The repairs required by code compliance forces contractors to repair houses more the way they should be repaired.
- Certificate of Code Compliance Required: All repairs must be done with permits and approved by the City, and the Certificate of Code Compliance must be issued, before the building can be occupied.
For a sample code compliance report, click here. To obtain this report, I simply went to the Saint Paul Vacant Building List, selected “View By Category Type”, chose “Category 2”, and made note of an address on the list – 900 3rd ST E (this was the second property listed at the time I wrote this blog- the first property hadn’t had a code compliance report generated yet). I then went to the Saint Paul Property Lookup Page, clicked on “Property info and Permits by Address”, then typed in the address that I had previously noted. If you scroll down on the page a little bit, you’ll notice a hyperlink that reads “07/24/2009: Vacant Building – Code Compliance Report (DSI).” Click that link to pull up the report. If you want to get a more specific idea of what items need to be addressed for code compliance, read through a few more code compliance reports.
If you’re going to take nothing else away from this blog, the most important thing to know is that you need to contact the city when buying a registered vacant building. I can’t stress that enough.
Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections – Email – Saint Paul Truth In Sale of Housing Evaluator
Note: the information above was reviewed for accuracy as of this writing by Connie Sandberg, Saint Paul Truth-in-Sale of Housing Program Administrator. VB Sale requirements may change at any time. Contact the City directly for the most recent and accurate information.