Litchfield County real estate information, local events and more.


Why can't I tell the buyer of my house they can put in a dock?

When you are selling your home in Southern Litchfield County you can't sell what you don't have.

litchfield county real estateSellers ask me all the time, "why can't I tell the buyers they can have horses, build a barn, subdivide the property, put in a pool, build a dock, move the driveway"? You get the point. The short answer is, you can't sell what you don't have.

Marketing vs. selling, there is a difference.

Marketing of property we do often leads a potential buyer to see more than what is there, to see possibility. That is human nature to see something and see the possibilities. The possibilities of changing a kitchen, of putting their own stamp on the house, of having horses on a property with acreage, of fishing off their own dock. I can't stop people from seeing the possibilities. But what is sold is exactly what is there! 

Until someone has the permit from the town in their hands, the answer is, I don't know!

I get calls on listings from potential buyers and their agents asking questions I certainly can't answer, nor should the seller. It is even dangerous ground to get an answer from the town/city, pass it on to the buyer, have the buyer purchase the house based on your answer or my answer, only to find out the regulations have changed by the time the purchase is complete!

Many of the changes require an application, some will require a hearing, so the answer is vague at best until application is made and permission granted!

I cringe when I see on the multiple listing service the little box checked "yes" on possible subdivision, or I see in the description "possible subdivision". Yes, there might be enough land, but is it really sub-dividable? Until application is made, you just won't know.

Can I build a barn, put in a pool, put in a garage, build a dock, put in an inlaw apartment?

If it that important to a buyer, offers can be made contingent on them getting an approval from the town. I have seen it, especially when it comes to subdividing a property. Sometimes the answer is clear enough. For instance, there is a subdivision I know of that clearly states there are no pools allowed. Until those subdivision rules lapse (which they can if not kept up with) the answer to the question, "can I put in a pool" is "no, you can't".

But it is possible, why can't I tell them that?

It's possible to go to the moon too. It may be physically possible, but is it going to put the buyer in a position where they are going against town or state building codes? At the end of the day, if you or your listing agent are giving them information that is false, and they made the purchase based on this false information, you both may be liable!

Reality is, we are selling what you have, not what might be. So when you are asked those questions of selling what you don't have, the answer is, "I honestly don't know". Because you really don't.

Andrea Swiedler, Realtor, Southern Litchfield County Real Estate

2017 President, Greater New Milford Board of Realtors

2017 Connecticut Magazine 5 Star Realtor


 Search homes for sale in Litchfield County, CT.


Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage

Litchfield County Regional Office,375 Danbury Rd, New Milford, CT 06776


© Andrea Swiedler 2009 - 2017

 Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest. - Mark Twain

Comment balloon 56 commentsAndrea Swiedler • June 15 2013 04:36AM


Good morning, Andrea.... good policy to live by.... sell what you have not what you don't have....

Posted by Barbara Todaro, "Franklin MA Homes" (RE/MAX Executive Realty ) over 5 years ago

Barbara, it is a slippery slope when you try to sell what you don't have. Could even wind up in a court situation.

Posted by Andrea Swiedler, Realtor, Southern Litchfield County CT (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties) over 5 years ago

Excellent points Andrea...people here are always putting dock potential...sure after all CRMC and coastal approvals and at least $100,000 in investments...keep it clean ...

Posted by Ginny Gorman, Homes for Sale in North Kingstown RI and beyond (RI Real Estate Services ~ 401-529-7849~ RI Waterfront Real Estate) over 5 years ago
Andrea, Congrats on a well deserved feature. " I don't know" is a perfectly good answer.
Posted by Margaret Rome, Baltimore Maryland, Sell Your Home With Margaret Rome ( HomeRome Realty 410-530-2400) over 5 years ago

Always a wise decision to recommend going to the building department. Never have heard of a subdivision not allowing a pool. Wonder why?

Posted by Bill Reddington, Destin Florida Real Estate (Re/max Southern Realty) over 5 years ago

Well deserved Gold Star Dean, Dean.  So true, you can't sell what you don't have and every property/community is different.  Excellent post.

Posted by Roger D. Mucci, Lets shake things up at your home today! (Shaken...with a Twist 216.633.2092) over 5 years ago

Good Morning Andrea. Great feature & excellent advice. Sell what you have and not what you dont have! Take care!

Posted by Catina Wright, Your franklin county va expert (Lake & Land Realty) over 5 years ago

Great answer I always tell them you will have to check with County and Zoning to see if it is permitted. Have a great weekend.

Posted by Pat Champion, Call the "CHAMPION" for all your real estate needs (Coldwell Banker Camelot Realty) over 5 years ago

Always best to say "I don't know for certain... you'll have to check with...."

Posted by Alan May, Helping you find your way home. (Coldwell Banker Residential) over 5 years ago

You're a wise lady, Andrea.  You are so right, you can't sell what you don't have.  I've seen many an agent get in trouble by bloviating.  Mum is the response on those questions.

Posted by Mike Cooper, Your Winchester, VA Real Estate Sales Pro (Cornerstone Business Group Inc) over 5 years ago

Ginny, that's a lot of money and approvals! Always better to tell the buyer to check it out for themselves!

Margaret, it is hard for many to say those words, but highly appropriate. Keeps you out of trouble!

Bill, we have one here that doesn't allow pools, an older subdivision. Don't know why, I assume they wanted control of how it looks.

Roger, Roger, thank you! It's the only way to go to stay out of trouble!

Catina, you just can't sell what you don't already have. Thank you!

Pat, always always have the buyer check for themselves.

Alan, my favorite words under these circumstances!

Mike, thank you. And I tell my sellers over and over and over again not to offer the "sure you can" response. And I like that word.. "bloviating"!

Posted by Andrea Swiedler, Realtor, Southern Litchfield County CT (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties) over 5 years ago

You are exactly correct.  You may not even be zoned for some of the things you want to do.  Nothing is real until it is permitted, completed, inspected and corrected.  Good post.  I think the appropriate answer to this question is to shrug with palms up accompanied with "I dunno."

Posted by Roger Stensland, Let's Move! (The Cascade Team Real Estate) over 5 years ago

"Can I (fill in the blank)" is a  question I hear all too often.  Usually, people want to know about room additions, moving walls, adding rooftop decks, etc.  It's fun to dream, and it's great to have a vision.  But at some point you're going to have to pay a visit to the building department and see what THEY have to say about it.  I am not an agent of that department.  It's humbling to say "I don't know," but that's the honest answer to this familiar question.  Thank you for laying it out so clearly.  Great post! 

Posted by Tom Jansson, Chicago Area Home Inspector - InterNACHI Certified (Acuity Home Inspections) over 5 years ago

Great advice.  Potential buyers seem to think you are not up on your listing's information or should have gone to the town to get that information beforehand, but I can't represent what your taxes are going to be, if you can put in a dock, send your kids to an alternate high school or put on an addition... the list does go on. 

Posted by Susan McLaughlin, Monmouth County Real Estate (Keller Williams Realty - East Monmouth) over 5 years ago

Great point, while it is nice to sell them on the potential of what they can dream, just from an ethical stand-point it isn't right to sell them on something that they might not be able to do. Also, this can backfire tremendously if you disappoint them on what they can do. In this age of Facebook, Twitter, blogging and Yelp, it's too easy to have your name and company spread on the internet in a bad way. Save yourself the possible trouble in the future and just sell them on what's there!

Posted by Sheppard & Associates (Sheppard & Associates) over 5 years ago

Andrea excellent advice here.  Realtors would be wise to follow your lead here in not crossing lines that should not be cross.

Posted by George Souto, Your Connecticut Mortgage Expert (George Souto NMLS #65149 FHA, CHFA, VA Mortgages) over 5 years ago

Response to a question is the phone number to the local zoning office  or city hall.

Posted by William Feela, Realtor, Whispering Pines Realty 651-674-5999 No. (WHISPERING PINES REALTY) over 5 years ago

Andrea, it's fair to ask, as you offer, but the answers have to come from someone else, No room in a transaction for guessing

Posted by Ed Silva, Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally (RE/MAX Professionals, CT 203-206-0754 ) over 5 years ago
Getting permits is not always as easy as people predict....
Posted by Carol Zingone, Global Realtor in Jax Beach, FL - ABR, CRS, CIPS (Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Florida Network Realty) over 5 years ago

Good post.  People do ask us some strange questions regarding stuff that is totally out of our control.

Posted by Gary Frimann, CRS, GRI, REALTOR and Broker (Eagle Ridge Realty / Signature Homes & Estates) over 5 years ago

Roger, and that is my answser, with the shrug and all! Thank you.

Tom, we have to be so careful, and sellers really need to understand they cannot sell what they don't have!

Susan, buyers do often think you have no clue. Ah well, I would rather that than get sued later on!

Sheppard & Associates, I don't even elude to that in any marketing, but people see something and see what they would like to do, that is the nature of things. I just can't tell them the answer because.. I don't know!

George, agents and sellers alike. I hear it all the time, all the time. And it is amazing who says what.

Bill, sure is! That's all I know!

Ed, they are all fair questions for sure. But it is not for me, nor for the seller to answer!

Carol, oh my heavens no! LOL, to say the least!

Gary, they do, and get upset when we can't give them an answer.

Posted by Andrea Swiedler, Realtor, Southern Litchfield County CT (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties) over 5 years ago

HI Andrea, as ou stated,,if it's that important make it a contingency...Thanks for sharing

Posted by Ronald DiLalla, No. Orange Cty Real Estate (Century 21 Discovery DRE 01813824) over 5 years ago

Contingency?  Sure.

But if they're thinking subdividing, they might want to look at an option period and be willing to pay for it, for a feasibility study.

These thing don't happen overnight and most sellers want to sell NOW.


Posted by Lenn Harley, Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland (Lenn Harley,, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate) over 5 years ago
Great post, Andrea! And #23 -- I learn things from Lenn everyday here on ActiveRain.
Posted by Melanie Narducci, Your San FranciscoBay Area Real Estate Expert (Hillscape Properties, Inc.) over 5 years ago

Agents are not to give answers in areas that are not in their expertise. It is better to say I don't know than to say yes and then get sued later.

Posted by Gerard Gilbers, Your Marketing Master (Higher Authority Markeing) over 5 years ago


You raise an excellent point!  Phenomenal post!  Congrats on the feature!

Posted by Wayne and Jean Marie Zuhl, The Last Names You'll Ever Need in Real Estate (Samsel & Associates) over 5 years ago

I help buyers and sellers buy and sell real estate.  I don't decide on permitting, building rules, etc.  Buyers need to check that out at the city or county.  If you are their agent, point them to those entities.  Let them pursue it. 

If you are the sellers agent, don't make promises about future  buildability.

"I don't know" is a valid answer.  Stick with what you know.

Posted by Dee Toohey, Broker, ABR, AHWD, CIPS, FMS, ePro (Innovative Realty Solutions Group) over 5 years ago

Andrea, that is an excellent line to remember. Anything else can definitely get you into hot water. Great post.

Posted by Jenn Morson, Licensed Referral Agent and ASP - Team Woda (Metro Referrals) over 5 years ago


I get similar questions all the time. Can I add a room, can I put up a fence...the only real answer is like yours..."I don't know."


Posted by Richard Iarossi, Crofton MD Real Estate, Annapolis MD Real Estate (Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage) over 5 years ago

Ronald, it is the only way!

Lenn, I would never advise my sellers to tie things up for that long, you are right. Especially because we are not selling it based on subdivision.

Melanie, thank you! And who doesn't learn from Lenn?

Gerard, I am not in the business of getting sued! And I try to explain to my clients the danger of saying that something is what it isn't...

Wayne & Jean, I thank you!

Dee, I am always amazed at the statements people will make. Heard one the other day... advising to cut trees down for a better view. Trees that impact wetlands. Run far, run fast...

Jenn, nothing wrong with "I don't know".

Posted by Andrea Swiedler, Realtor, Southern Litchfield County CT (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties) over 5 years ago

Great Post and excellent advice.  "I Don't Know" it's the truth and it will keep you out of trouble,

Posted by Graziella Bruner, Associate Broker - Serving Wayne & Oakland County (NCS Premier Real Estate) over 5 years ago
Just sell what you have. If they need something that the property does not have, than move on to another property. Do not sell something you do not have period!
Posted by Jimmy Faulkner, The Best Of St. Augustine (Florida. Homes Realty & Mortgage) over 5 years ago

My favorite 3 words "I don't know".  It is important for buyer to do their due diligence and get the name of the person at the town who tells them they can do something.. and then the buyer should get that in writing as well.  As you point out, even if something is acceptable today.. it may not be at closing or in the future.

Posted by Joan Whitebook, Consumer Focused Real Estate Services (BHG The Masiello Group) over 5 years ago

Thanks for making a most valid point - even regulations can change by the time a purchase is complete.

Posted by Jill Sackler, LI South Shore Real Estate - Broker Associate (Charles Rutenberg Realty Inc. 516-575-7500) over 5 years ago
Andrea, one of the first things I learned way...back when...was, if you don't absolutely, 100% know something to be a fact then you better not comment on it!
Posted by Nick T Pappas, Madison & Huntsville Alabama Real Estate Resource (Assoc. Broker/Broker ABR, CRS, SFR, e-Pro, @Homes Realty Group, @HomesBirmingham & Providence Property Mgmnt, LLC Huntsville AL) over 5 years ago

Andrea, we cannot say that here as well, unless there is an existing dock that still has some parts still standing, even if it is only the pilings. Sharon

Posted by Sharon Alters, Realtor - Homes for Sale Fleming Island FL (Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty - 904-673-2308) over 5 years ago

Yep that's just part of being experienced and KNOWING what you are talking about!!!

Good for you as that advice is SPOT ON!

Posted by David Shamansky, Creative, Aggressive & 560 FICO - OK, Colorado Mtg (US Mortgages - David Shamansky) over 5 years ago

 You are right.  Best not to get into these issues.  Just provide them the resource  (i.e.. HOA CC&Rs, etc. to check for themselves).

Posted by Edward & Celia Maddox, EXPERIENCE & INTEGRITY - WE TAKE THE HIGH ROAD (The Celtic Connection Realty) over 5 years ago

That does make sense Andrea, not being able to sell what you do not have.

Posted by Tom Arstingstall, General Contractor, Dry Rot, Water Damage Sacramento, El Dorado County - (916) 765-5366, General Contractor, Dry Rot and Water Damage (Dry Rot and Water Damage Mobile - 916-765-5366) over 5 years ago

Grazilla, staying out of as much trouble as possible is always the way to go!

Jimmy, that is the point, but many don't understand. Buyers may indeed see possibilities, if they want to purchase based on possibilities they have to either check them out before, or risk not being able to do what they want.

Joan, unless they check it themselves (not their agent either), they won't know the real answer. And things can change!

Jill, they can change. Without much notice either!

Nick, for some reason the words "I don't know" come very hard for some people to say.

Sharon, here too. And even then I would suggest to the buyer they check out if they are going to be able to rebuild if it is not whole. We check out as much as we can such as... are there permits for what is there.

David, thank you!

Edward & Celia, that we do!

Tom, you would be surprised. Often time sellers will want to price their homes based on possibilities.

Posted by Andrea Swiedler, Realtor, Southern Litchfield County CT (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties) over 5 years ago

So under this theory, how do you sell short sale properties? They're obviously not a short sale until the bank or banks have approved them. If someone asks if this is a short sale property, do you say "I don't know"?

Posted by Aaron Hofmann, aka Mr. Smyrna Vinings (Atlanta Communities) over 5 years ago

Aaron, I am not sure we are talking about the same thing here, I am not really following you. I am sorry.


Posted by Andrea Swiedler, Realtor, Southern Litchfield County CT (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties) over 5 years ago

I like to advise my buyers to inspect everything they have any issues with. But the reality is as you point out, they are buying what is there!

Posted by Kimberley Kelly, SFR, HAFA, GREEN, I do Real Estate like I played polo-to WIN! (HK Lane, Christie's International Affiliate, 760-285-3578) over 5 years ago

Andrea - A trick I used to use involved getting a permit for a wharf so the owners could say a wharf can be put in. The lay the permit out with the rest of the documents. It helped in some cases.


Posted by Paul Viau, High Shots Photography - Real Estate Services (High Shots Photography) over 5 years ago

Andrea, I totally agree with you. Our job is to point them to officials who can answer their questions.

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA over 5 years ago

Other than shorefront land with waterfront regulation do's and don't you can build a barn, have as many pigs, chickens, cows, horses as you want and restrictive permiting is not an issue in Mayberry small rural areas. All that paperwork goes away.

Posted by Andrew Mooers | 207.532.6573, Northern Maine Real Estate-Aroostook County Broker (MOOERS REALTY) over 5 years ago

Buying a home causes one to naturally dream and from there...people share those thoughts. I am sure anything can be done or be considered AFTER the transaction has closed...good post

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) over 5 years ago

I sure wouldn't stick my neck out and promise a buyer what they can do... in many instances they need HOA approval, then country approval, permits, etc. The key, of course, is to make sure that to the buyer the purchase isn't contingent on some of these issues. If it is, they need to do a ton of research before making an offer.

Posted by Nina Hollander, Your Charlotte/Ballantyne/Waxhaw/Fort Mill Realtor (Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage | Charlotte, NC) over 5 years ago

Andrea, Good advice for all agents. Rules change all the time so Buyers need to check things out as a contingency if it is that important.

Posted by Helen and Larry Prier- Re-Max Gateway - Residential Real Estate, Anacortes & surrounding Skagit & Island Counties (RE-MAX Gateway- Residential Real Estate Sales) over 5 years ago

"You can put in a dock," sounds to adament.  Life is too tentative.  Things change, especially with community and government rules and regulations.  What you may be able to do at one moment in time, you may not find possible in the future.  Adament statements are loaded with "F" words. . .Those "F" words stand for FRAUD.

Posted by Myrl Jeffcoat, Greater Sacramento Real Estate Agent (GreatWest Realty) over 5 years ago

Kimberly, they are only buying what is there. As sellers can't price for potential, buyers can't expect sellers to to guarantee potential either!

Paul, If the seller wants to obtain it, great! Not me though. It's not my house.

Michael, yes it is!

Andy, we have one town here with no zoning regs. That is a different story indeed. Mayberry, LOL.

Richie, thank you very much! People do dream of change, can't help that. Sellers are selling change however.

Nina, yes indeed, and buyers really need to know this.

Helen & Larry, yes indeed. And buyers, with our guidance, need to check these things themselves.

Myrl, oh no, not the dreaded F word... fraud it could end up being indeed!

Posted by Andrea Swiedler, Realtor, Southern Litchfield County CT (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties) over 5 years ago

That's a good point Andrea. A house could be sold on the fact that the buyer can one day put in a pool. But if they find out they can't, it's on to the next property that will allow them.

Posted by Suzanne Otto, Your Montgomery County PA home stager (Six Twenty Designs) over 5 years ago

We have buyers ask if they can put in a boathouse. I always give them the number to the River Authority and let them find out the answer for themselves!

Posted by Joni Bailey, Your Huntsville / Lake Livingston Area REALTOR® (Berkshire Hathaway Home Services - Anderson Properties) over 5 years ago

Thanks for your blog post, Andrea. I want to become the "neighborhood expert." I know it is not always wise to tell everything I believe to be true.

I like your comment, Joni. Giving the Buyer the source of the correct information is the best way to answer if you are sure the source you give really has the answer.

Sometimes the answer may depend on which bureaucrat is providing the information and of course, things do change as time goes on.

The Buyer must do their own due-diligence.

Posted by John Mosier, Prescott's Patriot Agent 928 533-8142 (Realty ONE Group Mountain Desert) over 5 years ago

Suzanne, I have lost a sale or two because there was no way to put in a pool. Never even made it to town hall because of the lay of the land, septic placement and wetlands. But the buyer was the one to find that out, not my seller. My seller never wanted a pool.

Joni, keeps us out of trouble!

John, the buyer must indeed to their due diligence! This post is written for the seller, sellers often want to give answers to buyers that could help the sale but at the end of the day could hurt them.

Becoming a neighborhood expert is not the same as telling someone they can put in a dock, that's for sure. But even then, we need to make sure we have our facts straight!

Posted by Andrea Swiedler, Realtor, Southern Litchfield County CT (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties) over 5 years ago

Wise word that ALL rookies need to read and comprehend.

When questions like those arise, I refer my buyers to the county administration building for a conversation with one of the zoning inspectors.

Erick Blackwelder
Washington DC Suburbs
Exit Choice Realty


Equal Housing Opportunity

Posted by Erick Blackwelder, Text or call Erick now at 703-677-1120. (Cell: 703-677-1120) over 5 years ago