The Astonishing Ways Permit Data Actually Benefits You


What can you do with building permit data?

Building permit data can reveal a wealth of information on a property. Because the permit process involves a series of inspections, just knowing that a building had a permit pulled in the last 12 months means an inspector was at the property, making sure the work done was up to code. It also indicates that the owner of the property is likely following other best practices for work being done on the property.

More specifically, building permits can tell you:

  • how old the roof is
  • when the electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems were last updated
  • the general upkeep of a property
  • additions, alterations, remodels
  • new feature additions, such as pool or solar installations
  • and general repairs due to damages like fire and flood

On a macro level, permits can reveal broad trends like economic growth, gentrification, adoption of solar technology, and more.

Just how big is the BuildFax permit database?

Pretty huge, since it contains over 23 billion data points on commercial and residential structures. And continues to grow as we speak. To put this in perspective, the database has information on over 90 million properties, 20 million contractors, and 270 million inspection records.

There are over 184 million permits in the BuildFax database, and 1.5 million new ones are added every month. By the time you’ve finished reading this article, another hundred will have been processed.

Where does BuildFax have coverage?


BuildFax building permit data coverage

To understand BuildFax’s geographical coverage, it’s important to begin with understanding the concept of a jurisdiction. A jurisdiction is an entity that grants and processes building permits for a geographical area. They’re charged with enforcing building codes to ensure that homes and businesses are safe for occupants – and are built to last.

There are more than 20,000 permitting jurisdictions across the US (this could be a city, a town, county, etc.).

In large metropolitan areas, jurisdictions can cover hundreds of thousands of residential and commercial structures. Within large metro areas, several jurisdictions serving a single address may exist.

For example, a county jurisdiction may permit for septic projects while the city permits for everything else.

The BuildFax permit database covers over 70% of the US, which means that we know about permitted construction activity in over 9,000 cities, counties, and townships in all fifty states.

How far back in time does the data go?


This is a question we often get from our customers and we recognize that it’s critical to understand in order to get the full value from permit data.

On average, BuildFax data goes back 23 years. Each permitting jurisdiction came into the digital age at a different time. For some, data started coming in over a century ago, while others just started reporting in the last 10 years.

What’s important about this is that BuildFax shows these date ranges on our reports. By doing so, we let you see exactly what the time range is for the data available on your property of interest.

This is where it really gets exciting. This time frame gives you context on the span of information for a property. Plus, BuildFax collects 100% of permit records between the start and end date. This is particularly useful when no permits are found within that time frame. Why? Because if we know that all permits were collected between two dates, and none show up, then that indicates an absence of permits. And because most big projects on a structure’s major systems – like the roof, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing, require permits for updates.

Having this information available makes it much easier to examine and identify possible aging systems. For example, if we have coverage in a city where 123 Main Street is located, and there’s no permit records on the structure since 1993, we should probably double-check that those systems have been properly maintained and aren’t falling apart.

How often is the database updated?

Each month, BuildFax updates over 42% of the country. Considering how many records we’re bringing in, that’s a whole lot of fresh, new data available to our customers every month. The constant influx of information gives anyone looking for cutting-edge property insights a great vantage point to see aggregate trends as they happen.

How is the data collected? 

The BuildFax team manually collects raw building permit data from jurisdictions across the country and processes it through a proprietary data standardization engine. Jurisdictions use hundreds of differing digital formats, including some paper filing systems, so normalizing this data is a complex task.

How does raw data become property insights?

Permit data by itself tends to be cryptic, complex, and hard to understand. Luckily, the BuildFax data engine does a great job of making it standardized and readable. But BuildFax doesn’t stop there.

We add layers of proprietary analytics on top of raw data to bring our customers valuable insights that matter to them. By using advanced data mining, machine learning, and a deep understanding of the underlying permit data, BuildFax has created insights that not only highlight relevant construction activity but that also prove to be predictive of loss and property condition.

The end result is easy-to-understand reports and summaries that anyone can use.

To learn more about permits, check out our infographic, Permits 101.