Roof repair? Maybe no
Home inspections sometimes are too pessimistic about them, agents say.
By Alan J. Heavens
Inquirer Real Estate Writer
On the long list of things that can kill a real estate deal, the condition of the roof stacks up close to the top.
But what lies above is not always as bad as buyers are led to believe, some real estate agents say, and it’s often at odds with home-inspection reports.
“I’ve been complaining about this for years,” said Kit Anstey, associate broker at Prudential Fox & Roach’s West Chester office. “The home inspection is supposed to look for any material defects, but typically [it] reports that the roof shows wear and tear instead, creating an issue even if there are no leaks.”
In the last year, Anstey said, deals have fallen through on a couple of houses whose asphalt roofs showed wear and tear, even though they were just 10 years old. Asphalt roofs can last 25 years and longer, according to shingle manufacturers.
“I argue that the seller does not have to replace a roof unless there are material defects,” he said. “Replacing a roof can be an expensive proposition. A cedar-shake roof on a detached house here can cost as much as $35,000, while replacing an asphalt-shingle roof ranges from $12,000 to $15,000.”
It can be a lot of money that neither buyer nor seller wants to spend, and Anstey and others argue that, in most cases, replacement isn’t necessary.
Although Pennsylvania’s disclosure law requires sellers to identify known material defects in writing on the form provided by the listing agent, it does not require roof inspections, although buyers (or their lenders) might ask for one as a condition of sale.
The same is true in New Jersey. Municipalities may have their own requirements.
Dennis Dunbar, president of Dunbar Roofing & Siding in Berwyn, said buyer concerns about roof conditions resurfaced in the last half of 2006, as the supply of houses began exceeding the demand for them.
“We’ve been getting a call a week to make roof inspections after the buyer gets the home-inspection report,” said Dunbar, who had two such analyses on his schedule in the second week of January. “Our inspections are used as a bargaining chip in negotiations, part of the wheeling and dealing that goes on between buyers and sellers and their agents.”
Dunbar deals exclusively with larger roofs made of asphalt-fiberglass shingles.
In the city, however, where houses are smaller and roofs flatter, “80 percent of the time, roofs need some coating and sealing before they go to settlement,” said Michael McCann, a broker associate with Prudential Fox & Roach’s Walnut Street office, who sells in Center City.
“A flat roof typically needs top-coating every couple of years,” McCann said. “This is not a major expense. The job can range from a couple of hundred dollars to $1,000, which is easy for a seller to take care of.”
Many of these roofs come with 10-year warranties, so the cost of this tightening-up might be covered, McCann said, although it isn’t a certainty.
A seller might have a roof replaced, and offer his own guarantee that it will last for a certain period. Some sellers and real estate agents offer a one-year warranty, with various deductibles, on many components of an existing house, but it typically doesn’t cover a roof.
Anstey’s chief complaint about roof reports is that some home inspectors go far beyond what he considers their job, and instead offer an opinion on how long a roof will last.
The standards of practice of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) require an inspector to scrutinize roofing materials, roof-drainage systems, flashing, skylights, chimneys, and roof penetrations (soil stack and toilet vents), to describe roofing materials, and to explain the methods used to inspect the roof.
The National Association of Home Inspectors’ standards of practice state specifically that an NAHI inspector is not required to “determine the remaining life expectancy of roof coverings, presence or absence of hail damage, manufacturers’ defects, exceptions, installation methods or recalls, or the number of layers.”
Mike Shelton, owner of Clouseau Inspections in the Collegeville area, said ASHI rules also prohibit member inspectors from giving opinions on the life expectancy of a roof, a furnace, or many other components of a house.
“For example, if I say the roof will last for several years and it begins leaking after the buyer moves in, I can be sued,” Shelton said.
Instead, what he and many other inspectors do is “identify roof components and whether we can see any issues with them,” he said.
“I was inspecting the roof of a house in the Northeast this morning, and the buyers were well aware that the front of the roof, which was pitched and shingled, was deteriorating and that the sellers had agreed to replace it,” he said. “But knowing that the front of the roof had problems, they wanted to make sure that the upper one was OK as well.”
Though the back roof was old, it simply needed to be coated. Where a potential problem could arise was where the roof meets the sides of the building. The material there had deteriorated, and needed to be replaced, and that’s what he recommended on his report.
If a buyer has questions about a roof that aren’t covered by either association’s standards, many home inspectors - Shelton is an exception - suggest contacting a professional roofer for further analysis.
“That’s something the seller should do, not the buyer,” Shelton said, and, if the roofer finds problems, the seller can take care of them and offer the buyer a warranty.
Ethics prevent inspectors from recommending roofers, however. Most real estate agents keep lists of reliable contractors and repair people, but they, too, are walking on eggshells when making such recommendations. While there are also ethical issues involved, most agents and brokers are worried that a bad client experience with such a recommendation could haunt them later.
What does Dunbar typically find wrong with the roofs he inspects?
“Curled or curling shingles are the main thing,” he said. “We also look at gutters, flashing and other metal work, and then determine how long we think the roof will last. We write up the problems, then provide an estimate of replacement costs.”
Dunbar estimates that half the people who hire him for such inspections are buyers and the other half sellers. If a roof needs to be replaced, materials and workmanship come with separate warranties.
Contact real estate writer Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or email@example.com.